Although the foreign-born population from Africa in the US is small relative to other foreign-born groups, a higher proportion of Africans are graduates than the overall foreign-born population and their numbers have grown rapidly over the past 40 years.
This was outlined in a US Census Bureau report, The foreign-born population from Africa: 2008-2012 . The report, based on American community surveys focusing on the foreign-born population from Africa, highlights its size, growth, geographic distribution and educational attainment.
It indicates that the African foreign-born population has grown from about 80,000 in 1970 to 1.6 million from 2008-12. The African foreign-born population accounts for 4% of the total US foreign-born population.
No single African country makes up a majority of these immigrants, although four countries – Nigeria, Ethiopia, Egypt and Ghana – comprise 41% of the total.
The African foreign-born had a higher level of educational attainment than the total of those born overseas. The report said that 41% per¬cent of the African-born had a bachelor’s degree or higher in 2008-12, compared with 28% of the overall number.
“High levels of educational attain¬ment among the African-born are in part due to the large number of educated Africans who have chosen to emigrate and to many who come to the United States to pursue academic studies”, the report said.
Within the foreign-born population from Africa, educational attainment varied by place of birth. For example, 64% of Egyptian-born individuals were graduates as were 61% from Nigeria, 57% from South Africa, 47% from Kenya and 35% from Ghana. These were the countries with the highest proportion of Africans with bachelor’s and higher degrees.
“Africa can scarcely afford to lose the people in whom it has invested so much. Indeed, the people who have the ambition to move to another continent to find better lives are perhaps the people Africa needs most,” John Daly, a science and technology consultant and former director of research at USAID, told University World News.
The 2014 Africa Lifetime Achievement prize awarded to US-based Kenyan scientist Calestous Juma by the Millennium Excellence Foundation is indicative of the contributions Africans make even when living in the United States, Daly said.
“Unfortunately, some of the migration is ‘brain push’ rather than brain drain. Some Africans fled violence and persecution in their own lands. In other cases, Africans have migrated when opportunities to utilise their skills and abilities were not forthcoming in their own lands.”
Asked about the ways Africans abroad can help in higher education reform in Africa, Daly said, “Ideally, many of the Africans now in the United States will utilise their time here (in the US) to learn some of the things that this country has to teach – both in formal education and in the workplace – and return to Africa to apply that new knowledge there.”
“There are also many ways that Africans in the US can help Africa: from technical assistance, to facilitating contacts, to promoting investment in Africa, to identifying opportunities for technology transfer,” Daly said.
Calestous Juma, the Martin Luther King Jr Kenyan visiting professor of urban studies and planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and professor of the practice of international development at the Harvard Kennedy School, said, "The common tendency is to view such figures as a drain on Africa’s human capital – the so-called ‘brain drain’.
“These figures, however, show significant upgrading of the capacity of the people of African descent. The challenge in today’s globalised economy is figuring out how to use the opportunity to build mutually-beneficial partnerships between Africa and the United States.”
Juma, who is also co-chair of the African Union's High Level Panel on Science, Technology and Innovation, said the most important starting point was for African countries to launch development initiatives that started with using local technical expertise and then extending to those in diaspora.
Countries that do not effectively use their experts at home, are unlikely to use those in diaspora, he said. Without such initiatives, popular demands to tap into Africa’s displaced population only help generate local hostilities.
“It would be a mistake to downplay the fact that diasporas are not automatically welcome to contribute to development in their countries of origin. Many are viewed with suspicion and their otherwise good intentions are often considered to be driven by ulterior motives.”
Receive UWN's free weekly e-newsletters