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Africa: killing us softly.

Slowly, and without many noticing, a new threat to Africa is taking shape through the mass immigration schemes for highly trained and skilled Africans such as America's Green Card Diversity Lottery and Britain's Highly Skilled Migrant Programme. This month, we take an indepth look at how such schemes are killing Africa softly. This report is by Rotimi Sankore.


Africa is currently haemorrhaging its best brains at an alarming rate. The "brain drain", a phrase many Africans have become familiar with and which started as a trickle, has now become a flood that threatens to cause the intellectual desertification of the continent. If a key factor for anticipating the future development and productivity of any modern society is the number of intellectuals, thinkers, visionaries, professionals and skilled workers it produces, then Africa had better beware. The problem is not that the continent cannot produce highly-trained and skilled human resources, the problem is that today they are being taken away faster than Africa can replenish them. Various estimates suggest that between 20% and 50% of the top African brains and skilled personnel now reside outside the continent, and most maintain minimal professional contact with the motherland. Numerically speaking, this translates into tens of thousands of experienced, highly trained and skilled doctors, nurses, pharmacists, engineers, writers, scientists, business people, university lecturers, accountants, administrators, computer experts, artists, lawyers, town planners, etc. They, their children and their children's children are lost to the continent as they are almost certain to stay in their new adopted countries in the West. The loss to Africa of the economic, social and other spin-offs from this lost tribe of Africans is simply incalculable.

This year's World Migration Report, citing various European and American official sources, states that a new generation of "sub-Saharan African Diaspora has been mainly concentrated in the US (881,300), France (274,538), Britain (249,720) and, to a lesser degree in Germany (156,564) and Italy (137,780). Many thousands more are dispersed in lesser concentrations throughout Canada, Belgium, Holland, Ireland, Spain, and as far away as Australia, Russia, Eastern Europe and Asia."

However, the increasing scale of the problem does not lie in normal individual immigration trends that, on their own, are already disadvantageous to Africa as a whole while nevertheless being of legitimate benefit to individual migrants. Rather, the new threat to Africa lies in the increasingly diverse mass evacuation schemes for highly trained and skilled Africans such as the disingenuously named US Green Card Lottery and the more honestly named UK Highly Skilled Migrant Programme (HSMP) amongst others (see story on p14).

While these schemes are not aimed exclusively at Africa, Africa suffers disproportionate negative social, economic and political consequences due to a whole range of historical injustices. These range from: the loss of tens of millions of its people to the industrial-scale transatlantic slave trade, which targeted mainly Africans in the 15-to-35-year productive age range and disrupted social and economic development for 400 years; over 100 years of colonial division and exploitation; further post independence foreign interventions exacerbating coups and conflicts; and brutal exploitation of Africa's natural resources, which in turn have led to instability and economic underdevelopment.

Like the slave trade that took away the most able-bodied Africans, an analysis of current official statistics and processes reveals the further implications of mass migration schemes that threaten Africa with yet another net loss of quality human resources. This year alone, six African countries have been in the Top 10 countries with the greatest number of "winners" of America's Green Card Diversity Lottery. These are Nigeria (6,725), Egypt (6,070), Ethiopia (6,060), Morocco (5,298). Ghana (3,974) and Kenya (3,168), making a grand total of 31,295 Africans wooed over by the US as against a non-African total of 23,044 in the Top 10 countries for 2005.

The tables below show the official figures for the last six years from the US Immigration and Naturalisation Services (or INS/US Citizenship and Immigration Services--USCIS). In 2004, Africa again produced six of the Top 10 as it did in 2003 and 2002, and four of the Top 10 in 2001. However, even in 2001, African countries made up four of the Top Five (Nigeria, Ghana, Ethiopia and Morocco), and their combined figures totalled a neat 22,024, almost equal to that of the other six countries at 25,480.

