During my studies in China I learnt that brain drain in a country can always be reversed and it is better than’brain in the drain’. This is one problem affecting us as thousands of Sierra Leoneans brains are now in the drain because they have the skills, the energy, health and the education but there is no job for them to make use of their brain, and the new education system will definitely cause more brain in the drain.
Over the years people travel to foreign countries that seemed too far away from home. My first few days in China, was dumb, with bright lights everywhere with smiling faces all over campus. I recognized how far away I was from home where electricity was not available for decades, no hot water from the taps and how it was a privilege to drink juice and soft drinks regularly and how good and nutritious foods are hard to come by. Lots of skyscrapers and the dominant sound of traffic hum.
In my two years stay, I quite understood why we are experiencing brain drain and massive emigration from Sierra Leone. The right of Sierra Leoneans has been abused for decades and most of us don’t see any good in the country any longer.
Preparing to return home, I felt how the distance between China and Sierra Leone is long and felt very disappointed when I think of going back to ‘blackout’, no hot water from the taps, cannot eat and drink what I want daily and maybe my life span will immediately become short.
I imagine that in the entire world, there is about a million Sierra Leoneans outside, and we are not the only African country with such numbers outside their home countries. We are a little spots in a massive flow of students connecting countries and part of an issue called the student brain drain that is attracting the attention of scholars and governments in many countries.
In this era of globalization, people move freely around the globe like water and birds. However, many theories of migration point out that people consider the negative and positive factors of both the origins and the destinations, and their decision on whether to move or not are mainly based on those negatives and positives. Some factors can be good for some and bad for others.
As we talk about migration, positive factors can be world-class education, school facilities, and diversified jobs, enough entertainment spots for children and lots to eat and drink. For others, the chance to meet new people and have new adventures to challenge themselves. The reason why we go abroad and fail to return varies. Many research projects have been devoted in finding out the factors that tear emigrants from their home countries.
Countries like China, India and Philippines every year send young people to developed countries to study, and later see only few of them returning after studies. The rest either go to other countries to work or to continue their education, or they stay permanently abroad and work in these countries.
Some governments think that when such happens they have lost these brains and that it is unfair because the cost to educate them just vanished, But these developing countries like China and India don’t think so because they believe that they pick up more experience and few years later they will return to invest. Why? Because they have put enough programmes and facilities in place that these people will not miss when they are back from any developed country.
But for us in Sierra Leone when these young people refused to return, it is a loss because for them to return some day will not happen as the facilities in the country cannot make them ever think of returning.
Governments are less concerned about people departing for developed countries rather than staying to help develop the country. The reasons vary, some have the potential but no job, some want a better education for their children and many are tired with the poverty and political systems in the country.
In China, the facilities available to study are far better than in Africa and the conditions under which we study and live are excellent. Majority of Sierra Leoneans want to move out for greener pastures, some have tried different routes that are available, some are now planning to go, because they know that life in developed countries are thousand times better than Sierra Leone.
In this era of globalization and transportation, it is inevitable that people will move out, but let us remember that humans were mobile even when traveling was life-threatening. Therefore, we should know that thousands of goods produced in these developed countries were manufactured by our brothers and sisters and they have the skills to do it in Sierra Leone if the right conditions are available. Developing countries, however, are totally right to worry, because they have lost their brainpower and millions of dollars.
According to statistics available in China, during the 1950s to 70s more than 80% of students who studied in America from Taiwan and mainland didn’t returned. Only 18.8% returned. Currently, China has more then 200,000 students studying in America and they believe they will return, and the authorities believe that they have what it takes to lure Americans and Europeans to work in China anytime. The Chinese government is optimistic that most of those who left behind in the eighties and nineties would and are returning now in their hundreds to invest because of the development and positive economic policies that have made China a great nation.
In our own case we are concern how to make them return home, it is not enough to beg them to come or to set up a Diaspora Office. While patriotism is definitely a factor that draws them home, it is not enough, because patriotism can be shown no matter where people are living.
To tackle brain drain, governments should focus on who remains, and not on those who are abroad. In other words, in order to attract talents to return, governments should create more jobs and improve the facilities that can keep those within and attract those outside.
This has been the case of Taiwan, China, India and Singapore. These were countries who suffered brain drain, after their rapid development, they were successful in attracting their lost brains back home to contribute further in expanding the economies.
A country that is underdeveloped should rather accept the brain drain than stopping people from moving when they cannot provide the basics of life. The end result would be brain in the drain. The brain becomes active when it is put to work on a daily basis, but would be destroyed when it is idle.
If we look at the graduated doctors for this year, most of them I have spoken to would like to stay and work, but the conditions of service that prevailed is not encouraging for them to stay. So when our parliamentarians, some who have been out of the country for years living in US and England doing ODD JOBS and now they want $4,000 a month salary, is ridiculous.
They came empty handed, no investment, no capital and some even don’t have family. They have no contribution to our recovery process or help stemming the brain drain.
So what happened in reality is somewhat different from what was expected. Talent will return to its home country after the economy has developed and can provide an advanced environment for highly educated people to feel encouraged and motivated enough, to work there. People would never return when the environment is still backward
Therefore, instead of saying “if we have those people returning from overseas, we can develop our economy,” it might be more accurate to use economic development as a pretext for them to return. We should make full use of our internal powers and abilities to develop our economy and build schools and educational institutions with good enough quality to satisfy the young generation’s thirst for knowledge and training.
Using Malaysia and Singapore as example, as a highlighted lesson for other developing countries who are suffering from brain drain, after advancing their economy to a developed country’s level, they improved their housing and built advanced workplaces, research institutions, and laboratories to attract their citizens back home. The people came back because conditions were suitable for working and living, and they have actually played a very important role to continue the economic recovery process.
History has shown that when there is a stream of people moving from one origin to one destination, there will be a counter stream back to the origin. Since this is not easy on the theory of migration, I will not go deeper in explaining this statement. In the long run, brain drain might be only a temporary issue. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, an experienced returnee can be worth more than a graduate. Instead of coming home and starting a career by finding a job and re-adapting to their home environment, an experienced returnee can return permanently or just temporarily, bringing capital, experience, and networks with him.
Brain drain is not found only in developing countries. Even in developed countries like the United States or some European countries, brain drain also exists. We can understand that brain drain is simply a signal of some “minus” factors occurring in the economy or society of one country. Therefore, brain drain should be seen not as a problem for developing countries, but rather as a social factor. The problem is not the number of people that go abroad and fail to return, but rather the domestic situation that leads to the majority of our citizens living abroad that decide to remain.
Asia is predicted to be the next hub of migrants, even exceeding the United States. According to a report from VOA, China is now trying to attract brains from neighboring countries in Asia, and will then turn its eyes for talent from other continents, including Europe and North America. Many recent examples have shown that former brain loosing countries have actually become a magnet for intellectuals by creating opportunities for them. Opportunities are what take people away, and also what bring them home.
By Austin Thomas