Kwaku Asante Darko
National University of Lesotho
Conceptually, there are two main camps in the debate over the right approach to the solution for Africa's loss of labour to the 'affluent' societies of Europe and the USA. While one group derives its contention from emphasizing Africa's under-development and shortage of manpower, the other founds its position on the official neglect and hopelessness faced by skilled labour in Africa. This issue, it must be noted, is part of the old but unfinished debate over whether or not the principal causes of and remedies for Africa's under-development are to be found principally in external or internal factors. . The central concern of this paper is to evaluate the extent to which the practical consequences of these perceptions are capable of offering a sustainable solution to what is, to all intents and purposes, a complex and enigmatic problem.
The opponents of the transfer of African skilled labour contend that those whom Africa has trained are expected to stay at home and help in rebuilding it. When these talents leave to work elsewhere, it is not just a loss of numbers, but also badly needed skilled manpower that goes. This is clearly illustrated by the following:
Implicitly, the basic assumption of such complaints is that Africa would gain more from its professionals if they stayed on the continent rather than if they migrated. This is based on the presumption that conditions exist for the productive utilization of such skills, or at least a capacity and political will on the part of governments and researchers to create those conditions. This perspective takes it for granted that the migration of skilled African labour has an overall negative effect on the continent. It can be inferred from that position that there is, a priori, the willingness and the ability on the part of governments and skilled personnel to create such conducive conditions for the profitable use of this skilled labour in Africa. Unfortunately, it is rarely the case.
When they fail to acknowledge the redundancy and vicissitudes faced by skilled Africans on their return home, the advocates of this position equally fail to acknowledge the real nature and context of the migration of African skilled labour thereby oversimplifying and prejudging the issues. In the long run, their limited, emotive and ill-contextualised approach tends to obscure the problem and eclipse the urgency for the need of finding appropriate solutions. Rhetoric designed to put all the blame on the affluent countries for the ills of less affluent countries is a case in point:
Yet, while in classical colonialism, the colony at least received some income for its exports - here the poor country pays to export. The country invests its limited resources in the education and training of these bright young people. 
More subtle, but no closer to the truth, are those painting this migration as a permanent departure in which the investment of the sending-countries are wasted and completely lost because:
This is an absurd situation: the poor countries subsidize the rich. Ready made professionals leave the poor countries - embodying an enormous investment in human resources - and land this investment in a rich country. This is also one of the biggest forms of capital flight and capital transfers in history. 
The rich countries are said to condone and connive an African felony, the benefits of which they selfishly enjoy. Their gains are calculated as Africa's losses. An observer noted on this account that:
And such contentions have not found favour in official circles. For instance,during a visit to Switzerland in 1999, Ghana's then President Jerry Rawlings railed against doctors trained in Ghana at Ghanaian expense who leave for the West. He, like many others, believed that: since the continent lacks skills, its professionals must stay in Africa rather than greedily flee with their heavily subsidized degrees to greener pastures because African skills at home help Africa better than (if not only) when abroad.
Such contentions are only half-truths and counter-lies. Africa is deficient in skills: this is a fact. However, what is not readily obvious is that, contrary to popular opinion, facts do not speak for themselves; rather they are interpreted to serve the purpose to which the interpreter wants them put. The purpose of evoking the facts, figures and price of African emigration has not been designed to formulate policies geared to redressing the ill-effects at the root of the phenomenon, but rather to shift the blame and so avoid having to tackled the difficult and complex question.
It has been characteristic of African governments of spurious legitimacy to lay the blame for Africa's predicament on the shoulders of Africans who seek higher wages, brighter prospects, low taxes, and future security abroad. That Africa lacks opportunities has not been seen to be sufficient reason why skilled African would emigrate. Not even when the potential émigrés perceive that their legitimate wishes and aspirations to advance the cause of training, teaching, and research in Africa are vigorously and assiduously thwarted by negligent governments whose priorities they believe, ignore national welfare.
Again, the complexities associated with the movement of all manner of skilled people are neither new nor peculiar to Africa. Diverse ancient empires of disparate races such as Egypt, Greece, Carthage and Rome were host to innumerable students, mercenaries, skilled artists, and intellectuals. Some, like Aristotle, returned to Greece after studies in Egypt, whereas others faced a fate similar to that of Mark Anthony who died fighting alongside his lover, the legendary Egyptian Queen Cleopatra.
