The BBC ran a story in October about a study of the African brain drain. The study, conducted by the Pollution Research Group at Natal University in South Africa, claimed that a third of all skilled professionals in Africa have left that continent to pursue careers in the West. The study put the total cost to African countries of this brain drain at $4 billion. But the study seems to have cause and effect reversed.
Specifically, the report claims that as a result of the brain drain, African economic growth has been hampered and poverty increased. No, sorry, but it’s the other way around. Lack of economic growth and rampant poverty — often caused by political repression and a lack of freedoms — is what motivates African professionals to flee their own countries.
Consider South Africa. In 2001 South AFrica’s Education Minister Kadar Asmal accused Great Britain of unfairly raiding South Africa for teachers, and president Thabo Mbeki himself has called for a reversal of the outflow of scientists and engineers from South Africa to the West. This from a man who has defended pseudoscientific ideas such as the notion that HIV does not cause AIDS, and whose political party has tried to clamp down on criticism from South Africa’s press.
The amazing thing is not that Africa loses about 23,000 qualified academic professionals each year, but rather that even more don’t choose to leave given the sorry state of African governance. When are people like Mbeki and Asmal going to stop blaming others for their predicament and start focusing on righting their own ship?
Brian drain costs Africa billions. The BBC, October 17, 2001.