Afrinection Insights: Dealing with Africa's brain-drain

Africa, which is desperately in need of skilled professionals, is struggling with a so-called brain-drain. Every year, thousands of educated, highly-qualified professionals are leaving the region to explore their options abroad. The question is: what drives them? According to Afrinection Ambassador Takunda Mambo, African professionals - like their peers elsewhere in the world - pack their bags for a number of reasons. These include limited career opportunities, poor working conditions, and political/social instability as well as more lucrative opportunities abroad, better education for their kids and safer living conditions. Whilst understandable, this brain-drain is hurting Africa and its entrepreneurs: building a competitive economy and businesses, after all, requires skilled people. 

450,000 African expats abroad

Brain-drains happen all over the world, so why is Africa’s brain-drain such a big deal? The answer is simple: a skilled, educated, and knowledgeable labour force - known as human capital - is a critical driver of economic development and competitiveness. A shortage of skilled professionals is part of the reason why so many African countries struggle to develop. According to the World Bank, 38% of African adults are illiterate, 37% of children will not complete primary school, and just 5% of the relevant age group are in university (global average is 25%). 

That doesn't mean Africa isn't producing professionals, on the contrary. This is where the brain-drain comes in. A 2013 OECD-UNDESA report indicates that one in every nine tertiary-educated African nationals reside and work in the world's most developed countries (OECD region). The data also shows that 450,000 Africans with a tertiary education arrived in the world’s most developed countries between 2007/8 and 2012/13. 

1.5 million healthcare workers needed

Whilst there are economic benefits to African professionals leaving (in 2016, Zimbabwe diaspora remittances amounted to US$1billion), the current brain-drain is depriving Africa economies of future tax revenues. Besides that, the region simply needs more specialists to develop and catch up with the rest of the world.

Take healthcare. The World Health Organization reports that Africa only has 3% of the global healthcare workers. The continent needs over 1.5 million nurses, doctors, health professionals, scientists, engineers, and researchers.

Taking charge as an entrepreneur

The brain-drain impacts entrepreneurs too. In order to build strong businesses, you need to surround yourself with people with the right skills, expertise and knowledge. If they aren't there, you will have a problem. There are a number of things African business owners can do to mitigate the impact of this brain-drain. You can start with increasing your own knowledge by upskilling yourself. Stimulating your own insight help you remain competitive.

How to go about, you ask? You could sign up for a free online course via for instance Coursera or Open2Study or find out whether your city;s university is offering free courses (like the University of Cape Town is doing). As far as free courses go, this is a great top 10 which includes How To Build A Startup by UdaCity.

Tap into the diaspora

Besides educating yourself, you could benefit from the engagement with educated, skilled and qualified members of the African diaspora. They could point you in the right direction in terms of information on funding, relevant conferences, workshops, seminars, and mentorship. Take a leap of faith and reach out to some of these individuals! It could change your life and business. Just be sure to do your homework before you do so. People are often busy and you don't want to waste someone’s time. - END -


About the author: Takunda Mambo from South Africa is Afrinection's southern Africa Ambassador. He is an experienced writer and passionate about Africa, entrepreneurship, and anything that makes a positive impact on our continent. 

If you liked this story, you will also like: