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28.09.2023 Feature Article

So, Brain Drain's A Brain Gain…?

So, Brain Drain's A Brain Gain?
28.09.2023 LISTEN

The Philosophical Ponderings of the Adults
Paa Kow just sprang up, his big buttocks causing a disturbance, and started talking about car dealership.

It was the first day of our first term in Class 2C. I mean, just about a month or so ago, we had been in Class 1C, fantasising about this very classroom—fantasising about the grown-up men and women that were housed (well, ‘schooled’) in this very classroom… The grown-ups of Class 2C! Now here we sat on the second floor—in this same class, one entire ground higher up than Class 1; our lives, changed. Here we were, living the dream. We were adults now. Well, almost adults—young adults. And at this stage of one’s life, one begins to ponder over the important questions of life. Important questions like that just asked by our teacher, Madam Elizabeth: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

One at a time, when it was your turn, you got up from your seat, and with certainty, declared to the teacher and the rest of your classmates, “I’m going to be __ when I grow up!” Just look at us! Big men and women, answering the important questions of life! No longer were we confined to the childish inquiries of Class 1—inquisitions like: ‘Your mother or your father, who is your favourite.’ Those childish days were behind us.

I had been caught up in my own thoughts when it all started. Lawyer, doctor, bank manager, those were words being thrown about in turns by my fellow young-adult classmates. Lawyer? I wasn’t too sure about that. Because I had heard the rumours, you know. That whole thing about these “learned” individuals being bound by the hands and thrown into the coffin face first when they died... I tried that in bed the other day, and I can tell you this much, that’s a mighty uncomfortable position to spend eternity sleeping in. So, no lawyering.

And then there was this whole ‘doctor’ issue… The blood, I didn’t mind. But the rest of the generality of human fluids, that did me in. And also, the fact that one would very often find themselves in the presence of lifeless bodies…That was a job a necrophobe, such as I was, could never do. Maybe if patients, nearing their deaths, could be so kind as to inform me, so that I may run out of the room before they passed, I could have stood a chance with this profession. But one couldn’t trust that happening, could they? Doctoring wasn’t for the faint of heart. I had to find something else.

I still wasn’t sure I had figured out the difference between this whole ‘parrot’ and ‘pilot’ business. Either way, with my fear of infinite space, there certainly could be no career in the skies for me. And then there was this whole idea of banking. Banking, which I was told, mainly consisted of counting other people’s money on their behalf; and at times, loaning out one’s own money...Your own money! Can you imagine that? I decided that there was just way too much heartbreak in that—both in the counting and the loaning. Why? Because hadn’t my six-year-old self, on countless occasions, loaned out her hard-earned income to her mother, only to receive diddly-squat back? If my own mother never paid me back her debt, how could I possibly trust a stranger to? So, no. No ‘bank managering.’

It was nearing my turn, and I was drawing blanks.
To be frank, I had no reason to be in this state of confusion—Madam Elizabeth’s question hadn’t come as a surprise to me. I had, in fact, given this question some careful thought throughout that vacation period leading to this new class. Thinking Kofi Annan President of the world, I had, very decisively and confidently, settled on the ‘UN Secretary General’ option. But, you see, this auntie of mine had come out of nowhere, asked me this same question, and had been extremely disappointed when I gave her that as an answer: “Ah! Kafui, secretary?!”

See, I tried explaining to her; but she would hear none of it. So, I guess UN ‘Secretary’ General was also a ‘no’?

Hence, there I was, sitting in the classroom with my fellow young-adults, one row away from compulsorily declaring to the rest of my colleagues my future career choice, and what do I see? Paa Kow, springing to his feet with such confidence, his big buttocks giving an earnest shake… He gives a confident tuck to his shirt, and on his short, tight shorts, and says with such certainty, “I am going to sell cars when I grow up!” Well, that’s new…

W-what? Did he just…? Did he just say that? My Class-2-adult mind could not comprehend. Here we all were, shuffling some few known professions among ourselves—lawyer, doctor, bank manager, yada-yada-yada… And there comes Paa Kow talking about selling cars. Granted, somewhere in the world, a child the same age as him was thinking about car manufacturing—and had been given the wherewithal, even in that early stage, to achieve that dream. But to me, a Class 2 pupil of Ghana, this was still a big deal—this Paa Kow said. It was revolutionary. To be able to think outside the box in such a manner… What did Paa Kow know that I, and the rest of his classmates, didn’t? Selling cars. Where did he get that from?

I tell you what, when the bell rang for us to go on break, I spent my entire break-time staring at him. There he went, running about, jiggling his big buttocks, in possession of such insight—such adult-like, otherworldly insight which the rest of us didn’t. Car dealership.

We Had No Plans of Going Nowhere
It is for this reason that I was particularly taken aback when I stumbled upon this paper published by the African Development Bank (AfDB) in 2019 titled, ‘The Diaspora and Economic Development in Africa’. Granted, there was nothing disturbingly revolutionary about its very premise—you know, that which proposes a reconsideration of this whole ‘brain drain’ issue... Experts in this branch of thought propose that the continuous emigration of the human resource capital of a country, particularly those in our continent, Africa, into other nations, most often the developed world, in search of greener pastures, may not be as injurious to African countries as it has been traditionally made out to be. It certainly wasn’t the first time that experts had posited this—brain drain isn’t really brain drain after all, but, in fact, brain gain instead. Nations suffering a constant emigration of their citizenries into other lands—into more prosperous nations—should not be out here crying wolf, for these endless emigrations have been shown to reap some positive, positive returns for these countries.

Again, there is nothing revolutionary about this argument. Yet, when dissected, it is still quite the controversial assertion—just not revolutionary.

But it is this that the report said in support of this argument of ‘brain gain’ that shocked me: “…The first [positive effect of emigration] is an incentive effect, which takes place ex-ante of emigration itself, and leads families to invest in the education of their children in the perspective of future emigration...” W-wait, what?! Please let’s hold that thought. We will come back to this.

  1. The Dissection

Migration is a human condition, there is nothing that can be done to stop a human being from engaging in this act. To do so would be to attempt to restrict the very basic human acts of movement, of eating, breathing, etc. History has been filled with and defined by the human act of constant movement—from one land to the next. All over the world, this has been the case. Not even the rigid political borders of nationhood erected in this modern age of ours could be so strong as to curtail this human urge. This very human act of migration is an economic act—it has been so since time immemorial, even before money was invented. So how can a nation possibly find itself in shock when this very human act happens within its borders? Both the immigration of foreigners and emigration of citizens should never come as a shock to a nation. A nation must never expect to succeed in curbing in definite terms, the emigration of its citizenry.

But here is the thing with Africa’s migration... When done, it doesn’t feel like a mere human act, or an economic act. When done, it tends to almost always have this whole political tinge to it. Let me explain. You see after slavery was defeated in the 18th century, and came right back to bite us in the buttocks during that same century in the form of colonialism, and again was defeated in the mid-to-late 20th century, what Africa had on its hand was a continent of tampered, poked and prodded human and natural resource capital. As our natural resources were hauled off in large quantities to enrich European nations, our human resource capital was involuntarily channelled out in large quantities along with.

Again, after these two demeaning events—slavery and colonialism—happened, what the continent was left with was a people brainwashed, indoctrinated, and reduced to thinking of themselves as lesser beings. Their personhood, approach to nationhood / society, their culture, everything about them, they were made to believe were lesser than the European’s. In Africa, Eurocentrism found its most success. The occurrence of independence on its own wasn’t enough to cleanse the African of this taint. Yet, this same continent, it was, with its independence, tasked with the science of nation building—tasked to compete in the then blossoming Industrialised Age. Having not laid the right foundations, this continent naturally found itself underperforming, and at times, completely failing in this science of nation building. So, right after sacking the White folks out of our land, right after gaining our independence from their imperialistic claws, what do we find ourselves doing…? And this is quite funny: we, in our large numbers, began seeking admittance into their lands. A few centuries prior, we had been involuntarily shipped into the White folk’s land, now here we were, begging admission, oftentimes using whatever illegitimate, dangerous means afforded us—stowaways in ships and all.

