From brain drain to brain circulation

THERE is no single thought that has a monopoly in the human brain, psychologists say.Recently, despite my usual busy schedule, one thought kept oscillating in my mind; the whereabouts of my old school friends.These were the crème de la crème of our school years.I made a cursory search on the social networking site FACEBOOK.

THERE is no single thought that has a monopoly in the human brain, psychologists say. Recently, despite my usual busy schedule, one thought kept oscillating in my mind; the whereabouts of my old school friends.

These were the crème de la crème of our school years.  I made a cursory search on the social networking site FACEBOOK.

The results confirmed what I all long had suspected; that they had turned to Northern and Western countries for their graduate education and careers.

This is a typical case of the controversial brain drain paradigm. Despite the high rapid economic growth registered in many African economies, the continent continues to lack qualified local personnel to sustain this growth.

Many African students who go to study abroad, the majority on government scholarships, take up employment there upon graduation instead of returning home.

Brain drain is described as a one-way, definitive and permanent migration of skilled people from developing to industrial countries. It basically has a negative connotation, namely that it involves loss of vital resources.

A question to ponder: how can governments and the private sector keep or return their best and brightest to play a role in the development of their countries? Is brain drain necessarily a bad thing to happen to Africa?

As this debate rages on, a paradigm shift has occurred; from “brain drain” to “brain circulation”.

Proponents of this new thinking say that  the mobility of highly skilled manpower should be seen as a normal process that should not be stopped, and that the real challenge is therefore to manage it as well as possible.

The focus is now on the impact of this mobility of professionals and its effects on their host countries and their countries of origin.

Technological advancement, improved transportation, intercultural relationships and commerce have rendered some features that led mobility to be characterised as brain drain irrelevant.

Mobility can be temporary rather than permanent. As the world becomes a global village thanks to advancement in technology there is increased ability to interact at a distance in contrast to the past when a break with a home country was often total.

In fact, it can be much easier to communicate and work with a person in Europe than with a person in the same country.

Within the initial brain drain paradigm, it was generally accepted that the countries of origin suffered from the brain drain, while host countries benefited by experiencing a brain gain. But is this still the case?

Over the years there has been a significant increase in mobility, especially involving professionals working temporarily in other countries and students leaving their home country to study abroad.

Some countries of origin have benefited significantly from a return of those who had previously left to study or work overseas thus successfully reversing their brain drain.

Many of them return with the much needed skills and those who choose to remain contribute to their Country’s economies in form of remittances. The Diaspora has become a force to reckon with. 

Mobility of highly skilled manpower is a normal process that should not be stopped. The real challenge is, therefore, to manage it as well as possible.

One program that is benefiting Rwanda is Migration for Development in Africa Great Lakes Program (MIDA) funded by the International Organisation for Migration, Brussels Belgium.

According to officials at MIDA Rwanda, a program operating in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the objective is to strengthen the capacities of public and private institutions by mobilising the skills and resources of the Diaspora from the Great Lakes Countries settled legally in Europe.

The program makes intervention in the sectors of education, health and rural development. The advantage of this type of approach is that, while providing access to expatriate human and social capital, it does not deprive host countries of useful human resources.

After going through a rigorous selection process the selected expatriates return to impart skills and knowledge for a specified period of time, often not exceeding three months.

TOKTEN; Transfer of Knowledge Through Expatriate Nationals is another program supported by UNDP to support socio-economic development through transfer of knowledge and technical know-how to Rwanda on voluntary short term service, from highly qualified expatriate Rwandan Nationals from North-America.

However, for these programs to be sustainable, government needs to take them up in the event of lack of donor support as is the case with the TOKTEN program.

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