The Brain-drain and its debilitating effects on Contemporary African Development


By Mikhail Nyamweya

Paul Collier, in his book The Bottom Billion asserts that Africa incorporates into the Global Capital Market in the form of capital flight, rather than through capital inflows. As such, Africa is currently experiencing a recalibration of the same in the form of ‘human capital flight’, which is mobile and untethered. This article explores the influence and effects of the brain-drain on African development with due consideration of the current dynamics within the continent.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development Report (2017) establishes that there are about 41 million international migrants from, within and to Africa. Similarly, of the 41 million immigrants, 17 million resided outside of Africa, 19 million were residents within the Continent whereas at least 5.5 million were immigrants from outside the continent. With the focus being on those who are leaving their respective countries to outside the continent of Africa, it is important to note that the mobile nature of human capital allows it to relocate to regions where self-actualization is at its peak and where payment of wages and salaries commensurate with experience. Most regions in Africa are devoid of the same and for that reason, those who are frustrated job-seekers as well as those who are well trained and qualified tend to find jobs in countries not of their origin, that are as well not in Africa.

While there are positive implications of the Brain-drain such as the increase in remittance flows from the African Diaspora, a surge in education accessibility by Africans and an overall reduction in international transaction costs, there are detrimental effects due to the fragile nature of most economies of Sub Saharan African countries. One of the negative effects associated with the same is the high likelihood of fiscal loses as a result of taxes not being paid in the home country by the diaspora. African governments feed off from contractionary fiscal policies in-order to regulate their respective economies, as such, since a significant population resides outside the country it is practically impossible for them to be liable to taxation. Ideally, this population tends to earn more pay than what they would have earned were they in their country of origin, for the same nature of work. It is therefore to be concluded in this context that the regulations by the government will ideally not be entirely effective with this particular gap in place.

The brain-drain in itself is an exodus of human labour, therefore a shortage of man-power within these African countries is inevitable in this event. This is particularly catastrophic to key sectors of the African economy such as the technical sector that is mainly ‘hands-on’ because in this sense, there will be an over-dependence on imported materials since the man-power is unavailable. Economist Dambisa Moyo, in her book, Dead Aid: Why Aid is not working for Africa, observes that one of the issues African states need to shun is over-reliance/dependency on the West. In this particular context, the amount of funds that are channeled towards the importation of finished products by these African states could be high. On the other hand, these funds would have been directed towards private investment, which Paul Collier explains Africa seems to be lacking as their southern Asian counterparts have embraced private investment, which has been a secret behind their success.

It should therefore be realized that African states need to make an overhaul in their policies. These policies should embrace home-made development models as well as establishing systems based on meritocracy, which would give chance to each qualified individual to earn a position based on skills earned. It is the only way to ensure minimization of the brain-drain that Africa is currently experiencing.

Short Bio

Mikhail Nyamweya is an International Relations Student at United States International University-Africa (USIU-A). His study interests are in International Development, Political Economy and Foreign Policy. He is a Tutor at USIU-Africa and a current United Nations Academic Impact Millennium Fellow.