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20.03.2004 Feature Article

Brain Refill: Using Expatriate Ghanaian Professionals ....

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... for National Reconstruction and Development [To be successful in any human activity or endeavor, one has to have knowledge and/or skills, experience, resources and a little bit of luck. For national reconstruction and development, Ghana needs political leadership and ruling elites that possess several combinations of these qualities. Unfortunately, these qualities have been lacking among the home-based Ghanaian political leadership and ruling elites for the past fifty odd years I believe these qualities required for success in national reconstruction and development exist among the expatriate Ghanaian professionals. An idea, appropriately dubbed as the “Brain Refill” is proposed to use the expatriate Ghanaian professionals (in the Diaspora) for national reconstruction and development.]

In the late 1980's, a World Bank's representative in Ghana, Mr. Seung Choi, was reported to have stated that the World Bank's intention to use more Ghanaian consultants in the implementation of the economic recovery program was hampered by their inability to identify and mobilize available skills. He stated further that, although much of the skills and knowledge required of consultants and advisors can be found among Ghanaians living in the country and abroad, these have not been identified and mobilized to the maximum extent. This was the genesis of the introduction and significant rise of Ghanaian special assistants in the government.

I believe a $10.0 million loan from the World Bank or IDA was proposed to assist the government in identifying and encourage Ghanaians living abroad to render their services as consultants or advisors. Today Ghana can boast of qualified professionals that have left Ghana to developed nations all over the world to seek greener pastures. Former President JJ Rawlings and the current President J.A. Kufour have both expressed their concerns about the brain drain especially as it relates to Ghanaian trained professionals in the medical field. Ironically, when Mr. Rawlings was lamenting about the exodus of locally trained medical doctors leaving Ghana to developed countries to seek greener pastures, he was at the same time seeking help from “friends” to fund the education of his children in overseas education institutions.

Successive governments have continued to pay lip service to the idea of using Ghanaian professionals living abroad for national development without any real results. The present government went to the extent of holding the Home Coming Summit in 2001 that resulted in no significant change in national policy but they continue to rely on the home-based professionals. This has resulted in the continuous reliance on foreign experts as consultants and the continued travel by the President to foreign countries to beg for loans because the government does not have the courage and political will to challenge these home-based Ghanaian professionals.

This article will explore one idea, appropriately dubbed as the “Brain Refill”(reverse Brain Drain), on how to use expatriate (in the Diaspora) Ghanaian professionals for national reconstruction and development. The idea is based on the model that allows for Ghanaian professional athletes to return to Ghana temporarily to represent Ghana in international sport competitions. If it makes sense for the Ghanaian football (soccer) team to invite Ghanaian professional soccer players playing in Europe to play for Ghana during the world cup tournament, I do not understand why it does not make sense to invite Ghanaian professional engineers, architects, economists, accountants, medical doctors, scientists, educationists, in the Diaspora (Europe, USA, Canada, Japan, Australia etc.) to come to Ghana as consultants and advisors on development projects in Ghana. Some may argue that development loans always come with strings attached and the scenario described is the result of such strings. This may be true, but Ghanaian football fans would never accept a scenario where a developed country would provide a loan for Ghana to develop a first class football team that can win the world cup with the stipulation that the team will not include Ghanaian professional football players (in the Diaspora) playing in the developed countries. The Ghanaian football fans would demand the heads of the coaches and Ghanaian sport executives that will agree to such terms. If Ghanaian football fans cannot accept the scenario described, why then do the good people of Ghana continue to accept a similar scenario for development projects? The good people of Ghana should begin to demand the heads of the political leadership and ruling elites that negotiate and agree to such terms.

Although, there are good home-based football (soccer) players still playing in the Ghanaian football (soccer) league, most of the good players would prefer to leave Ghana to play in the European professional soccer leagues. It is a fact that because of the economic conditions and the lack of availability of sports facilities in Ghana, good soccer players would invariably prefer to move to Europe to practice their profession. Similarly, it is also a fact that qualified professionals with the knowledge and skills required by the international financing agencies as consultants and advisors would prefer to leave Ghana and practice their profession in the developed countries as evidenced by the exodus of those in the medical field.

It is probably easier to explain to soccer fans in Ghana why it is important to have the expatriate Ghanaian professional soccer players in the Ghanaian team during international competition. The home-based Ghanaian soccer players themselves will not have any problems with this policy. However, it would be more difficult to convince home-based Ghanaian engineers that it makes sense to have Ghanaian expatriate professional engineers to return to Ghana temporarily as consultants for internationally funded engineering projects. Also the Ghanaian public may understand better the case for soccer tournaments than the case for the engineering projects. In the soccer case, it will be easy for the public to understand that it does not make sense for Ghana to spend foreign exchange to recruit a foreign player from the third division team from England to come to Ghana to play for Ghana during the world cup whiles better Ghanaian professional soccer players are available in Europe. However, in the case of internationally funded engineering projects in Ghana the public will not recognize the same scenario when it is placed in front of them. The government spends large sums of the foreign money targeted for the engineering projects in hiring foreign consultants and engineers (some are low rates) for these projects while several highly qualified Ghanaian professional engineers are available in the Diaspora.

