03.07.2006 Press Release

Ghana: Brain Tourism?

By Public Agenda.
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When I applied to the EDIF Fund little did I know that my unusual exports were not covered. In fact, my presence there alone was ticklish enough to generate giggles and laughter. I thought my proposal would solve once and for all the perennial professional populism in Ghana: the production and export of Made in Ghana doctors, nurses and academic staff! On the contrary, I was made to feel I had just escaped from the Accra, Ankafo or Pantan psychiatric hospitals.

Professional exports are not a new phenomenon. From ancient Egypt to Rome to Greece to Russia to America and to Australia, great nations have been built from the skills of foreign professionals in various fields. Some time ago in the early 80s when Nigeria badly needed teachers, Ghana went to the production line and delivered the products.

Statistics indicate that the Third World, especially Africa, has been feeding the First with their creative class whilst the former get non-productive remittances from the 'departed souls'. For those who are not aware, foreign non-productive remittances have overtaken tourism to become Ghana's third largest foreign exchange earner.

Recent work undertaken by the UK government's Department for International Development (DfID) has estimated the annual flow of remittances from the UK which was in the region of £2.3bn or between 70-80% of UK Overseas Development Assistance. The primary receiving countries were identified as India, Pakistan, Carribean countries, China, Bangladesh, Nigeria and Ghana.

Presently, India exports IT professionals to the UK, USA and Canada, whilst Kenya, South Africa and Ghana are major exporters of teachers, nurses and doctors to the top twelve brain tourism destinations among which are the USA, UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Germany, France and Italy which all account for over 70% of all African emigrants.

As a nation, we might as well stop talking about 'brain drain' and start discussing 'exports of the creative class' or Reverse Transfer of Technology (RTT). The 'drain' rhetoric cuts across sectors such that attracting foreign investors into Ghana may be an economic drain on their countries of origin as well. How about that? Likewise, the thought of bringing in Cuban doctors did not prick anybody's mind why we want to cause a brain drain from Cuba. Or is it because we feel that the Cubans have got a thick skin?

If the average Ghanaian is assumed to be a pessimist, there is no argument about that.

Gone were the days when the president of Ghana or the Minister for Education will issue a memo to the foreign embassies in Ghana not to issue Visas to graduates and final year students of tertiary institutions.

We have made so much noise about our migrant doctors, nurses and teachers but there is one thing we are turning a blind eye to: if countries in the likes of the UK, Canada and the USA would diligently seek to recruit our professionals via Visa lotteries and other easier standards for granting of visas to professionals and the creative class then we should be changing our mantra from the half empty glass to the half full one. 'Educated in Ghana' is the brand!

This directly translates into the quality of education in our tertiary institutions disregarding the self-serving so-called international university league tables sponsored by some international PR-stunted organisations. Made in Ghana doctors, nurses, teachers and other professionals are now the unusual exports.

If BrandGHANA has got attributes of professionalism in the medical and educational fields we should rather be looking at it from the outside. Exports are one of the channels of communication of the national brand and where it is strong, we only have to leverage the flight of our creative class to brand Ghana as a country whilst investing more resources in those areas.

After all, we are neither thick nor dumb or Third World in terms of high calibre professionals, likewise in football.

Lessons from South Africa

The activities of foreign governments in 'recruiting' the creative class of the Third World have aroused controversy and some anger in the target countries. It is just as saying that tourism destinations have got no right to market their tourism in target countries. The blatant display of such recruitment marketing arrogance by Canada was experienced by South Africa as quoted below:

"In 1998, the provincial government of Alberta, Canada, developed a proactive strategy to deal with the growing shortage of family doctors in rural communities in the province.

The government's health ministry retained a private immigration agency to recruit South African doctors. The agency launched a recruiting drive in South Africa with lavish dinners and slick presentations for interested physicians.

A chartered jet flew 44 physicians and their families to Canada for a weekend at Lake Louise, one of Canada's premier tourist resorts The physicians then dispersed to spend time in the communities, where the were feted and offered considerable financial inducements to come.

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