Why the time is ripe for repatriation of talent back to Africa

Africa is the world’s fastest-growing continent, despite its status as having a large number of countries considered to be lower income. Due to historical factors, however, Africans are always looking for ways to leave home for more developed regions in a bid to improve the quality of their lives. This phenomenon is not new as, throughout history, there are signs of immigration from all corners of the globe as people seek to improve their lot in life.

The push and pull factors of this brain drain are wide-ranging and complex and depend upon the African country. One might be ‘forced’ to leave because of war and/or political instability. The attraction of higher pay and better opportunities for one’s family might pull them away.

The data on the brain drain from Africa is scarce but alarming. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Africa has lost one-third of its human capital and is losing skilled personnel at an increasing rate, with an estimated 20,000 doctors, university lecturers, engineers, and other professionals leaving the continent each year since 1990.

The African Union estimates that about 70,000 skilled professionals leave Africa each year, dramatically impacting public service delivery, especially in the health sector. Nations all over the world have benefited incredibly from the skills of numerous Africans who have relocated for better financial opportunities. Nigeria provides a great case study, with the United Kingdom benefitting from the over 6,770 Nigerian nationals working in the National Health Service (NHS).

This also manifests itself at the academic level where many Africans who have the opportunity choose to study abroad because of the perception that the education systems in more developed countries are superior to those in Africa. A United Nations report shows one in nine Africans with tertiary education – over 2.9 million people- were living in developed countries in Europe, North America, and elsewhere. This is a 50 percent growth in the past fifteen years, more than any other region in the world.

Conversely, Africa invests $4 billion per year (or 35 percent of total official development aid to the continent) to hire 100,000 Western professionals to undertake duties that are broadly classified as technical assistance.

Despite the fact that many educated young people on the continent seek greener pastures elsewhere, there are still many who desire to return home. Hundreds of thousands of young Africans in the diaspora regularly leave their relatively more hassle-free lives in the Global North to return to Africa because they recognize the importance of making an impact at home.

Read also: Youth migration to Europe drains Africa of talent pool – Buhari

Apart from being driven by family reasons, the coming back home phenomenon seems to be fuelled by the improving African economy. This is being seen across the tech sector where for the first time, Africa-focused start-up funding has crossed the $1 billion mark. Last year, African start-ups received a total of $1.3 billion, with over half of the total funnelled into fintech businesses.

It is no coincidence to see that a sizeable number of these start-ups have leadership teams composed of Africans who spent their lives and received their education and initial professional experience in the Global North.

This bodes well for the continent because as the world moves towards the information centered fourth industrial revolution, the improving technological penetration in Africa, as well as its young population, stands the region in great stead to take advantage of the information technology boom while placing Africa at the forefront of technological innovations that enhance the quality of life for the billions of people around the globe.

Primarily, for Africa to accomplish sped-up, comprehensive, and feasible development driven by innovation and technology, there is a great need for exceptionally gifted and skilled Africans. Skilled Africans are essential to the continent effectively executing robust policy frameworks to promote innovation and improve Africa’s overall quality of life.

Carr is Principal at Flourish Ventures

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