African Migration and the Brain Drain
Paper Presented at the Institute for African Studies and Slovenia Global Action
20 June 2008
By David H. Shinn
Adjunct Professor, Elliott School of International Affairs
George Washington University
The British Royal Society coined the term “brain drain” to describe the outflow of scientists and technicians to the United States and Canada in the 1950s and early 1960s. By the 1970s the brain drain came to be associated with the flow of skilled individuals from the developing world to Western Europe and North America. Of all the world’s regions, Sub-Saharan Africa has experienced the most serous negative repercussions.
Some African countries, including Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, and Cote d’Ivoire, are making special efforts to utilize the talents of people in their respective diasporas. South Africa has developed a comprehensive data bank that catalogs the skills of many in its diaspora. Gaining countries in Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand, and the Gulf States have done little to stem the inflow. Some have even designed visa programs to attract highly skilled persons from Africa and elsewhere while others actively recruit in Africa for skills in short supply such as nurses and doctors.
The brain drain from Africa and other developing nations has not yet become a public policy concern of the advanced nations. This is due to widely accepted support for freedom of movement and choice of employment. It is a also a reflection of the complex and shifting interplay of “push” and “pull” factors that motivate individuals to leave one country for another. The advanced nations are generally unwilling to discourage Africans or anyone else from seeking critical jobs where demand exceeds supply.
The impact of the brain drain on Sub-Saharan Africa is complex. There is the well known migration of highly educated Africans from the continent to other parts of the developed world. There is also substantial movement of skilled Africans within Sub-Saharan Africa. As a general rule the migration is from poor, politically unstable, and/or conflict prone countries to those that have stronger economies, are politically stable, and offer good security. The brain drain does have a silver lining for the losing country. In some cases, the diasporas have become significant sources of financial remittances back to the home country. Other Africans in the diaspora are finding ways to make their technical expertise available through electronic networks and some actually return to help out for short periods of time. Nevertheless, the brain drain is generally harmful to Sub-Saharan Africa.
A Long History of African Migration
Africans have a long history of movement, some voluntary and some forced. In pre-colonial times entire villages and tribes moved from one part of Africa to another in order to escape the ravages of warfare or agricultural and climatic conditions that led to drought and famine. There was also internal African slave-raiding that resulted in forced movements. During the colonial period most large population movements were linked to the economic polices of colonial governments. Plantations and agricultural projects in coastal countries attracted unskilled labor from landlocked states. Large numbers of workers from further north migrated to South Africa to work the mines. White farmers forced Africans from the land in Kenya, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and South Africa.
Perhaps the best known movement of Africans from the continent consisted of the Atlantic slave trade. An estimated ten million Africans landed in the Americas from the 16th to the 19th centuries. Another nine million Africans moved through the trans-Saharan slave trade between 1600 and 1900. Free Africans traveled as sailors, merchants, and students. African migration outside the continent increased during colonialism. France made liberal use of African troops during World War II and employed some 135,000 wartime workers in French factories. By the early 1950s there were an estimated 2,000 African students in the United Kingdom. Senegalese and Malian communities developed in France. Somalis established communities in Italy and the United Kingdom and the Congolese in Belgium. The United States, Canada, the Netherlands, Sweden, Australia, and other countries subsequently hosted sizeable African diasporas.
The Post-Independence Period
Movements of Africans in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s occurred in response to economic conditions, political repression, and conflict. There was an exodus from Idi Amin’s Uganda in the early 1970s and from Mengistu Haile Mariam’s reign of terror in Ethiopia beginning in the mid-1970s. Many Ghanaians fled a downturn in the economy from 1970 to 1982. The oil boom in Nigeria initially attracted Africans from neighboring countries but then resulted in massive departures of skilled Nigerians when the price of oil collapsed in the early 1980s. They went to oil-rich Arab countries and the United States. Better pay and working conditions attracted professionals from various African countries to South Africa’s homelands (and later to black-ruled South Africa), Botswana, and Zimbabwe, until many Zimbabweans began leaving because of the failing economy and repressive government. Educated Kenyans found inadequate numbers of jobs in the country and sought work elsewhere in Africa or abroad.
Africans from Francophone countries tended to migrate to France, those from Anglophone countries to the United Kingdom and the United States, those from Lusophone countries to Portugal, and those from Rwanda and the Congo to Belgium. Germany and the United States became the preferred destination for scientists and professionals. By the 1985-86 academic year, an estimated 34,000 African students were in the United States. Continuing political instability in countries like Ethiopia, Uganda, Sudan, Mozambique, Angola, and Liberia caused more professionals to depart.
