Africa’s Brain Drain

In a September open letter in Le Monde, the heads of 10 successful French start-ups pleaded with Silicon Valley expatriates to come back to a revived Paris full of new opportunities. In 2016, the European Union launched a seven million euros education program in Puntland, including a component on youth and vocational skills training.

The number of African migrants who stay in Africa has decreased steadily over time from 59% in 1980 to 51% in 2010. Many refer to this frightening phenomenon as ‘brain drain.’ Many governments fear what the exodus of many qualified professionals can have on a developing nation.

How Africa is losing its intellectuals

How Africa is losing its intellectuals

Many make reference to the shortages of doctors during the Ebola Crisis. During the outbreak, many citizens suffered and died due to the lack of access to health facilities. To many patients to one doctor prolongs the medical care needed to treat and prevent the virus. For example, in 1973, there were 7.76 doctors per 100,000 people in Liberia. This dropped to 1.37 doctors in 2008.

Many professionals are leaving the continent but not returning. The question is why? Some reports suggest that it is the pull factor of the North America and Europe; many highly educated Africans are attracted by the greater opportunities and perceived better living conditions in the West. Other reports point out how civil war and conflict forces citizens to find refuge elsewhere.

But this is not necessarily the case for every African country.  Rwanda, for example, holds onto their best and brightest, and at the same time attracts international talent – despite a violent history of civil war. Moreover, in the safer African region of Somaliland and Puntland, a large amount of university graduates are still leaving the continent. Out of 780 youth interviewed, 70% wanted to migrate to find better job opportunities. A root cause is the inability to find jobs locally. It is not that young people want to leave, but they expressed not having any other choice.

There are many examples of youth being over qualified for their jobs. Amal is a 24 year old female living in Burao, Somaliland. She is a secretary yet has a degree in nutrition from Hargeisa University. Amal voices the struggles young people face in finding good local jobs that match their education background.

‘Jobs are given out to family members by those in positions of influence…every job you apply for asks for a minimum of 5 years’ experience.’  

Brain gain 70 of African Diasporans

Brain gain 70 of African Diasporans

To improve the compatibility index between employers and qualified employees, a number of issues need to be addressed. Firstly, outdated vocational training systems need to be reviewed to ensure youth are equipped with marketable skills. Secondly, higher education institutions in the less urbanised areas need adequate staffing. Thirdly, certain countries need to develop a functioning banking sector to support micro- enterprises employing new staff.

As a qualified English graduate, I’ve asked myself if I would ever go back to the heritage of my country to study or even possibly teach. The question has popped into my mind on a number of occasions but I have equally, on a number of occasions refuted the idea. I was not born in the continent so my connection to Africa is solely through my immediate family. Perhaps this is the same for the many Africans who have migrated to other countries. Perhaps, many look at the continent and are discouraged by not knowing where to start if they ever did return.

Many look to the African expatriates to return home and use their knowledge and skills to develop the continent. But the focus must first lie within; at the graduates that already populate the universities. The best way to tackle the ‘brain drain’ is to create sustainability for both the migrant and the resident.

Playwright Joy Gharoro-Akjopotor will be putting on a dramatic performance of her provocative new play ‘The Immigrant’ at Africa Writes, the UK’s biggest African literature festival taking place at The British Library, 1-3 July 2016.


Written by Kelechi Iwumene


  • Youth, Employment and Migration in Puntland and Somaliland, Africa at LSE, May 2016
  • How severe is Africa’s brain drain? Scott Firsing, Quartz Africa, January 2016

Feature Picture Credit: La fuite des Cerveaux (The Brain Drain), acrylic on canvas, by Cheri