Only Africa can put a stop to drain brain


Africa’s brain drain is well documented. Too many of the continent’s best minds leave their home country to study and work abroad, many of whom never return to the place they were born. The implications on African countries are widespread. First of all, losing their most skilled and educated citizens increases the skills gap that largely contributes to the unemployment problems many African countries are currently facing.

It also pushes down the overall quality of healthcare and other vital industries that have a major impact on development and the quality of people’s lives. Then you have the negative impact of brain drain on innovation at a time when African innovators are one of the continent’s most valuable assets.

This is especially true in technology and science fields, which present African nations with the opportunity to find its own solutions to issues like climate change and renewable energy. This opportunity is greatly when these countries are unable to hold onto their brightest and most talented.

Africa needs to solve its brain drain problem, that much is clear. And this is something it won’t be able to do with outside help; the answer will have to come from within.


How bad is Africa’s brain drain?

Africa is by no means the only part of the world to be suffering from brain drain and the rates of brain drain vary greatly across the continent. A 2013 United Nations report found that one in nice Africans with tertiary education (roughly 13%) were living in developed countries in Aisa, Europe and North America.

This figure suggests brain drain in Africa is worse than Latin America and the Caribbean (one in 13); Europe (one in 20) and Asia (1 in 30).

Data from the World Economic Forum (WEF) the following year also revealed how African nations stack up against each other:

The ranking supports findings from the UN that smaller countries and islands suffer more damage from brain drain. Burundi is the biggest victim of brain drain in Africa, not only finding it the hardest to hold on to its own talent but also attract it from overseas.

However, Burundi’s neighbour Rwanda breaks the UN’s theory entirely. Both similar in size and population, Rwanda is the most successful African nation at holding on to homegrown talent as well as attracting it from overseas.

So how has Rwanda managed to do this?


The Rwandan model for keeping homegrown talent

One of Paul Kagame’s greatest successes as Rwanda’s president has been creating a country that holds on to its brightest talent. By adopting international standards for ICT best practices, Rwanda has become something of a hub for technology innovation in Africa. Rwandans in the tech sector now want to stay there and people from other African nations want to go there.

The knock-on effect is a stronger ICT industry, a higher standard of competition and intellectual growth inside the sector. With this kind of development investment soon follows – roughly 45 percent of all foreign investment coming into the country – and Rwanda has itself an ICT industry that is self-sustaining and still growing.

For African nations to put a stop to brain drain, they need to invest more into science fields – but this is already widely accepted. The World Economic Forum is among the international organisations to say Africa’s future depends on its scientists.

The problem is this won’t be enough.


Creating better environments to live and work

Investing in key industries won’t be enough for African countries to stop brain drain. It’s only better degrees and job opportunities people seek when they leave their home country, it’s a better overall quality of life – and Africa needs to think beyond industrial sectors.

Even if African nations can out-innovate more developed countries, they won’t stop brain drain unless they can offer a similar quality of life. This brings issues like poverty, insecurity and human rights violations into the equation, which are still prevalent across much of the continent.

These are the very basics people strive for in life and it will be difficult for top talent to turn down opportunities from other countries until these issues are resolved. Going back to Rwanda, a country not without its problems, things have been stable and developing steadily under Kagame since the mid-nineties. You can question his qualification as a democratic leader but he’s provided the basics and built upon them to make Rwanda a competitive nation.

Improving working conditions is another challenge entirely and you only have to look at the recent doctors strikes in Kenya to understand why many choose to leave. This is a country where teachers spent most of last year locked in a battle with the government over wages and working conditions. And this is coming from one of Africa’s largest economies where electricity and water shortages are among the country’s ongoing challenges.


Featured image: By Julien Harneis from Conakry, Guinea – Pediatric doctors at Donka hospital reviewing mealses cases, CC BY-SA 2.0,

About Aaron Brooks

Aaron Brooks is a UK journalist who wants to cut out the international agendas in news. Spending his early years in both England and Northern Ireland he saw the difference between reality and media coverage at an early age. After graduating from the University of Chester with a BA in journalism, his travels revealed just how large the gap between news and the real world can be. As Editor-in-Chief at East Africa Monitor, it’s his job to provide a balanced view of what’s going on in the region for English-speaking audiences.