The major cost item for engineering projects (in USA) is the labor cost including personnel salaries, wages, benefits, travel and other associated costs. Therefore, Ghana can reduce substantially the overall cost of engineering projects if Ghana can implement this program to use Ghanaian professionals instead of foreign professionals. Even the high cost of special assistants to the government could be reduced significantly if the proposed model is implemented to use professionals from the Diaspora. The substantial amount of foreign exchange that would be saved could be used to acquire the proper equipment and facilities required to complete these projects within the contract period. One of the major reasons why we continue to construct the Accra-Kumasi road every few years is because the construction is usually not performed to the standard specifications. The main reason for the shoddy work is also due to the lack of available standard equipment for modern road construction. Invariably the government has to rely on the so-called local contractors with used and obsolete equipment. Even if contracts are awarded to reputable foreign construction companies, they tend to use local sub contractors with the same obsolete equipment because most of the money is used to hire foreign engineers and consultants. Engineering projects are used here just for illustration. Other non-engineering projects such as agriculture, business, health and safety, education, sanitation, employment, social security and national insurance, law and order, constitution, government, and even the military can all be included under this program. The government should evaluate a model similar to that used for the soccer case to allow for Ghana to benefit from the expertise and experience of expatriate professionals in the Diaspora for reconstruction and national development.

The Ghanaian professional soccer players in the Diaspora have the same conditions of service with their companies (teams) as their other professional counterparts. Therefore, the conditions that have been put in place to allow them to leave their foreign teams (companies) to go to Ghana temporarily to represent Ghana in international competitions could be applied to other professionals. Important issues such as benefits including insurance, injuries, leave of absence, salaries, benefits to the foreign companies that these professionals work for, safety, compensation for loss of personnel in case of accidents, etc. should be evaluated and incorporated into the model.

Recently, some prominent Ghanaians have complained about the brain drain and lamented about the huge amounts of foreign exchange that African countries spend to recruit foreign expertise for their development as a result of the brain drain. Professor Ofori-Sarpong of the University of Ghana was reported to have stated that Africa spends about $4.0 billion to recruit about 100,000 skilled expatriates to replace those that had left the continent for greener pastures. He also stated that out of the estimated 1.0 million scientists and engineers needed for development, Africa currently has only 20,000 of these professionals. Lamenting about these bleak and frightening statistics without innovative policies to arrest the situation is not good enough. The situation that the Professor is lamenting about is not going to change as a result of his speeches. Qualified and skilled professionals from Ghana and Africa will continue to leave their local communities and travel abroad for greener pastures. Governments should begin to advocate policies that will take advantage of the current situations (as they exist) and bring innovative changes to solve these unfortunate phenomena. Governments should propose and implement policies that will allow the brain drain to benefit the good people of Ghana. African governments should take bold steps to reverse the brain drain by implementing this model of “Brain Refill”

To be successful in any human activity or endeavor, one has to have knowledge and/or skills, experience, resources and a little bit of luck. Usually a combination of these qualities as opposed to a single quality is essential for success. For national reconstruction and development, Ghana needs political leadership and ruling elites that possess several combinations of these qualities. Unfortunately, these qualities have been lacking among the home-based Ghanaian political leadership and ruling elites for the past fifty odd years. I am sure some armchair elites reading this article would like to present tons of excuses for the causes and effects of the lack of the above qualities in the home-based political leadership and ruling elites. Similarly some armchair football players and Monday morning coaches would present several reasons why the Ghana football team has not been able to win any major championship for a long time. If Ghanaian football fans were to accept these excuses from armchair coaches without any action, then the national team will continue to under perform and may not win any major championship in the foreseeable future. The fact of the matter is that the living conditions for Ghanaians for the past fifty odd years have become unbearable and the standard of living has continuously trended backward. The good people of Ghana do not need any more excuses and slogans. They need positive results that will show them that the trend is moving forward not backward so that they will stop spending all their time and money to find means of leaving the country for greener pastures abroad.

It is time the political leadership and the ruling elites stopped blaming the past and the white man for Ghana's underdevelopment and deteriorating standard of living. It is time Ghanaians stopped indulging in bogus political slogans, myths, misconceptions, deceptions and hero-worshiping of political leaders and ruling elites. Because these politically correct slogans will not bring rapid national development but lead to a continuous slide to lower standard of living for the good people of Ghana. I believe the qualities required for success in national reconstruction and development exist among the expatriate (in the Diaspora) Ghanaian professionals. Therefore, the good people of Ghana should demand that the home-based political leaders and ruling elites evaluate this proposed idea of brain refill that has the potential to bring them prosperity and rapid development of Ghana from a third world to a developed nation. After all, it is the dream of most Ghanaians, including the home-based political leadership and the ruling elites, to go abroad (developed countries) to seek greener pastures (their survival and salvation depend on their ability to go abroad). Moreover, the good people of Ghana have nothing to lose because I do not believe the expatriate Ghanaian professionals can do any worse than what the home-based Ghanaian political leadership and ruling elites have done for the past fifty odd years.

Finally, it is important to emphasize that the proposed idea of brain refill is not intended to eliminate the home-based political leadership and ruling elites. It is obvious to football fans in Ghana that the use of expatriate Ghanaian footballers in the national team is not meant to replace home-based footballers in the national team or to encourage the talented Ghanaian footballers to leave Ghana to play in the overseas arena. The proposed program of brain refill like the football program is intended to use the available Ghanaian resource to improve the chances for success in those activities. Both programs are temporary at this stage of our development.

The proposed brain refill program will not be needed in the future if it becomes clear that the home-based political leadership and ruling elites are demonstrating the qualities for success and that the conditions of living for the good people of Ghana are improving with a trend toward a higher standard of living. When and if Ghanaians stop forming long lines at the foreign embassies in Accra to seek visas to travel to these foreign countries then the program of brain refill will not be needed. No Brain Drain No Brain Refill!! Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Robert Mensah-Biney
Robert Mensah-Biney, © 2004

The author has 4 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: RobertMensahBiney

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