10 November 2015

Ethiopia: The Menace of Brain Drain On Ethiopia's Development

Photo: Inga Vesper/SciDev.net
A transformer manufacturing plant.
editorial

Brain drain is usually described as the process in which a country loses its most educated and talented workers to other countries through migration. This trend is considered a problem because the most highly skilled and competent individuals leave the country and contribute their expertise to the economy of other countries. The country they leave can suffer economic hardships because those who remain may find it hard to fill the gaps left by experienced professionals at all levels.

Brain drain may be defined as the loss of the academic and technological labor force through the moving of human capital to more favorable geographic, economic, or professional environments. Although brain drain is a global phenomenon, the flight of highly skilled and educated professionals from the so called less developed countries to the developed ones can best describe the situation.

The causes of brain drain are multi-faceted and vary from country to country. The main causes include seeking employment and/or higher paying jobs, political instability, and to seek a better quality of life. Causes of brain drain can categorize into push factors and pull factors.

The push factors include unfavorable political situations including internal displacements due to civil war, the skyrocketing of prices of goods and services complicated by low salary payments, lack of remuneration system that could encourage outstanding performers in the labor force to deliver their best.

Pull factors are the positive characteristics of the developed country from which the migrant would like to benefit. Highly skilled professionals are lured to these countries with expectations of higher paying jobs and a better quality of life. The migrating labor forces apparently expect better freedom of life and expect to send better remittances to their kith and kin.

When brain drain is prevalent in a developing country like Ethiopia, there appear some negative repercussions that can affect the economy of the concerned nation will surface up. These effects among other things include loss of potential tax revenue, loss of potential future entrepreneurs, loss of critical services in the areas of science and technology, health, lack of desire to have a long vision to receive higher education and replicate it in their own countries.

What do we know about the nature of the issue in Ethiopia?

Prior to 1974 revolution virtually all Ethiopians who attended university in the country remained at home and the vast majority of those who studied overseas returned to Ethiopia. According to one study, only one Ethiopian physician was working outside the country as recently as 1972. The brain drain has not always been a problem in Ethiopia.

The advent of the Derg government and the resultant political persecutions were a major turning point. It caused a significant emigration of highly skilled Ethiopians that continues to the present day. Even today the exodus has continued unabated with quite different reasons. In those days, entire generations of educated Ethiopians were either massacred in the cross fire of political phantasmagoria or had fled their country.

Attracted by better prospects overseas and in other African nations and pushed out by political persecution, Ethiopia's best and brightest haven't been sticking around after graduation. A recent study presented at the National Symposium on Ethiopian Diasporas revealed some shocking numbers, with the country losing about 75% of its skilled professionals over the past ten years.

This exodus of highly qualified professionals has had a huge impact on the country, leaving it with too few physicians, engineers and scientists to fill positions the country desperately needs to thrive economically.

The danger of the brain drain in Ethiopia rests not only in the number of the citizens who flock abroad but in the areas of their professional excellence. Although there is lack of a reliable statistical data on brain drain in Ethiopia, it is reasonably understood that medical professionals, civil and electrical engineers, computer professionals, highly skilled university professors constitute the highest percentage.

Who is to blame for this? Blaming or shifting the blame to a specific corner will not bring about the remedy to the issue. In Ethiopia, brain drain is not something that can be resolved overnight. It demands a concerted effort of all. Naturally, any Ethiopian with a reasonable sense and rational thinking will not chose to remain in foreign lands but there are issues that need to be seriously considered by the government, the individuals and all concerned bodies.

Ethiopia is entering into an irreversible development program at GTP 2. This is a positive challenge for the nation. The government has made structural and policy commitments not only curb the pressing brain drain but also to ensure that citizens and foreign citizens of Ethiopian origin take a meaningful and measurable participation in the development of the nation.

Reducing brain drain from the country are an intertwined two way processes of retention and retrieval. We need to provide a better life for the intelligentsia and skilled manpower in the critical sectors right while working on providing a swift information flow for all citizens abroad so that they can be engaged in informed decision making. The role of the government and the Diaspora Association is highly appreciated but they can only do their part.

Of particular importance is the dissemination of quality and efficient information for citizens and foreign citizens of Ethiopian origin who are constantly bombarded by yellow journalism and quack media outlets who shed alligator's tears.

The other important work that needs to be done in connection with reducing brain drain is inculcating a democratic spirit of nationalism in the minds of the young generation. This needs to be revisited in school curriculums in its entirety.

There is also a confused stereotype that demands attention. Everyone who goes to foreign lands may not be rich but we can create our nirvana right here in Ethiopia by working hard. This is not a new stuff. The other countries have done and we could even do much better by benchmarking their experiences.

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