Going back 10 years to 1995, the year the first immigrants admitted under the permanent diversity programme arrived in the US, the leading countries of admission were Poland (3,596), Ethiopia (3,088), Nigeria (2,407). Egypt (2,229), and Romania (1,992). Overall, the African countries with the most losses to this scheme have consistently been Ghana, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Morocco, Egypt and Kenya, with Togo, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Algeria and Sudan following in the second bracket.

A further point to note is that while citizens of all African countries are qualified to enter the US scheme, other continents have significant sections of their population (or significant sub-regional powers such as China and India) excluded from the programme mainly due to averagely high migration levels from those countries. Although the rules of the US Green Card Lottery state that "all applicants must have" at least "12 years of elementary and secondary schooling, equivalent to high school in the United States, at least two years of work experience" and "your job must have required two years of training", indications are that successful African applicants are much more highly qualified.


In a paper for the Population Reference Bureau titled, US Diversity Visas Are Attracting Africa's Best and Brightest, Arun Peter Lobo, an American population expert, wrote that because "they provided a swift path to emigrate to the United States ... the diversity visa programme became the primary vehicle for the increased flow of skilled Africans to the United States". He further stated that because "African immigrants are disproportionately [higher] in professional, managerial and technical (PMT) occupations"--44% compared to 34% of all immigrants--"their departure could further undermine social and economic conditions on the African continent". Lobo underscores the point that although the flow of African PMTs is still relatively small, "the flow is likely to grow as African PMTs naturalise" and "use the much larger pool of family visas to bring in extended family members, many of whom--particularly spouses--are also likely to be highly skilled".


This forecast has already come true. According to statistics from the USCIS, the breakdown of immigrants from Africa based on family sponsored preferences, spouses, children and parents for 2002 was 24,095. By 2004, it had risen to 27,906. Within the same period, the number of African Green Card Lottery winners who successfully navigated the screening process also jumped from 16,310 to 20,337. Not surprisingly "the number of Africans living outside their country of origin has more than doubled in a generation" (World Migration Report 2005).

Alarmingly, records indicate that the number of entries for the Green Card Lottery continues to rise. In 1999, the number of overall qualified entries was 3.4 million. In 2000, it more than doubled to 8 million, 2001 up to 11 million, 2002 down slightly to 10 million, 2003 down to 6.2 million and 2004 up again to 7.3 million. And this is not counting the disqualified entries.

While the vagueness of the Green Card Lottery masks Africa's real intellectual and skills losses, the European schemes and especially the UK Highly Skilled Migrant Programme (HSMP) is based on a points calculator or criteria which is more to the point. Based on qualifications, holders of PhDs score 30 points, MA, Msc or MBA holders earn 25 points and a BA or BSc earns 15 points.

Regarding work experience, five years graduate-level work gains you 25 points, five years in a graduate job "requiring a very high level of technical or artistic skill" earns 35 points; and 10 years graduate work experience including senior or specialist level work earns the maximum 50 points.

Points are also awarded on a scale of 25 to 50 based on income scales in applicants' home countries. Any significant achievement award earns 15 extra points, and outstanding award earns a further 25 points. Spouses with degrees or equivalent professional qualification and job experience earn applicants an additional 10 points.

To cap it all, priority is given to professionals such as doctors entitled to work as general practitioners (or GPs) in the UK. Such positions score a whopping 50 extra points, taking such applicants straight to the top of the table. The ultimate objective of the process--take the best and leave the rest--speaks for itself.

These policies are a result of long-term views of economic and social development. In September 2000, the BBC reported that "Home Office minister Barbara Roche had called for a debate on relaxing immigration rules to meet Britain's skills shortages." Some key areas identified included the information technology sector, engineering, teaching, catering, agriculture and healthcare.

UK officials highlighted "the success such policies have had in America, where officials cite immigration as a key factor underpinning the country's extended economic boom". Roche had also stated in a speech in Paris in July 2000 that the immigrants needed were "innovators, those people who have particular skills that mean they would have very good ideas that could take our economy forward".

