The two West Africas: the two historical phases of the West African brain drain.

Author:Kaba, Amadu Jacky


As an entity, the 16 nations that comprise the geographic region of West Africa is among one of the poorest regions in the world in the 21st century, even though the region is among the richest in the world in its stock of natural resources and raw and underdeveloped human talent. The natural resources of Nigeria for example, include: natural gas, petroleum, tin, iron ore, coal, limestone, niobium, lead, zinc and arable land; in Liberia: iron ore, timber, diamonds, gold and hydropower; in Sierra Leone: diamonds, titanium ore, bauxite, iron ore, gold, chromite; in Cote d'Ivoire: petroleum, natural gas, diamonds, manganese, iron ore, cobalt, bauxite, copper, gold, nickel, tantalum, silica sand, clay, cocoa beans, coffee, palm oil, hydropower; and in Niger: uranium, coal, iron ore, tin, phosphates, gold, molybdenum, gypsum, salt, petroleum (Compiled from the 2005 CIA World Factbook). Liberia also has one of the largest rubber plantations in the world.

Among the five geographic regions of Africa (Eastern, Northern, Middle, Southern and Western Africa), West Africa has the lowest average per capita Gross Domestic Products, and the second highest average infant mortality rate after Middle Africa. The region also has low rates of individuals who can read and write, a high proportion of unpaved roads and a weak economy.

Moreover, since the 1990s, the region experienced civil conflicts or wars in a number of countries, including Liberia and Sierra Leone, costing hundreds of thousands of lives and the destruction of billions of dollars in infrastructure, such as schools, hospitals and businesses.

The interesting irony about West Africa's underdevelopment is that, although the people in that region are among the poorest people in the world, individuals of West African descent outside of the region and the continent tend to be in significant to substantial numbers among some of the most influential and highly-respected scientists of all sorts, world-class entertainers, professional athletes, politicians, business men and women, etc., especially concentrated in North America and the rest of the Western Hemisphere, and other parts of the world. The question then is: Why is West Africa, a region of 261 million people as of July 2006, one of the poorest and least developed regions of the world?

The answer to that question is that West Africa in the past 500 years has experienced two major historical phases of the "Brain Drain": (1) the Transatlantic or European slave trade and (2) the post World War II exodus of skilled West Africans, who left the region to seek better professional and economic opportunities in rich or developed countries across the world.

This essay examines the implications of these two historical phases of the West African "Brain Drain". The essay provides the estimates of Africans who were taken out of the continent (especially West Africa) and brought to the New World. The essay also examines the skilled exodus of West Africans to rich countries, especially North America, in the post World War II era. It provides estimates of educated West Africans residing in developed countries. The paper attempts to present an understanding of how a region that has provided the world with a significant number of the most gifted individuals still remains one of the poorest areas on earth. Let us begin by first examining the demographic, economic and social conditions of West Africa compared with the other four regions of Africa, and other developing regions of the world.

Demographic and Economic Inter-regional Comparisons of Africa

Africa's total population is growing faster than many other continents or regions in the world. In recent years, the continent's total population has been growing by 15 million to 18 million people, out of the total estimated 80 million people that are added to the world population annually. For example, Africa's total population increased by an estimated 87.34 million from 823.5 million in July 2001 to 910.84 million in July 2006. West Africa and North Africa are two regions that are contributing substantially to Africa's annual population increase.

Utilizing the United Nations Statistics Division's classifications of the five regions of Africa (Eastern, Middle, Northern, Southern and Western Africa, see Appendix), out of the 910.84 million people in Africa in July 2006, Eastern Africa had the highest proportion, with 284 million (31.2%), followed by Western Africa with 260.9 million (28.6%), Northern Africa 202.6 million (22.2%), Middle Africa, 112.2 million (12.3%), and Southern Africa, 51 million (5.6%). Only one of the ten most populous nations in Africa is in West Africa, and that is the most populous nation on the continent: Nigeria. The 10 most populous countries in Africa as of July 2006, were Nigeria, with 131.9 million (14.5% of total), followed by Egypt, 78.9 million (8.7%), Ethiopia, 74.8 million (8.2%), the Democratic Republic of Congo, 62.7 million (6.9%), (1) South Africa, 44.2 million (4.9%), Sudan, 41.2 million (4.5%), Tanzania, 37.4 million (4.1%), Kenya, 34.7 million (3.8%), Morocco, 33.2 million (3.6%), and Algeria, 32.9 million (3.6%) (Compiled and computed based data in the 2006 CIA World Factbook).

Average Total Fertility Rates (Children Born per Woman)

West Africa's total population is rising at a relatively high rate because of the region's high fertility rate. The fertility rate in West and Middle Africa are significantly higher than those in the other three regions. For example, as of 2006, Middle Africa and Western Africa had the two highest average total fertility rates, 5.43 and 5.22 children born per woman respectively; 4.87 children born per woman in Eastern Africa; 2.97 children born per woman in Southern Africa; and 2.86 children born per woman in Northern Africa. The average for all of Africa in 2006 was 4.68 children born per woman.

Average Infant Mortality Rates (Deaths per 1,000 Live Births)

Infant mortality rates are significantly higher in West and Middle Africa than the other three regions. For example, as of 2006, Northern Africa and Southern Africa had the lowest infant mortality rates, 35.01 deaths per 1,000 live births (37.37 for boys and 32.52 for girls) and 64.31 (67.70 for boys and 60.81 for girls) deaths per 1,000 live births respectively; 70.54 (76.30 for boys and 64.61 for girls) deaths for Eastern Africa; 86.40 (94.18 for boys and 78.39 for girls) deaths for Western Africa; and 87.27 (94.22 for boys and 80.07 for girls) deaths per 1,000 live births for Middle Africa. The average for all of Africa in 2006 was 73.68 deaths per 1,000 live births (79.67 for boys and 67.50 for girls) (Compiled and computed based data in the 2006 CIA World Factbook).

Illiteracy Rates (People Aged 15 or Over Can Read and Write)

Although Africa still lags behind other continents or regions in terms of the proportion of people aged 15 or over who can read and write, the continent has made substantial progress from 1970, but West Africa has the lowest rate when compared with the other four regions of the continent. According to 2002 UNESCO statistics, in 1970, 72.4% of people in Africa aged 15 or over could not read and write, compared with 36.6% for the world average. In 2000, the proportion of people on the continent who could not read and write declined to 40.2%, compared with 20.3% for the world average. When one compares West Africa and the other four regions of the continent, however, the region still lags behind. For example, as of 1995...

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