Africa’s brain gain movement kicked into higher gear this year, with some of the continent’s most eminent scientists urging action from the world’s richest countries. In a statement dated June 11 and addressed to the heads of state and government attending this year’s G8 gathering in Italy in July, members of the Network of African Science Academies remind these leaders that developed countries, not Africa, have been reaping the financial and knowledge benefits from African scientists who settle overseas.
“One-third of all African scientists live and work in developed countries. This outflow represents a significant loss of economic potential for the continent, especially in today’s global society where scientific and technological knowledge drive development,” the letter says. “By some estimates, Africa needs an additional one million researchers to address its critical needs,” it adds.
In his January 2008 article, “Brain Drain and Brain Gain in Africa,” Ravinder Rena, Ph.D., of the Eritrea Institute of Technology, notes that Africans who immigrate to the United States contribute 40 times more wealth to that country than to the African economy. He quotes the United Nations as reporting that an African professional working in the United States contributes about $150,000 per year to the U.S. economy. “It will be impossible to achieve an African renaissance without the contributions of the talented Africans residing outside Africa,” he adds.
Headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, NASAC is an independent body comprising the African Academy of Sciences and the national science academies of Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Nigeria, Senegal, Uganda, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Zambia. Its letter to the G8 comes just months after a gathering at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., where more than 100 scientists from sub-Saharan Africa, Africans who work in U.S. labs and representatives of the National Institutes of Health’s various institutes and centers, addressed the challenge of turning Africa’s brain drain into a brain gain. Among the attendees were George Mensah, M.D., a Nigerian-trained cardiologist with the Centers for Disease Control; Nigerian-born-and-educated Charles Rotimi, Ph.D., director of NIH’s Center for Research on Genomics and Global Health; and British-educated Winston “Wole” Soboyejo, Ph.D., who runs the U.S./Africa Materials Institute at Princeton University. “If you invest in people in Africa and you invest in ideas in Africa and if you engage the governments to provide the mechanisms to sustain these efforts, the brain drain would be resolved,” Dr. Mensah argued.
NASAC stresses that the responsibility for reversing Africa’s brain drain lies primarily with Africa itself. It acknowledges steps already taken by African nations to increase the percentage of their gross domestic product devoted to science and technology, as well as efforts of the African Union, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development and the African Development Bank to place those areas at the center of the continent’s economic development agenda. But it calls on G8 members (Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States) to:
• Invest in rebuilding universities and world-class research centers in Africa;
• Extend financial support to young African scientists to pursue postgraduate and postdoctoral training in universities in Africa and other developing countries;
• Launch regional and international centers of excellence in Africa in areas of study of critical importance to Africa’s development, such as poverty alleviation, access to safe drinking water, improved public health and biodiversity conservation;
• Broaden efforts to encourage Africa’s Diaspora to participate in initiatives to address critical science-based issues on the continent and to engage Africa’s scientists in joint projects;
• Honor commitments made at the 2005 G8 Summit at Gleneagles, Scotland, where members pledged to provide $5 billion to help rebuild universities and $3 billion to help establish centers of scientific excellence in Africa.
On July 18, eight days after the close of the G8 Summit in Italy, Black professionals in the United States and human resources executives from leading companies in Africa will meet in New York City for CareerNation’s Fourth Annual Africa Brain Gain Conference. For those whose jobs have been wiped out by the current recession, this is a chance to explore career and business opportunities in such areas as finance, energy, telecommunications and entrepreneurship in countries that have experienced dramatic growth in the last decade. Indeed, the global recession may have provided the biggest boost to Africa’s brain gain. There are signs that out-of-work African professionals in North America and Europe are beginning to return home.