Between 1960 and 1989, an estimated 70,000 to 100,000 highly skilled African workers and professionals left for Europe and North America. This constituted about 30 percent of Sub-Saharan Africa’s highly skilled personnel. In 1984 there were 10,000 Nigerian professionals in the United States alone. Some 500,000 Sudanese, 80 percent of whom were skilled, worked abroad in 1985, mostly in the Gulf States. Sudan became a labor exporting nation and had to fill the gap by hiring Egyptians. In the first 30 years of African independence, the brain drain was a complicated phenomenon. Most of the movement by professionals and other highly skilled persons was away from the continent. Nevertheless, a few African nations like Nigeria in the 1970s and Botswana benefited by the arrival of well trained Africans from other countries.
Recent Brain Drain and Migration Trends
Statistics on Sub-Saharan Africa’s brain drain and migration are often confusing and contradictory. Nevertheless, there is general agreement on the trend lines. The brain drain has two categories. There are those who complete their education in Africa and then migrate for a variety of reasons. This group consists especially of scientists, engineers, health professionals, and entrepreneurs. The second category involves students who study abroad, finds jobs, establish families, and become permanent residents or citizens of another country.
An estimated 300,000 African professionals live and work outside the continent. Since 1990, Africa has lost some 20,000 professionals each year. About 30,000 Sub-Saharan Africans holding PhDs now live outside Africa. Over the last three decades, for example, Kenya has lost more than one-third of its skilled professionals; 3,000 highly trained Kenyans leave every year. About 10 percent of South Africa’s IT and finance executives have departed in recent years. In 2007, 150 professionals left Ethiopian Airways, mainly for higher paying jobs with airlines in the Gulf States. Between 70 and 90 percent of Zimbabwe’s university graduates are now working outside the country. To fill the gap caused by this brain drain, Africa employs up to 150,000 expatriate professionals at a cost of $4 billion annually.
There have also been significant movements of skilled Sub-Saharan Africans within the region. Oil rich Gabon and economically strong Namibia have had some success in recruiting highly educated Africans. Majority rule in South Africa in the mid-1990s resulted in an influx of educated migrants from countries like Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Zaire, Kenya, and Uganda. Prosperous and politically stable Botswana attracted professionals, particularly to the private sector and university, from South Africa, Ghana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, and Kenya. The most recent data suggest that both South Africa and Botswana are now exporting more skilled personnel than they are importing. The HIV/AIDS crisis in southern Africa has contributed to the problem.
The health infrastructure in much of Africa is collapsing. Growing health challenges like HIV/AIDS, high population growth rates, inadequate financial resources, and the brain drain are the reasons for this health care crisis. Approximately 65,000 African-born physicians and 70,000 African-born professional nurses were working overseas in a developed country by 2000. This represented about one-fifth of all African-born physicians and one-tenth of African-born professional nurses. The World Heath Organization reported in 2006 that out of fifty-seven countries worldwide suffering from a severe shortage of health workers, thirty-six were in Sub-Saharan Africa. There are fewer than ten doctors for every 100,000 people in twenty-four of the forty-four Sub-Saharan African countries for which statistics are available.
Individual country situations offer an even more depressing picture. More than 3,000 doctors have left Ethiopia, leaving 900 to meet the needs of nearly 78 million people. There are more Ethiopian doctors on the east coast of the U.S. than there are in Ethiopia. Uganda has one doctor for every 100,000 patients. More than 500 Ugandan doctors work outside the country, 200 of them in South Africa. But one-third to a half of all graduating doctors in South Africa migrate to the U.S., United Kingdom, and Canada while over 21,000 Nigerian doctors practice in the U.S. There are reportedly more Malawi-trained doctors in Manchester, England, than there are in all of Malawi. Zimbabwe has lost 50 percent of its health care professionals. Kenya has an acute shortage of neurosurgeons—one for each three million Kenyans while Tanzania, Uganda, and Ethiopia have only two each for the entire country. Malawi and Zimbabwe do not have any neurosurgeons.