The claim that African skilled labour is more beneficial at home often ignores the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of cases where many such Africans have returned home to find that there are no places for them in the particular field in which they are skilled. Their well-meaning attempts to create the necessary conditions for the profitable use of their training has often found them questioning corrupt government practices thereby running into insurmountable difficulties with obscurantist authorities. This partly explains why it would be catastrophic to follow the suggestion that Africa's manpower shortage can be solved by a massive and immediate return of skilled Africans now abroad to replace the 100,000 foreign technical assistants now working for countless international organizations in Africa. It is worthy of note that during the UNESCO conference on Brain Drain held in Paris on October 7, 1998, the Korean representative suggested to countries hosting such 'Third World skills' to "use all means to send them back home". Such admonitions have worked to some degree in Korea where conditions of life have improved considerably over the last decade, but they are not easily adapted to the sluggish African economies. Furthermore, there are certain risks which foreigners are better placed to take in their bid for professional recognition. Home may not always be the best place for impact-making innovators and discoverers: both ancient and contemporary evidence abounds. For example, before the brain of Christopher Columbus was 'drained' by Queen Isabela of Spain, it was made little use of by his native Italy; and had been treated with ridicule and contempt by the government of Portugal.
It would be wrong to assume that the current African emigration to a more rewarding milieu is necessarily indicative of a lack of patriotic fervour. To argue along these lines would be to oversimplify the delicate nature of the issues at stake in this migration debate. There is a brand of discourse which presents the African skilled worker in the West as a selfish, greedy, heartless, unpatriotic individual; a deserter enjoying the connivance of Western exploiters. The harping on this purported 'treasonable' image has conferred a quasi-heroic status on those who return after their studies such that the representative of the German Academic Exchange Service at the October 1998 UNESCO Conference in Paris on 'Brain Drain' underlined the need for: "paying tribute to the tens of thousands of graduates from developing countries who have returned home and are working under harsh conditions."
Reasons for both departure and return may be varied and interconnected and they may say very little about the émigré's ties with and love of her/his country. In sub-Saharan Africa, several factors, (some trivial, others crucial) account for the low capacity of African countries to retain their skilled youth. These go beyond greed for higher wages, even the natural survival instinct or the get-rich-quick attitude. They include the stress caused by the unconscious accumulation of the unpleasantness of having to acknowledge one of your densest former classmates as "His Excellency, Mr. President", or having to park off the road upon hearing the siren announcing the approach of a former coup-maker or war-lord who you, and the majority of your professional colleagues, believe is just a common criminal masquerading as an honourable Head of State or so-called civilian President of the nation; the same nation for which you are toiling for scant recognition or financial reward. The ridicule of democracy, the disregard for meritocracy, the secret Swiss bank accounts, and varying levels of political violence are hallmarks of African governance that compromise the skill-retention capacity of the continent. When the youth have asked for sacrifice their governments have offered suicide: both involve suffering, but their outcomes are not the same.
The skilled African contemplating greener pastures could consider the absence of research and training facilities a temporary setback. But the hope of the young researcher who has put up with employment in the civil service, retailing, or taxi-driving is being continually dampened by the persistent governmental exclusion from national priorities of his meaningful research and teaching needs. The discomfort of remaining a square peg in a round hole, coupled with the blatant inefficiency, nepotism, ethnocentrism and persecution by some self-appointed governments and their unbefitting leaders largely explains the preference for this last resort - migration. The truth is that the talented young skilled Africans abroad are not unaware that they are being used. Racist glances, 'condescending' overtures, and xenophobic characterizations are their constant lot, be it in fellow-African countries or across some ocean. This is especially so when she or he only has the status of a guestworker without the right of family reunion in the host country. Often they have to swallow both pride and anger, even in the face of organized hostility. Frequently these are not only people of considerable skills, but also men and women of integrity whose honest labour and fortitude should be applauded.
Misplaced priorities coupled with the inability of African governments to create the necessary conditions for the retention of their trained workers for national development explain why it is so easy for the West to take advantage of the situation. This African neglect makes it easy for the West to pick up and use talented young Africans who have been shut out by their own governments. It could even engender a perception of a benevolent West providing a haven of opportunity for otherwise unmarketable 'brains' or a bulwark against inhumanity; this despite the suffering imposed on Black immigrants by their host country arguing that foreigners steal jobs from 'locals' while, at the same time, being castigated by African and other Third World governments as 'saboteurs'.
