Alagi Yorro Jallow
Nation’s real strength is its human resources. To the Gambia’s dismay, the country continues to suffer a brain drain where the highly educated and skilled professional leave for greener pastures. The Chinese and the Indians have shown us that human capital development can change the Gambia’s destiny. They have demonstrated that a turn around can happen in a generation. The Gambia’s renaissance is predicated on the education and skills development of its youthful population and what Mr. Abdoulie ‘Baax’ Touray called “Gambian Eminent Experts” (GEE) professionals who served and continue to serve in multinational corporations and the UN systems.
From social sciences and humanities, economics, law, philosophy to information science and medical sciences, the Gambia, and indeed the whole of Africa, has not been able to use their human resources, public intellectuals, skilled professionals, institutions, best practices, policies, and contexts for knowledge production to generate economic wealth.
Human capital flight, known as brain drain, has severely affected the Gambia tremendously, as it did every country in Africa in significant ways. Using the Gambia as an example, as what Mr. Abdoulie Touray described as “Gambian Eminent Experts( GEE) professional diaspora as well as those serving and served in multi corporations and in the United Nations system best and minds left in droves, the economic loss in the capital they could have brought in drilled holes in the economy. They could have used the knowledge and development to benefit the Gambia, stunted human capital development at home, to the benefit of their host countries. Also, the loss of not being able to help in educating the next generation, created a quality gap in the Gambia university, with devastating effects. The Gambia started losing its mind with its brightest exodus and best described “Eminent Gambian Professionals.”
Not every African country like The Gambia suffers from human capital flight or brain drain; for example, Rwanda holds on to the brightest while attracting international talent. Rwanda tops the list of African countries able to retain their top talent, followed by some distance ahead of Morocco, Kenya. Ivory Coast and South Africa. Regarding international attraction, Rwanda again is number one ahead of Seychelles, Ivory Coast, The Gambia, and Mauritius.
Philosophizing the future of Gambia’s brain drain is due to the large number of factors involved, spanning cultural, economic, political, and other realms. What is one’s education level? Skillset? How ’emerging’ in Gambia ‘s economy? Are there opportunities? How stable are the politics? Do the Gambia enjoy peace security and stability? Is the country under a dictatorship or kleptocratic rule akin to Yahya Jammeh? How is life as an immigrant? Is the new host country growing?
The Gambia is an exception. The push and pull factors of this brain drain are more large complex and depend upon the circumstances. During Yahya Jammeh’s dictatorial rule, one might be ‘forced’ to leave because of his despotism and or political instability. However, the overwhelming of the Gambian intellectuals and professional did embrace and served Yahya Jammeh in aiding and abetting him: They described them as “intellectual prostitutes or Kakatarr syndrome.” Those considered imminent Gambian professionals get to the attraction of higher pay. Better opportunities for one’s family might pull them, ending working in the World Bank and the United Nations systems.
The Gambia grapples with these questions, and depending on the answers, “the flight and not fight” might be the answer ” Eminent Gambian professional” seek. They might leave or come back to the country. The Gambia governments hope it is the latter, and like China’s ‘sea turtles,’ they hope they bring back new skills, good ideas, and international contacts.
Brain drain or selfish professional or intellectual can be extremely harmful, especially in a country like the Gambia, with a limited pool of qualified individuals. The World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2016 showed Burundi, Guinea, and the Gambia as the only African countries least able to hold on to its top talent out the top countries unable to retain their top skills in the Diaspora and Multinational Corporation and Multinational Organizations.
Forfeiting our doctors, engineers, professors, developmental economists, and other skilled professionals, medical practitioners can be detrimental to an emerging small country like the Gambia. Brain drain is a topic with which many developing countries deal. The Gambia is a tiny country with a population of about 2 million, and hundreds of educated and trained professionals leave for education and with work experience chose to work outside the Gambia or working for foreign governments or multinational organizations that attracts much money. Some return. Some do not appear until their retirement, and sometimes when they return, they become career politicians.
Gambian students continue to flock to ASEAN and North American educational institutions and Europe, with the US being the most popular destination country for potential students from sub-Saharan countries.
A recent report from a New York Institute of International Education concludes that ambitious African youth perceive the US as having better quality higher education and numerous scholarships available for talented students. As of 2016, there were 31,113 students from sub-Saharan Africa, comprising 4% of the 886,052 international students in the US. The top sub-Saharan African countries of origin are Nigeria, Kenya, the Gambia, Ghana, South Africa, Cameroon, and Ethiopia. The UK came second, being the first choice of Nigerian and South African, Sierra leone, and Gambian students and the most popular second choice for students from Sub-Saharan Africa.
According to a World Bank report, African migrants have doubled between 1980 and 2010, reaching 30.6 million. This represents around three percent of the continent’s total population. Approximately half of these African migrants stay in Africa with Côte d’Ivoire, South Africa, and Burkina Faso, the most popular destinations. However, the number of African migrants who stay in Africa has decreased steadily over time (from 59 percent in 1980 to 51 percent in 2010). There is a growing movement of North African migrants to the Middle East and Europe, the second most popular destination.
Are these migrants educated? A United Nations report shows one in nine Africans with tertiary education – 2.9 million people- lived in developed countries in Europe, North America, and elsewhere. This is a 50% growth in the past ten years, more than any other region. Further qualitative research shows groups like Gambian doctors and medical practitioners migrating to the US, UK, and other countries, but more so to other Arab countries estimated close to hundred of doctors and nurses who graduate in the Gambia and annually leave the country after completing their pieces of training, negatively effecting the Gambia’s health sector.
US Census data shows the foreign-born African population proliferating. These migrants are also more educated compared to those from other continents. During the last 40 years, Africans have increased from about 80,000 in 1970 to about 1.6 million, with the most significant increase from 2000 to 2008-2012. This accounts for four percent of the total US foreign-born population with Nigeria, Ethiopia, Gambian, and Ghana, making up 41 percent of the Africa-born total. These immigrants had a higher educational attainment level than the overall foreign-born population: 41 percent of those African-born had a bachelor’s degree or higher compared with 28 percent overall.
On the African continent, the Carnegie Corporation of New York seeks to stop the devastation and bridge the gap by funding interventionist programs targeted at bringing diaspora knowledge producers to the continent, to fill the gaps. In academia, the transition to becoming a producer of knowledge requires a shift in thinking and practice. Given their exposure to global best practices and rigorous peer review, the Diaspora academic can strike a balance in his role as knowledge producer. Research is the focus of faculty work, as well as his role as a knowledge consumer.
There is the consensus that the revitalization of tertiary education depends on the exchange of people, ideas, procedures, technologies, and resources, as well as a change in the institutional arrangements of our universities to fit into the ever-evolving wheel of knowledge production. Like other countries in Africa, the Gambia can bridge the knowledge production gap by encouraging academic enterprise and commitment to producing innovative and dynamic scholarship.
Former South Africa president Thabo Mbeki recently labeled Africa’s brain drain as “frightening.” He stated that Africa had lost 20,000 academics and 10 percent of highly skilled information technology and finance professionals. Mbeki estimates that more African scientists and engineers live and work in the US and the UK than anywhere else.
Alagi Yorro Jallow