The brain drain has led to interesting intra-African movements, including secondment by Tanzania and South Africa of nurses and doctors to Swaziland. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a country in desperate need of medical staff, offered doctors to Zimbabwe, a country now facing an even more serious brain drain and the loss of professionals to HIV/AIDS. Some countries can cope more successfully with the loss of skilled personnel. Nigeria, South Africa, and Ghana, for example, have large numbers of highly educated individuals, although even these countries are increasingly feeling the shortages. Others like Sierra Leone, Somalia, and the DRC that have been devastated by civil war are poorly equipped to respond to the brain drain. Concentration of doctors in the capital city is another problem. In Mozambique, for example, 70 percent of the country’s physicians live in the capital of Maputo.
The brain drain has impacted some areas of specialization much more than others. Shortages have been severe for most countries in medicine, nursing, physical and human sciences, engineering, technology, and computer programming. For the most part, Sub-Saharan African countries have continued to meet their needs in the liberal arts and humanities. There are even shortages in these areas, however, when countries experience long-term civil conflict or the destruction of their economy. In addition, some of the most capable persons in the liberal arts and humanities have migrated to more attractive situations in other African countries.
Causes of Migration and the Brain Drain
Complex push and pull factors determine the severity of the brain drain and migration for any particular country in Africa. Pull factors such as good security and better economic and social opportunities in countries that attract skilled people have essentially the same effect on skilled persons in all of Sub-Saharan Africa. The impact of push factors varies, however, from one country to another. Countries like Somalia, the DRC, and Sudan are impacted more negatively by conflict and political instability than they are by economic concerns. Others, such as Ghana, Kenya, Burkina Faso, and Zambia, are relatively stable but have faced serious economic push factors.
The Push Factors
Many political and security issues contribute to the decision of skilled Africans to move elsewhere. The Red Terror in Ethiopia, interminable conflict in Somalia, genocide in Rwanda, civil war in the DRC, and human cruelty in Sierra Leone are extreme examples. Military coups, political persecution, arbitrary arrest, poor human rights practices, intolerance of political dissent, absence of academic freedom, illegal regime change, and favoritism based on ethnic or religious affiliation add to the brain drain. All of these conditions exist somewhere in Sub-Saharan Africa today and in a few countries most of them prevail.
The newest scourge, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, contributes to the problem of the brain drain. The growth of secondary school enrollments has slowed as a result of a decline in primary-level enrollment and the negative demographic impact of HIV/AIDS. The disease is also decimating educational systems, including universities, in Sub-Saharan Africa. HIV/AIDS has had a devastating impact on both students and teachers. Although it is difficult to know the psychological impact of HIV/AIDS on the willingness of Africans to remain in the teaching system, it has probably become another reason to seek a less foreboding teaching environment.
A host of economic issues is responsible for or at least exacerbates the flight of skilled persons. As daily living conditions become more difficult, many professionals look for opportunities elsewhere. A country with a weak economy, high unemployment, significant corruption, low wages, periodic famine and/or substantial poverty is a prime candidate for a brain drain. A country that is unable to create a sufficient number of new jobs and has a limited capacity to absorb qualified personnel is especially vulnerable.
Low salaries for professionals are often cited as a major reason for the brain drain. For example, new medical graduates in Kenya earn about $1,000 per month. In some developed countries, they could earn $14,000 monthly. In a few African countries a physician earns as little as $100 per month.
A related concern is the lack of professional opportunity, benefits and personal development. This includes issues such as training and research opportunities, morale and job satisfaction, and human resource and management policies. Relations between the universities and national government are sometimes hostile. This is especially a problem when universities are under the tight control of the government and the university administration has minimal involvement in making education policy. The university leadership may then lose its sense of direction and be unable to cope during crisis situations. Most countries in Sub-Saharan Africa do not have particularly friendly working environments, strong budgets, clear policies or generous research funds. There is often no national policy for and little investment in science and technology.
Some of the problems concern everyday living. Professionals become discouraged if they can not afford decent housing. Poor supervision and limited career advancement opportunities add to the frustration. Poorly equipped institutions where computers and access to the Internet are limited pose a serious handicap. Libraries that house a modest number of mostly out-of-date books, laboratories with broken or obsolete equipment, and medical personnel without modern equipment add to the brain drain. Inability to access professional literature is another issue. These problems are common to many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Mitigating the Push Factors
African governments and societies must fix those problems that are driving skilled individuals out of the country. If a country has endemic conflict, the conflict must be brought to an end. If it has a long history of dictatorial rule, it must become more free and open. If corruption is out of control, it must be controlled. If the wealth of a country is being squandered, it must be channeled equitably into productive activities. If government and university appointments are made largely on the basis of ethnicity, they must in the future be made on the basis of merit. If wages in critical skill categories like medicine are unrealistically low, they have to be increased. If the government gives a low priority to support for science and technology, it must raise the priority. It is not realistic for any country to resolve all of the problems that cause professionals to depart. Countries with strong economies such as South Africa, Mauritius, and Botswana and those with significant natural resources such as Nigeria, Gabon, and Angola are in a better position to staunch the outflow. The poorest countries like Ethiopia, Malawi, and Somalia have a much more difficult task.
