African Union devises 10-year plan to stem brain drain

The African Union has devised a new 10-year plan of action to stop migration to developed countries of African professionals with critical technical skills – estimated to reach up to 70,000 annually.

According to a draft African Union (AU) report, The Revised Migration Policy Framework for Africa and Plan of Action (2018-2027), African countries must counter the exodus of skilled nationals, particularly doctors, nurses and engineers. But to achieve this objective, there is an urgent need to provide gainful employment, professional development and educational opportunities to qualified nationals in their home countries, notes the action plan.

Drawing heavily from the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) strategy for the retention of Africa’s human resource capacities, the report admits that African countries can no longer afford to depend on foreign nationals to steer development. Current AU estimates indicate that there are over 100,000 expatriates who consume 35% of official development assistance to Africa.

In this regard, the plan urges all African countries, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, to counter the effects of brain drain by encouraging nationals in the diaspora to contribute to the development of their countries of origin through transfer of skills, knowledge and technology.

This should include establishment of policies that would ensure replacement of qualified persons who left their countries of origin with local talent, as well as attracting experts in the diaspora to return, according to a recommendation.

The issue is that the African Union is worried that the continent’s lagging behind in availability of critical technical skills and specialists is almost an emergency. According to the African Union’s position paper, African Critical Technical Skills: Key capacity dimensions needed for the first 10 years of Agenda 2063, produced by the African Capacity Building Foundation, the single biggest challenge to ownership of Africa’s development agenda is grounded in severe shortages of experts with critical technical skills.

Even then there are no indicators that most countries are harnessing their human capital stock. According to the paper, current higher education in Africa is heavily focused on non-critical technical skills areas. “If this pattern continues, the continent is likely to continue having more non-critical technical skills graduates between 2020 and 2030,” says the position paper.

For instance about 300 qualified engineers leave South Africa every year, according to the African Union’s study, Capacity Development Plan Framework: The Africa we want, effectively leaving the country with fewer than three civil engineers per 100,000 people.

A similar situation occurs in Kenya where they are only about 7,220 engineers in a population of 46 million people that translates to a ratio of 0.155 engineers per 1,000 persons. The situation is more critical in Tanzania where there are only 2,615 engineers in a population of over 55 million people. “In Africa, there are only 55,600 engineers out of a population of 1.2 billion persons but the continent ought to have 4.3 million engineers,” says the study.

Accordingly, Africa is also lagging far behind in its numbers of medical doctors and specialists, taking into account the massive flow of its health professionals to high income countries. In its Capacity Development Plan Framework the African Union argues that there is an urgent need to stop outflows of doctors from countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Available statistics from the African Union indicate emigration of doctors from Mozambique currently stands at 75% of all trained physicians. In Angola it is 70%, Malawi 59%, Zambia 57% and in Zimbabwe 51%. “Currently, Africa has an average ratio of 0.307 medical doctors per 1,000 people, or a mere 358,000 doctors for 1.2 billion people,” says the AU Capacity Development Plan Framework.

The situation is also deemed to be critical in research in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields where there is another yawning gap that Africa needs to bridge if it is to make progress in its development agendas. Although during 2003-2012 Sub-Saharan Africa almost doubled its global research output from 0.44% to 0.72%, the African Union believes this is too little for a sub-region containing 12% of the world’s population.

Sub-Saharan Africa relies on overseas collaboration and visiting academics for a steep share of its research output. “In fact, some 40%-80% of its science and technology innovation publications are with external partners and lack local collaboration,” it says.

The African Union predicts that unless things change, by 2030 only about 12 million African youths will have had a tertiary education.