Migration is a very natural human act. It is an economic act. But for the African, there remains some level of irony in it all. As though to say, although we took back our lands from you, how about we join you in your land now... Please, pleaselet us join you in yours, because we haven’t managed to make something of ours. And indeed, that is the narrative that unfolded, because after the death of the involuntary emigration of the African and of colonialism—after the continent attained its independence—the voluntary emigration of the African into these same Western countries, most especially, the emigration of the continent’s highly skilled labour into these nations, have constantly ranked among the highest in the world.

  1. “There Are Two Things Involved…”

On the matter of ‘cause’ there are two types of migration. It is either a push or pull... There are instances where people are enticed to leave their home nations, migrate into other nations, not necessarily because of what these other nations have to offer, but more so because of what their own nations have ‘offered’ them—the bad hand their home nations have dealt them. Bad hands such as the endemic lack of jobs, low wages, all these paired with a ridiculous high cost of living… And very often, what I believe to be the most decisive factor: a loss of hope in the system. A loss of trust in governmental systems, dimming all prospects of better times. When citizens find that their own nations have nothing to offer—neither in the short nor long term—these citizens are quick to up and leave at the least opportunity afforded. These are your push factors—it’s like your home country ‘pushing’ you to go away.

There are also the pull factors—offerings such as better jobs, higher wages coupled with lower cost of living, and an overall higher standard of living being offered by other countries—the host nations. These are often enough to attract and pull citizens from one country into these other countries. You can only imagine how quickly citizens abandon their homes when push factors of their home nations are met with pull factors of these other countries.

But what is it that they say…
“Home is Where the Heart is”
Home is where the heart is. Left to our own devices, the larger chunk of the world population would much prefer their best selves happening in their own homes. It is for this reason that Jesus Himself, after receiving his well-deserved God fame elsewhere, lamented of His earthly hometown, Nazareth: “A prophet is not respected in their own home.” Capernaum and co. could give Him all the attention they could give, but it really stung for the Creator, that His pseudo-earthly birthplace would not give Him heed. Indeed, it hits different when one makes it, and does so in their own hood—in their own home nation. To make it home; to flourish at home; to be happy at home, that is our first and foremost human desire.

We really, usually have no plans of going anywhere—at least not in such enduring terms. Of course, there are always exceptions to this. But for the large chunk of the human population, home is really, always the ultimate ground. And this is one of the few instances we find both the adult mind and childish mind being in agreement. Because all throughout my life, I have not found a Ghanaian parent—not even those in the most remotest of villages—whose ultimate aim for educating their child is just so that they can travel abroad as this 2019 AfDP report puts it in these words: “…The first [positive effect of emigration] is an incentive effect, which takes place ex-ante of emigration itself, and leads families to invest in the education of their children in the perspective of future emigration...” This ex-ante assertion’s only chances of truth—its best bet at legitimacy—I’m afraid, is ex post facto... As though to say that the fact that there is an ever-increasing trend of Africa’s graduate seeking further education in other nation, mostly the developed world, means this prospect of travelling is the reason why the African bothers to pursue an education—bothers to put their ward through education, in the first place. I mean, that can’t be true.

I don’t know how it is for other African nations, but here in Ghana, the Ghanaian child, like his mother, father, or guardian, dreams in their home nation—Ghana. You meet a Ghanaian child whose ultimate aspiration lies in travelling to the ‘Caucasian’s land’, the chances that they are merely mimicking the present state-of-affairs of their parents or guardians would be high. The Ghanaian’s aspiration—both for their own selves and their loved ones—lies first within the Ghanaian soil. It was the same for the thinking-outside-the-box Paa Kow (the would-be car dealer) and the rest of my class 2C mates. It very largely and likely was the same for their parents. But you see, as they say, sh*t happens…

Of course, things are even more nuanced when it comes to this topic. So, let’s dissect this further another time.

[Published in the Business & Financial Times (B&FT) - 25th May 2023]

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