Each country should create a comprehensive database on the impact of the brain drain. South Africa is well advanced in this undertaking. The database will help decision-makers formulate more effective policy for retaining persons with skills in those areas where the brain drain is negatively affecting development priorities. Without detailed and up-to-date information on the nature of the problem, it will be impossible to ameliorate it in any significant way.
Science, technology, and medicine are the skill categories most adversely affected by the brain drain in Sub-Saharan Africa. Individual governments and regional institutions must make a special effort to counter loses in these fields. They can develop centers of excellence for scientific research and increase budgetary allocations for research. They can also help to establish links between research and the private sector, share information on best practices and improve ways to disseminate research findings throughout the continent. They should improve the working environment in an attempt to ensure that these persons remain in the country.
Most African countries can do much at little or no cost to improve the climate for their highest skilled individuals. They can permit unrestricted academic freedom and value indigenous experts as much they value foreign experts. For that matter, they can put pressure on the donor community to make greater use of African experts in assistance programs rather than importing specialists from outside. They can reevaluate the nation’s education system to determine if it is producing the skills required for critical needs. Governments can promote development of a stronger private sector and then encourage it to work with and draw on the skills of indigenous personnel. Governmental institutions and universities can encourage human resource policies that accommodate the career aspirations of their personnel and create a positive policy environment. Health professionals in the low paid public sector can be permitted to do some private practice.
Other incentives are more costly and probably out of reach of most African countries. They include higher wages or salary supplements for professions highly impacted by the brain drain. Tax incentives and improved benefits packages might help stem the flow. Providing loans or assistance for decent housing, expanding professional training opportunities, offering grants and fellowships for research, and providing educational benefits for children are other incentives for retaining skilled personnel. Improving the physical plant and equipment where individuals work is another option.
Some countries have tried restrictive proposals to stem the brain drain. Sudan once limited departures by requiring exit permits. Others have tried contractual bonding of persons leaving for studies abroad. Another technique is to require that students who study overseas return after completion of the education to fulfill a specified commitment in a national service program. This is done by ensuring that the departing student receives a foreign visa that requires the student to return home. Ethiopia, Ghana, and Nigeria have tried this idea. Alternatively, a country can delay departure for overseas positions by requiring compulsory service. A few countries have imposed remittances on skilled personnel in order to render immigration less attractive. Eritrea asked students going to South Africa to post a $15,000 bond to ensure their return. The students protested that they could not pay such a huge sum and the university backed down, instead withholding their academic certificates until they returned. The evidence suggests that these restrictive policies are rarely effective in stemming the brain drain.
The ability of governments and the private sector to strengthen and expand African universities is a key to mitigating migration and the drain brain. In too many countries, national universities are weaker and less adequately funded today than they were just after independence. Of all the world’s regions, Sub-Saharan Africa has the lowest level of tertiary education at 4 percent. This compares with 18 percent for Latin America and 7 percent for South Asia. National universities and research institutions should remain the principal platforms for imparting the skills needed to develop the nations of Sub-Saharan Africa. Although there is an important role for private universities and distance education, the major public colleges still hold the key. This means more budgetary support, independence, and academic freedom.
The Pull Factors
If the push factors are difficult to control, Sub-Saharan African countries have virtually no influence over the pull factors. In most cases, the pull attraction is the opposite of the push factor. If the economy is weak and wages are low in the country losing skilled personnel, the economy tends to be strong and wages high in the gaining country. This is the case for Europe, North America, and even the Gulf States. In a relative sense, it is also true for African countries like South Africa and Botswana. Although they lose large numbers of professionals annually to the developed world, they gain talent from a number of countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Gaining countries also tend to be democratic, free of conflict, and politically stable.
In addition to a strong economy, peaceful political environment, and high standard of living, an important attraction of countries in Europe and North America is the ability to improve professionally. Career advancement and job mobility are high. More attention is given to human resource policies, supervision, and training. Hospitals and universities have state of the art equipment and well stocked libraries. The private sector offers numerous opportunities for entrepreneurs. Think tanks and non-governmental organizations are numerous. The Internet is widely available. Research funding and scholarships are commonplace. Benefit packages for health care, life insurance, and retirement are routine and often generous. There are generally fewer bureaucratic frustrations in the developed countries.