In 2000, a breakdown of the origins of foreign nurses in the UK revealed that South Africa topped the list with 1,460 nurses. The situation could still get worse for Africa. In a research paper titled, Europe: A new immigration era, Professor Philip Martin and Jonas Widgreen (experts on labour, economic development and migration) point out that with Europe's fertility rates in decline, if Europe's big four countries--France, Germany, Italy and Britain--want to maintain their 1995 labour force populations at the same level by 2050, immigration would have to rise to 1.1 million a year from 237,000.

In a special chapter devoted to Africa, the 2005 World Migration Report states that "Africa is now the only continent that still faces all of the classical obstacles to successful development". One of the five obstacles, the report emphasises, is "brain drain, which has continued steadily since the period of independence [and] is depriving African countries of a very significant part of their skilled human resources, which they have trained at considerable cost".

No reasonable person would suggest for a minute that the right of individuals to free movement be curtailed. But similarly, no reasonable person with adequate foresight and concern for Africa would fail to agree that it would be shortsighted not to point out the implications of not evaluating the consequences of a continuous and indefinite exodus of Africa's best minds.

Simply put, on a world scale, Africa runs the risk of sinking eventually to the exclusive status of an intellectually barren ghetto once the majority of its highly trained and skilled professionals, workers and intellectuals have been vacuumed by successive annual waves of assorted visa and migration schemes. Needles to add, the development consequences would be catastrophic for those left behind.

From a historical viewpoint, the scientific, social and economic contributions of these new African immigrants will also be subsequently denied just as the contributions of the sons and daughters of African slaves and earlier migrants such as open heart surgery, the blood bank, traffic lights, the laser photo probe, automated mobile refrigeration, automatic gear shift, computer innovations and many more have been re-attributed to "western civilisation".

It seems clear that many African governments have not realised what most leaders all over the world have, namely that all civilisations, peoples and societies have developed or regressed largely on the basis of the presence or absence of intellectuals, visionaries, innovators, highly trained and skilled professionals and workers.

More questions than answers

The most pertinent questions to ask here are why and how?--why are Africa's best leaving? Why are they in great demand? And how can Africa stem the exodus?

The answers are many. Firstly, despite reasonable progress, many African countries are still not democratic enough to accommodate the progressive ideas of its intellectuals and innovators, and hence they do not provide the social and economic justice for skilled professionals, workers and other citizens. This, of course, is not an inherently African problem. Even the so-called bastions of democracy such as the USA could not accommodate the calls of the Martin Luther Kings and Malcolm Xs for basic civil rights and social justice and they were clinically eliminated.

Crucially also, the historical and continuous economic exploitation of Africa that has undermined the development of economic and social infrastructure and normalised poverty, has forced many Africans to look elsewhere for job satisfaction and a higher standard of living. Increasing layers of corruption have also institutionalised the exclusion of Africa's best from the political process.

The answer to why African professionals and skilled workers are in demand in the West, is that highly organised schemes such as America's Green Card Lottery and Britain's Highly Skilled Immigrant Scheme are luring them away.

Another key reason is that Western countries are not producing and training enough "home grown" people to sustain economic and social growth. The explanation for this is two-fold. The simpler one is that falling birth rates in the West results in fewer children (and more of the decreasing number are being consumed by a culture which rewards pop stars, athletes and movie stars more than skilled professionals and workers) hence, countries like France have been offering financial incentives for the past 20 years for parents to have more children (La France a besoin d'enfants--France needs children, as huge billboards, mounted throughout the country in 1985-86, exhorted and still exhort the French to do).

The other, more complex answer to the second question is that as more Western politicians and governments lurch to the right, freed by the spectre of the former Soviet Union, even socialist and social democratic governments have cut public expenditure on education to below what is needed for social and economic growth. University grants that were once freely available in countries like the UK have been replaced by loans or are available only to people at such a level of poverty that their educational opportunities and aspirations foreclose the need for the grants in the first place.

Those who have taken out loans have graduated with debts of thousands of pounds. Not surprisingly, training courses for professions such as medicine, dentistry, pharmacy and engineering, which last longer and cost more have been hit by drops in enrolment, while media and IT courses have seen an increase.

