Africa’s brain drain ambassadors

Wherever we go in the world, we all have a responsibility to tell Africa’s positive stories.

Over the last few months, a number of the most talented people I have worked with across Africa, have moved to either the US or the UK for a better life. More money, better quality education, better healthcare, a higher standard of living and a stable environment are all valid reasons to leave the continent that are hard to resist.

While this self-improvement is good at a personal level, the impact for Africa is far from positive. It is regrettable so many of the most entrepreneurial, talented and motivated people are regularly leaving for a better life. This brain drain of human capital extracts the added value these individuals would have contributed towards their national economies; and reduces tax revenues for African nations as higher earning individuals leave and pay taxes overseas. In addition, the money the diaspora sends home can distort local economies suppressing local wage rates, which is one of the main drivers of migration to the US, Europe and the Gulf.

Which is why it was very heart-warming to read a post from one of my colleagues recently, who proudly asserted her determination to stay and join the list of high achievers that her region of Kenya has produced. Sadly though my colleague is in the minority and social media is dominated by stories of far more leavers than stayers.

One upside of this flow of African talent to the global north is the opportunity it provides to create a positive reputation for the continent. I spend part of the year in Scotland, one of the strongest nation brands globally. This positive image of Scotland in the world has been largely created by the high-profile Scots who have made it big outside Scotland. From industrial titan Andrew Carnegie to world famous actor Sean Connery, there are countless Scottish people who have helped establish a positive image of Scotland around the world.

This soft power is amplified by the Scottish Government that activity promotes Scotland’s image to the world and celebrates stories of returning Scots who invest in their homeland, often encouraged by government assistance. Africa of course is not a single country and no one entity is responsible for brand Africa globally. Until such a much-needed body is formed, it is Africa’s export of many of its brightest and best which are the continent’s front-line ambassadors and tellers of Africa’s positive stories.

African governments could take a leaf out of Scotland’s book and look at policies and incentives to retain talented human capital; and incentivise its return. I am sure that if they could, most leavers would stay, but this will only be possible when the benefits of staying outweigh the benefits to be gained overseas. Africa has a long way to go before this parity is achieved, and with every talented person that leaves, that gap becomes even wider.

But whether you stay or whether you go, we all have a responsibility to shape Africa’s reputation in the world. We can give the world a rounded view of Africa that is balanced and authentically positive rather than biased and relentlessly negative.

As communicators we need to play our part and tell Africa’s positive narrative of hope, of innovation, creativity, opportunity, success and growth. This narrative can enhance Africa’s global competitiveness, attract investment, boost tourism and stimulate international trade.

We can also learn from other nations and regions that have invested in the soft power of national and regional brand building. Africa too can highlight stories of stability, innovation and opportunity that will attract investment and stimulate the economic growth that will render redundant the need to leave.