Some developed countries actively recruit in developing countries for skill categories such as doctors and nurses. Canada, Australia, and some members of the European Union have used this technique in Sub-Saharan Africa. Tanzania and Senegal have lost many qualified primary and secondary school teachers to aggressive recruitment efforts by European countries. On the other hand, the United Kingdom Department of Health published guidelines on the recruiting of nurses and doctors, noting that negative impacts on the country of origin are no longer acceptable. The president of the South African Medical Research Council visited Canada in 2001 on behalf of the South African government to protest the organized poaching of South African health professionals by Canadian provincial governments. Canada replied it had little choice because the United States was poaching Canadian medical personnel. At the same time, South Africa once recruited doctors from other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. In fields like medicine, this becomes survival of the fittest with troubled and economically weak countries the big losers.
Immigration policy is another important pull factor. The United States, France and Germany, among others, have put in place visa policies that encourage the brain drain. The United States offers employment-based immigrant visas that are divided into five preference categories. The program includes persons of extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business and athletics. Applicants must prove they have sustained national or international acclaim and recognition in their field of expertise. Outstanding professors and researchers fall in this category. A second group includes professionals with advanced degrees. Investors who can invest at least a half million dollars constitute another category. In 2007 the United States admitted 162,000 persons under this program worldwide. The largest groups came from India, Philippines, and China. Africans received 4,300 of these immigrant visas. South Africa had the largest number followed in descending order by Egypt, Nigeria, Kenya, and Ghana. The United States admitted several thousand more Africans under other skilled, temporary employment categories.
The United States has a Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, better known as the DV program, which is intended to encourage the immigration of underrepresented nationalities to the United States. Applicants must have a high school education or equivalent. The annual worldwide DV quota is 50,000 immigrants. In 2007, 42,000 persons entered the US under this program. Candidates are selected at random by computer from all qualified applicants. More than 19,000 African entered the United States under this program in 2007. Egypt provided the highest number followed by Ethiopia, Nigeria, Morocco, Kenya, and Ghana.
Mitigating the Pull Factors
Sub-Saharan Africa has virtually no control over the pull factors; it is largely up to those countries that attract skilled individuals from the continent to consider the policy implications of the brain drain. This is hard for a country like the United States that is committed to the free movement of labor, particularly when the total number of skilled Africans coming to the United States is small compared, for example, to the large number of Indians and Chinese who arrive each year. The same situation applies to most other major importing nations. Unfortunately, the brain loss for many African countries in certain skill categories is catastrophic.
Governments of developed countries should discourage organizations from actively recruiting professionals who are in short supply in Sub-Saharan Africa. Some of these efforts constitute little more than raiding parties. More significantly, developed countries should take a hard look at immigration policies that are designed specifically to attract highly skilled temporary (many of them end up staying permanently) workers and permanent residents. This legislation may not be in the long term interest of the developed countries if it contributes to growing disparities between rich nations and poor ones, contributing in the process to slower development and even potential conflict.
There are a number of smaller steps that would help reduce the brain drain. Donor countries, international non-governmental organizations, and international financial and assistance organizations could make a greater effort to use African experts rather than expatriates in their programs. Many donors, including the United States, offer short and long-term specialized training to Africans. Frequently, those persons trained in the donor nation or other developed country do not return to Africa. This defeats the purpose of the training and argues for an emphasis on short-term (six months or less) training provided by the donor in the country where the person being trained lives. It costs less, can be made available to more individuals, and eliminates the temptation to remain abroad at the end of training. Long-term training poses a problem, but donors can send long-term trainees to other developing countries, like India, that have an oversupply of skilled labor, thus encouraging the Africans to return home.
Returning to Africa
There has been considerable discussion and some action on the concept of encouraging highly skilled Africans to return to their continent of birth. So far, however, these programs have met with exceedingly modest success and are almost certainly not the solution to the problem until more African economies are able to attract skilled people and democracy takes firmer root. The vast majority of African countries have not reached the point where they can attract significant numbers of returnees nor could they accommodate them if they did return in large numbers.
A few non-African countries have had success with this concept. In the 1960s only 16 percent of US-trained South Korean science and engineering doctorates returned home. The figure jumped to about 75 percent in the 1980s. Korea’s strong economy and progress on democratization almost certainly accounted for the change. Taiwan, Ireland, and Singapore have also had some success with the return policy. In 2000 an estimated 1,500 highly qualified Indians returned from the United States.