Pressured by the emergence of the rapidly growing economies of China and India (which are now reaping the fruits of decades of millions of dollars of public expenditure in education and social infrastructure), Western countries have turned to the previously impossible--the organisation of cynical recruitment and immigrant schemes to woo highly trained professionals from Africa and other developing countries.

What can be done?

In reality, African governments have only two choices. Either accelerate the entrenchment of democracy and integration of the continent while embarking on a development policy of massive public expenditure on education, healthcare, and other social and economic infrastructure which will create jobs--the basis for economic growth--and retain Africa's best brains, or continue down the path of appealing for more foreign aid and pursuing policies that accelerate the exodus.

But it is not all doom and gloom. Last year, the African Union developed a promising three-volume strategic plan covering 2004 to 2007, designed to accelerate the development and integration of the continent (including the African diaspora). Of particular concern, however, is the slow progress in African countries for the development of joint oversight on key sectors such as agriculture, science and technology, education, healthcare, trade, energy and transport links, all vital to integrated development.

Chidi Odinkalu, a Nigerian international human rights lawyer and specialist on African law and integration, emphasises that "the absence of free movement of persons between Africa's sub-regions is a key factor forcing Africans to look outwards.

"Africans from some countries have to wait for over a month for a mere visitor's visa to other parts of Africa," he says. "In practice many are even completely excluded."

RELATED ARTICLE: African expatriates in USA

Have the highest levels of education of any foreign-born residents

Are 48% more likely than Asian immigrants to be university grads

Hold Ph.D. degrees at double the rate of European immigrants

Are better educated than US natives

Hold managerial and professional positions that parallel the levels of European and Asian-born residents

Sources: U.S. Census Bureau, 2000 Cens
Green Card Lottery winners, 2000

Top 10 countries worldwide

Bangladesh 9,175
Ghana 8,662
Nigeria 8,550
Ukraine 8,035
Russia 6,481
Albania 6,401
Bulgaria 4,381
Romania 3,494
Germany 3,417
Egypt 3,301

Green Card Lottery winners, 2001

Top 10 countries worldwide

Nigeria 6,017
Ghana 6,000
Ukraine 5,029
Ethiopia 5,007
Bangladesh 5,003
Pakistan 4,721
Albania 4,255
Russia 3,579
Bulgaria 2,893
Egypt 2,383

Green Card Lottery winners, 2002

Top 10 countries worldwide

Ghana 6,531
Nigeria 6,049
Sierra Leone 5,767
Ukraine 5,511
Bangladesh 5,497
Ethiopia 4,997
Poland 4,707
Russia 2,754
Bulgaria 2,489
Kenya 2,408

Green Card Lottery winners, 2003

Top 10 countries worldwide

Ghana 6,333
Nigeria 5,989
Ethiopia 5,562
Bangladesh 4,935
Ukraine 4,035
Poland 3,855
Kenya 3,194
Sierra Leone 3,096
Morocco 3,083
Bulgaria 2,843

Green Card Lottery winners, 2004

Top 10 countries worldwide

Nigeria 7,145
Ghana 7,040
Ethiopia 6,353
Kenya 5,721
Poland 5,467
Bangladesh 5,126
Morocco 5,069
Ukraine 4,494
Nepal 4,259
Egypt 4,189

Green Card Lottery winners, 2005

Top 10 countries worldwide

Bangladesh 7,404
Nigeria 6,725
Poland 6,211
Egypt 6,070
Ethiopia 6,060
Ukraine 5,361
Morocco 5,298
Bulgaria 4,068
Ghana 3,974
Kenya 3,618
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Title Annotation:brain drain
Author:Sankore, Rotimi
Publication:New African
Geographic Code:60AFR
Date:Nov 1, 2005
Previous Article:What a travesty.
Next Article:Africa: the lost generation; In January 2002, the British government introduced its flagship Highly Skilled Migrant Programme (HSMP), a scheme to...

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