Brain drain: Bane to Africa's potential

Migrants wait in a boat at sunrise to be rescued by the crew of the German NGO migrant rescue ship Sea-Watch 3 in international waters off the coast of Libya, in the western Mediterranean Sea, July 30, 2021. [Reuters]


A month ago, the BBC published an article titled Africa’s Brain Drain:’90 per cent of my friends want to leave.

In the article, British journalist Cecilia Macauly discusses a series of surveys conducted by the Africa Youth Survey as well as one by the South African Ichicowitz Foundation, which asked a sample of African youth across the continent a series of questions about their job prospects and general attitudes to their home countries.

The results of these surveys are overwhelmingly negative. In the article, Macauly interviewed a young Nigerian man, Mr Oni, whose ambition is to study computer sciences.

Throughout the interview, Mr Oni made no effort to hide his disdain for the current situation in his home country and his determination to leave, possibly to never return.

What was disconcerting about the article was not so much the opinions of Mr Oni, which are shared by many youths throughout Africa, but the data as shown by the African Youth Survey.

They asked a sample of youth in 15 African countries a simple question, ‘Is my country headed in the right direction?’ and asked them to respond with either ‘right direction’ or ‘wrong direction’.

Kenya had the third lowest positive score in the entire survey, with 84 per cent of the youth interviewed saying that Kenya was going in the wrong direction. That is nothing short of an indictment, not just on our leaders, but on our society in general.

Now, in the interest of integrity, it is important to mention that I too operate outside Kenya in the present.

When I left high school in 2015, it was markedly obvious to me that I could not obtain the skills I desired, nor could I sustain myself in my chosen field if I remained in Kenya.

Most Kenyan universities did not offer the course I wanted to study, which was Art History, and those that did lacked the resources I required to excel.

Patriotism alone will not get you employed, nor can you eat it, and it certainly will not pay Kenya Power to keep your lights on.

No one can begrudge any young person for wanting to gain new skills and further their employment prospects in foreign lands.

The issue is that many who leave see no reason to return and use the skills they acquired to better their home nations. What we must do, therefore, is ask ourselves hard questions, namely, what are the solutions to the problems that cause Africa’s brain drain?

Even before we aim for solutions, we must scrutinise the problem in depth. At face value, we can call on buzzwords we all know that plague our nation; corruption, nepotism, lack of jobs, etc.

But these are the symptoms of a cultural sickness, and culture is driven by its leaders.

Ghanaian entrepreneur Fred Swaniker, who founded the African Leadership Academy, says that the main problem faced by African countries is poor leadership.

He cites Zimbabwe and the fact that one man, Robert Mugabe, is single handily responsible for bringing a country that was once a blossom of prosperity withering to its knees.

Swaniker asserts that it is due to our weak institutions, which are unable to defend the general population from the ravenous greed of corrupt bureaucrats and politicians, that have made the rule of law nil and void by utterly corrupting the Judiciary.

When the law fails to uphold a nation’s constitution, a country's citizens lie defenceless, and their leaders cannot be held to account.

How does one even begin to tackle these issues? How does the next generation of Kenyans attempt to reform and strengthen our institutions?

As an art historian, there are many a lawyer and political scientists far more qualified than I to provide a clearer answer, and I rightfully defer to them. But one thing that is obvious to me is that if we, the youth of Kenya do not take up these responsibilities, then we are in serious trouble.

The man interviewed by the BBC in the article said 90 per cent of his friends wanted to leave Nigeria.

This is a common thread among many conversations I have had with my peers, with one young engineer saying"we do not owe this country anything".

Indeed, a hyper-critical response to the brain drain would be to assert that Africans themselves see no value in Africa.

The late American President John F Kennedy famously stated that Americans should "Ask not what my country can do for you, but what you can do for your country".

And yet many privileged young Africans, myself included, appear to be far more inclined to seek a better life elsewhere than we are to improve the quality of life in our home countries.

But this is unjustly critical of enterprising youth simply trying to make their way in the world and those who flee from war and persecution. On July 24, at least 23 African migrants were killed by Moroccan and Spanish border police at the Melilla border when a host of young men attempted to storm the border fence.

A video has circulated on the internet of young African men being beaten with batons, some dead and/or unconscious, and thrown into a pile by police. The video rightfully received widespread condemnation.

But the question remains, why were so many young Africans so determined to leave their homes and venture into foreign and hostile territory at the risk of death and persecution in the first place?