The shallowness of the claim that Africa loses exactly what the host of its émigrés gain is not difficult to show. Most particularly, the absence of the necessary working infrastructure in Africa means that the same skills can not lead to the same kind or magnitude of productivity possible in the West. By and large policies remain dormant and so are lost. I seems likely that behind Western government's policies towards skilled African immigration, there is the conviction that the West is helping to prevent such talents from being wasted by inept African governments. And this belief is reinforced by the fact that often the West has subsidized the acquisition of these skills by way of liberal funding of scholarships.
Another fact to be kept in mind is that African immigrants often maintain strong ties, financial and otherwise, with their mother-country. They support close and often extend family members left behind; their ability to do so from abroad is often the cardinal reason for which they moved out anyway. However, skilled Africans do not always leave their home country forever. The records are legion which show that governments and peoples of the countries 'exporting' these skills benefit enormously from the use of these otherwise frustrated and abused talents. This fact is blindingly obvious but often ignored. The reason is that they offend official propaganda and 'respectable opinion'. For the past several years remittances from Ghanaians abroad has been the third national foreign exchange earner (after cocoa and gold). As these monies go into the hands of private individuals, their judicious and accountable use must have had a developmental impact that surpasses the usually doubtful claims of public probity.
Real headway in addressing the causes and negative aspects of the problems of African migration could be made when we refrain from downgrading the benefits of this phenomena to Africa, when we stop condoning State inefficiency, when we cease the emotional argumentation according to which such émigrés are selfish traitors who must be made to pay back to the State the full cost of their education. It would be most beneficial to enlarge higher education, prioritize research and training ahead of armaments and luxuries, and to offer attractive incentives to induce research and industrial scientists from the former Eastern Bloc countries to supplement those Africans that have been retained. This, it must be underlined, is not going to be a quick and easy job.
It must be finally noted that the various positions of the opposing camps can be conceptually and even empirically reconciled for a collective commitment to a profitable harnessing of Africa's skills, wherever they may be. The thesis that émigrés worship opportunism and have no fixed patria is no more tenable than its antithesis, that a real patriot should never export her or his skills. What is vital is that the émigrés maintain a commitment to their country of origin in such a way that if they do return, they do so proudly and with enhanced skills, to a continent they are helping to reconstruct.
 Oyowe, Augustine, 'Brain Drain: Colossal loss of investment for Developing Countries', in The Courier ACP-EU, No. 159, September-October, 1996, p. 59-60.
 Vaknin, Sam, 'Meritocracy and Brain Drain', at http://samvak.tripod.com/nm026.html
 Oyowe, op. Cit.
 See: Population Today, April 2000, Vol. 28, Issue 3, p. 5.
 Oyowe, op. Cit.
 The movement of British Scientists in recent years to USA and other parts of Europe is well known. See for instance, Elaine Williams, 'Brain Drain Great Britain - Statistics', in Times Higher Education Supplement, 11/12/93, p. 1.
UNESCO Conference on Brain Drain, Paris-France, October 7, 1998.
 The issue was the subject of a Regional Conference of the UN Economic Commission for Africa held on February 22-24, 2000 in Addis Abeba.
|Kwaku Asante Darko currently lectures in Literary Theory, African Literature, and Creative Writing at the National University of Lesotho. He was born in the Ashanti (i.e., Asante) Region of Ghana and studied French, History, and Comparative Litearture at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Kumasi and Université du Bénin in Lomé, Togo. He also studied International Relations as well as French Language and Pedagogy in France at the Université Pierre Mendez France and at the Université Stendhal. His analysis of African economic issues was internationally acknowledged in 1991 when he won the First Prize of the International Essay Competition organized by Lord Peter Tomas Bauer through the Ghana Economic Council on the topic: "Africa's Economic Growth: Aid or Trade?" His most recent journal publications are on issues of Globalization and African Renaissance, Ecology and African Literature, and Racial Reconciliation in African Literature. Among them: The Challenge of Globalist Perceptions in a Literary and Political Theory Arobase Vol. 3, No. 1, Winter 1998 ; Language and Culture in African Postcolonial Literature CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture: A WWWeb Journal 2.1 (2000) ;|
|Some other articles by Kwaku Asante Darko|
African sport as a committed art: "Burkina 98" and beyond
Discourse, tradition, and power in a literary transition
Reggae rhetoric and the Pan-African risorgimento