Brain Gain - Will meaningful action follow the talk?
Lately there has been much talk about the diaspora’s involvement in Africa’s economic and social development. There’s even talk about securing African citizenship for American descendants of Africans taken away from the continent as slaves, with a view toward harnessing the resources of those descendants for nation building.
As have their Caribbean counterparts, African officials have grown wise to the fact that their overseas nationals collectively send home billions of dollars each year to support families left behind. And though their choices for development-contract awards suggest otherwise, the same officials are aware of the high levels of expertise and experience among their overseas nationals.
Could it be that African governments are now serious about bringing back to the continent the very brains their policies and practices helped scatter far and wide? Could it be that they now are ready, willing and able to embrace their overseas nationals and treat with respect the expertise and skills they have acquired, often while suffering tremendous indignities as Black men and women?
That appears to be the case, judging by some encouraging declarations. “We have to commit to creating conditions that will help us retain our brightest. As we reform our [governments] and economies, promoting more transparency and economic opportunities, I think that we are on the way toward turning the so-called ‘brain drain’ in Africa into a ‘brain gain,’” Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo said in July at the seventh Leon H. Sullivan Summit in Abuja, the Nigerian capital.
The annual summit is named after the late African-American author of the 1977 Global Sullivan Principles, a code of social, political and economic conduct for corporations doing business in apartheid South Africa and worldwide. Typically, this year’s gathering brought together Africans from all parts of the diaspora to mull over Africa’s long-term economic growth and development.
July was an especially busy month for diaspora get-togethers. Burundi hosted a conference for overseas nationals from the Africa Great Lakes region.
Brazil, in cooperation with the African Union, hosted the Second Conference of Intellectuals from Africa and the Diaspora (CIAD II) under the heading, “The Diaspora and African Renaissance.” Heads of state from Africa, the Caribbean and South America attended.
Still, there’s a feeling among many of Africa’s overseas nationals that the continent’s leaders are more interested in their money than in implementing meaningful reforms to stem the brain drain, that there exists a “Yankee cash cow” mind-set that says “bring the money home to build the country but keep your ideas of good governance and accountability and civic efficiencies over there in America and Europe.”
Yet, some tangible brain-gain moves are under way. At the Euro-African Confer-ence on Migration and Development, held in July in Morocco, senior officials from 58 European and African countries adopted a plan to reverse the exodus of scientists from Africa. The plan calls for the development of partnerships and networks between European and African scientists and research institutions to train young African professionals; greater access for African students to top universities and institutes in both Africa and Europe; simpler procedures to make it easier for researchers and students to migrate; and incentives to encourage students and researchers to return home.
Allafrica.com reports that the African Union summit in Gambia in July backed a proposal from Mali to host an African Centre for Study and Research on Migration. The center will identify how African nations can retain skilled personnel, especially scientists.
Some say an excellent brain-gain model already exists in the form of a United Nations Development Program (UNDP) mechanism called Tokten, an acronym for Transfer of Knowledge Through Expatriate Nationals. Estab-lished in 1977, Tokten allows professionals from developing countries who live abroad to undertake short-term technical consultancies in their countries of origin. As Tokten volunteers, the professionals operate under the aegis of the UNDP, which provides them with only round-trip airfare and a daily subsistence allowance. However, other subsistence resources are provided by the host government in partnership with such programs as the Tokyo International Conference on African Development.
Many developing countries outside Africa, including china, take advantage of the program. To date, however, only a handful of African nations, including Rwanda, Liberia and Mali, have signed on to the program. Could it be that African governments are now serious about bringing back to the continent the very brains their policies and practices helped scatter far and wide? We hope so.
By Rosalind McLymont