There are very practical reasons why the return option has limited appeal. Most in the diaspora are married, have families and children in school, and become accustomed to their new lives. Incentives to return such as free air fare, loans for housing, and temporary salary supplements are just not sufficient to attract significant numbers of returnees. One group in the diaspora that may be more willing to return is recent retirees. Each new generation that is born in the diaspora will have less interest in returning.
Drawing on the African Diaspora
If members of the diaspora are unwilling to return home on a permanent basis, there are other ways to utilize their skills. A few Sub-Saharan African countries have taken proactive steps to tap into their diasporas. South Africa is promoting the creation of agencies in Europe and the United States to gather information on the professional profiles of South Africans living abroad. Cote d’Ivoire created a special department in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs dedicated to nationals living abroad and promoted a conference in Abidjan on development of the country. It appealed to Ivorians in the diaspora to participate. The Nigerian President has a Special Assistant for Diaspora Activities. The government of Ghana hosted a homecoming summit for the Ghanaian diaspora to encourage its involvement in and support for Ghana’s development.
Africans in the diaspora can contribute to development by returning on short-term programs, investing in the country, establishing professional links, creating virtual information networks, and sending remittances back. The Ethiopian North American Health Professionals Association is engaged in several of these activities. The Canadian-based Association for Higher Education and Development is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving education in Ethiopia. It sends medical books and equipment to the medical faculty, provides scholarships to medical students, and networks with the medical faculty. Ghanaians in the diaspora created a Ghana Association of Distance Learning and Computer Literacy. It has the full support of the government of Ghana and colleagues in Ghana. The Association of Kenyans Abroad, Association of Nigerians Abroad, and the South African Network of Skills Abroad are knowledge networks aimed at linking the diaspora with its homeland for the purpose of exchanging knowledge and skills.
The Role of Remittances
The World Bank estimated that remittances to Sub-Saharan Africa in 2007 reached $20 billion, more than the total foreign direct investment flow and nearly equal to foreign aid. Remittances to North Africa were even higher—about $35 billion with Egypt, Morocco, and Algeria the leading recipients. The primary recipient in Sub-Saharan Africa was Nigeria at about $2.5 billion annually. Cape Verde relies heavily on remittances, especially from the United States. After many generations, persons from Cape Verde maintain close ties to their homeland, often retaining rights to land on which they eventually retire. Remittances amount to between 10-50 percent of GNP in Lesotho and 25-50 percent of the value of exports in Malawi. One study indicates that the Ghanaian diaspora remits about $400 million each year. Ghanaian remittances are the fourth largest source of foreign exchange after cocoa, gold, and tourism.
Countries in the Horn of Africa are especially dependent on remittances. Eritrea, a country of less than 4 million people, relies heavily on remittances. In 2003, remittances totaled $462 million and constituted about 70 percent of Eritrea’s GDP. Eritreans in the United States alone remit $100 to $150 million annually as gifts and investments. Ethiopia’s Prime Minister told Parliament in 2000 that remittances from the Ethiopian diaspora almost equaled the country’s export earnings from coffee, its major foreign exchange earner. The Ethiopian Central Bank reported that formal remittances reached $500 million in 2006. Including informal remittances, the total is probably about $1 billion. With a diaspora of more than 1 million persons, remittances have become crucial for the operation of the economy in both Somalia and Somaliland. The UN Development Program estimated remittances to Somalia at $500 million. The estimated total for much less populous Somaliland is also an astounding $500 million annually.
Focus on the Future
As long as so many African countries are troubled by weak economies, conflict, concerns about security, poor governance, and a lack of individual freedom, migration and the brain drain will continue to have a severe, negative impact on the continent. The long-term solution to stemming migration and the brain drain is to ameliorate the basic, internal problems. Impacted African countries should also focus on tapping the skills and finances in their respective diasporas and reinvesting in higher education. This will require reaching out more effectively in order to generate more remittances, develop skills data banks, build more and stronger virtual networks by using the Internet, encourage nationals to volunteer their time on a short-term basis, and perhaps enlist skilled retirees to return. For their part, the developed, donor countries need to do more of their specialized training in developing countries, hire more indigenous nationals in their assistance projects, discourage proactive recruitment of skilled individuals in developing countries, and take a hard look at immigration policies that encourage skilled persons to leave Sub-Saharan Africa.