Can the brain drain syndrome of our beloved country be reversed? Yes, I think it will if the country has the right conditions. But it will be a daunting task and will be a long process, considering the kind of governments we are having in the past decades.
Our president is calling for Sierra Leoneans to return and help in the development drive, does he really need to call them or does he really have to put modalities in place to make them rush back to the country? A country with unpredictable electricity, lack of Tertiary education centers, poor medical facilities and poverty written in the faces of the people. Will these factors be encouraging to our Diaspora brothers and sisters to abandon the basic necessities of life for a dark and gloomy unknown future? It is very difficult to see that happening.
China succeeded because they had a leader who was innovative and has love and vision, so when he declared in 1979 that he wants to see a China that can be compared with the elites of this world, he meant what he was saying. The late Deng Shao Peng matched his words with actions and when he retired his successor continued the dream that has been achieved to date.
This is what we need in Sierra Leone, a leader who will want to see Sierra Leone compared with countries like Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand and who is ready to match his words with actions. The country’s resources should be utilized to its fullest in developmental programs and not on friends and relatives.
Since Independence, we have been losing our natural resources as well as human resources; people have debated the semantics of the issues and focused almost solely on remittances and overlooking the implications of brain drain, human resources, institutional capacity and health. The idea of repatriation has been discussed and proved to be useless, because our governments have failed to address the pull and push factors that influence emigration. Moreover, the relationship between our governments and the African Diaspora remained a major barrier to finding solutions.
For thousands of Sierra Leoneans living overseas and seeking ways to contribute to the development of the country, initiatives aimed at staunching the outflow of expertise are offering new possibilities now more than ever before. Many initiatives have been applied to entice these experts back home; even the president has opened a Diaspora office in State House.
Some initiatives use the Internet to attract skilled workers like the thousands of South African doctors living in Canada and make it easier for them to provide services to patients back home. Other programmes hope to entice skilled professionals to actually return home.
Sierra Leonean professionals migrate to Western Europe and North America. Many are dissuaded from returning home because of the economic and political crises that have bedeviled the country over the last two decades. Failing economies, high unemployment rates, human rights abuses, bad governance and the lack of adequate social services, such as entertainment grounds, health and education are some of the factors keeping them away from Sierra Leone. A skilled technician cannot work without electricity. How many schools are computerized and where is the constant water flow in the country? These are what are keeping many people from returning.
Brain drain occurs when the country becomes short of skills when people with such expertise emigrate. As I said in the previous article, the number of Sierra Leonean doctors in Chicago surpasses all the doctors in the country. At least 60 per cent of doctors trained in the country in the last 10 years have left the country because the condition of service for them is a provocation. So when MPs are asking for such astronomical salary for doing sweet nothing makes me shudder in my corner.
The phenomenon is putting a huge strain on the country. To fill the gap created by the skills shortage, Sierra Leone has appealed to Cuba, and China to send doctors to help in the medical field. Even Nigeria has to help out with nurses and doctors. It is high time programmes and policies are put in place to reverse the devastating effects of the brain drain.
Some experts in the country are increasingly engaged in strategies and programmes to reverse the brain drain or retain skilled professionals at home. They include restrictive policies aimed at delaying emigration, such as adding extra years to medical students’ training and signing contracts with workers.
In a country like Ghana, various tax proposals have been put forward as their governments realize that the large numbers of citizens living outside their borders are a potential economic resource. Proposals range from one-time exit taxes to bilateral tax arrangements, which would require the receiving nation to tax citizens of another and remunerate the home country.
Another strategy is the adoption of international agreements by industrial and developing nations under which wealthy countries pledge not to recruit skilled people from developing states. However, the two most popular strategies involve transferring skills through networks of professionals and intellectuals and the time-tested approach of repatriation.
Because many Sierra Leoneans are reluctant to return to the country due to lack of facilities, the government is now trying to find other ways to tap the knowledge and skills of their professionals based overseas by appointing them to lucrative jobs. This approach is popular because it does not require participants to relocate to their home countries.
The Diaspora office should make sure that it has a website and database so that professionals can sign up. If they can have such a database, it will help them when they want to make appointments in the future as long they are sincere in their pursuit. But the other problem now is politics as employment is done on party basis and not on quality and nationalism.
About 60 per cent of the country’s expatriate graduates are located in most English speaking countries, like Australia, the UK, Canada and the US. Looking at the nature of their skills, many of them are accountants, doctors and engineers who have contributed immensely to these country’s economy.
When Ade Beckley lost his appointment due to political machinations in Sierra Leone, he was snatched by Ghana and his performance in Ghana was very excellent. He is back and has been appointed as adviser. Botswana is the same where Sierra Leoneans perform exemplary after most of them lost there jobs because of politics or bad governance.
Many Sierra Leoneans abroad would like to return if the country is developing economically, socially and politically with good policies in place to protect everyone whether you are green, red, orange or blue. When there is continuous electricity in the country that will be a big boost for Sierra Leoneans to think of coming home.
Sierra Leonean politicians started talking about brain drain some 13 years ago when they found out that most of the new doctors have left the country. But the country has expressed little concern about the loss of skilled people, while lending agencies often compounds the problem by pushing the government to hire foreign expatriates, as part of the conditions attached to the loans.
Moreover, our politicians often portrayed Sierra Leoneans who opted to work and live abroad as unpatriotic. But the sharp rise in skilled emigration and the serious human resource constraints facing the country have forced many to rethink their views.
Given the international nature of the brain drain and the covert support it receives from developed countries in need of skilled personnel, measures in African countries to contain it will only succeed with the support of destination countries.
As the government has recognized Sierra Leoneans in the Diaspora as key stakeholders in the efforts of developing the country and the issues of brain drain, effective and sustained engagement between the government and them with required policy and resource commitments should address the capacity building of the country.
The emerging Diaspora movement might become more active in Sierra Leone’s development efforts, the growing political will in the country to recognize the Diaspora’s potential contribution, and the possibilities created by information technology show that the Sierra Leone’s Diaspora will not, after all, be a total loss to the country.
By Austin Thomas