The Brain Drain, Skilled Labour Migration and Its Impact on Africa's Development, 1990s-2000s.

Author:Adesote, Samson Adesola


There are existing studies on the movement of population from one geographical area to another in the course of human and material development. This movement can either be voluntary or involuntary. In this paper, our main focus is the voluntary international migration. Historically, migration is a way of life in Africa. Over the generations, African peoples have migrated in response to security, demographic, economic, political and related factors: population pressure, environmental disasters, poor economic conditions and so on. (1) As argued by Curtin, Bruijn and International Organization for Migration (IOM), Africa has long been described as an immensely "mobile continent". (2)

Generally, international labour migration is not restricted to Africa. It is a global phenomenon, which became unprecedented between the 1990s and 2000s as a result of globalisation. International migration or cross-border migration remains a major global phenomenon that has continued to rise steadily in recent years, with migrants now accounting for over 3 percent of the global population. (3) The number of international migrants, comprising both economic and humanitarian migrants increased threefold since 1960, reaching 232 million in 2013, of which about one quarter migrated over the past two decades. (4) For instance, according to the 2002 report of the United Nations, by the beginning of the 21st century, the total number of persons globally living in countries other than their own was 180 million. (5) From 1970 to 2005, the stock of international migrants in the world increased from nearly 82 million to just over 190 million, according to United Nations (UN) estimates. (6) Recent international migration patterns have been predominantly characterized by South-North flows. While migration between emerging market and developing countries (South-South) accounts for a large part of the international migrant stock, recent trends have been driven mainly by migrants moving from emerging and low-income developing countries (Africa in particular) to advanced economies (with Europe and North America being the main recipient regions) (South-North). (7)

The major continent that has continued to record high rates of skilled labour migration during this period of study is Africa. Since the post colonial period, the movement of African immigrants into the Western and Eastern hemispheres is hinged on push and pull factors. Donald argues that four major factors account for the patterns in African migration during this phase. These factors are globalization and integration of the world economy; economic and political development failures in Africa; immigration and refugee policies in Europe and the United States; and colonial background. (8)

Importantly, since the 1990s the major centres of attraction especially for African immigrants are North America particularly the United States of America and Canada) and Europe (especially United the Kingdom); New Zealand, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirate, Asian and Middle East countries. (9) In fact, according to Akanmu, the streams gathered strength and became a flood in the 1990s. (10) This was why according to the 2005 World Migration Report, Africa was described as "the continent with the most mobile populations in the world" (IOM 2005, 33). This development has resulted in the general view that high emigration from Africa has led to brain drain and brain waste. Undoubtedly, the migration of highly trained professionals out of Africa leaves many countries in the continent short of the skills needed to meet the challenges of socio-economic and political development.

It is against this background that this paper intends to interrogate the brain drain, skilled labour migration and its impact on Africa's development between the 1990s and 2000s. The paper is divided into five sections. Section one introduces the discussion and the methodology adopted for the study. The second part focuses on conceptual clarifications / theoretical framework for the study. Section three centres on historical trajectory of contemporary international migration of skilled African immigrants into the Diaspora since the 1990s. The fourth section discusses the impact of the loss of skilled African immigrants on Africa's development. The last section is the conclusion. The methodological approach is historical, thematic and analytical. The major source of material used in this paper is secondary.

Conceptual Clarifications/Theoretical Framework for the Study

Brain Drain: The Brain Drain, otherwise known as human capital flight, has been described as a contentious subject, which has been challenged in recent years. Today, some scholars, rather than using the word "Brain Drain" prefers more politically neutral terms known as "Brain Exchange" or "Brain Circulation". However, in this paper, we prefer to use the word "Brain Drain" because of its negative effect on Africa's development, which is our main argument. While Oyelere argues that the etymology of the word "brain drain" emerged in the 1950s and was triggered by the massive migration of British scholars to the United States (11), Gibson and McKenzie cited by Boyo posit that concept of "brain drain" was first used by the British Royal Society to describe a situation in the 1950s, where scientists, doctors, engineers and other skilled individuals were migrating from Europe to the United States and Canada in search of employment. (12) We submit that the concept of brain drain is a post-Second World War development and has been defined by scholars from varying perspectives. According to Oyelere, brain drain is said to occur when a country becomes short of skills as people with such expertise emigrate. It can be described as the loss by countries of essential and needed professionals via emigration to other countries. Skilled workers included in this class are scientists, doctors, engineers, academics, nurses, managers, and other professionals who have received a tertiary education. (13)

Olumide and Wilfred see brain drain happening when skilled professionals from a country (mostly poor countries) migrate into other countries (mostly richer countries) to practice their profession and benefit these countries economically. (14) Brain drain also means human capital flight. In all, brain drain is a migration of professionals from one country to another, mainly for higher salaries and better living conditions, thus resulting in the economic development of the host/receiving countries, but to the detriment of the home countries.

Skilled Labour: Basically, there are two kinds of labour, namely skilled and unskilled labour. While unskilled labour makes use of their physical efforts in productive activities, skilled labour makes use of their mental effort. Generally, a skilled labourer is someone with tertiary education. That is, a person who has undergone a relatively long and specialised training. Importantly, education and training are the basic qualities that distinguished a skilled labourer from unskilled labourer. These two qualities are the determining factors that facilitate easy movement of most African skilled labour from the continent to the developed countries.

Migration: Migration refers to the movement of people from one geographical location to another, either on a temporary or permanent basis. (15) It also means the permanent movement of individual or group over a distance changing residence and crossing a specified boundary. (16) There are two main categories of migration, namely, internal and external or international. While internal migration involves movement within the country, external migration refers to the movement from one country to another or movement across frontiers. Here, our main focus is international or external migration of economic migrants, who are mainly professionals in different fields of study.

Theoretical Framework for the study: There are several theories of international migration. These international migration theories present two main perspectives, economic and non-economic, as the determinants of migration. According to the economic perspective, individual migrants are viewed as rationally optimising the costs and benefits of their decision to migrate. Economists generally regard the decision to migrate as one which invariably leads migrants from low-income areas with job prospects to high-income areas where they can improve their economic standing by employment in the formal salary sector. (17) The non-economic perspective consists of other social scientists like geographers, sociologists and anthropologists, among others and thus pose that migration decision consists of some non-economic considerations such as the choice of destination, means of transport, presence of relatives, friends and/ or co-villagers at destination, ethnic compatibility and residual environmental factors at both places of origin and destination. (18) These two perspectives of migration are represented in various theories of international migration among which are Ravenstein's Laws of Migration; Everett Lee's push and pull" theory of migration; Charles Tilly's three determinants of migration; segmented labour market; and world-systems theory. (19) Of these theories, the paper adopts Everett Lee's push and pull theory. This is because the Push-Pull theory remains a core theoretical approach widely used in a discourse on the brain drain and international labour migration in general.

The theory is constructed around some fundamental factors (economic, social and political hardships in the sending regions or push factors) and factors of attraction (comparative economic and social advantages in the receiving regions, also known as pull factors) as causal variables, which determine the size and direction of migration. (20)

Development: Development is a multi-dimensional concept that has been viewed by economists and other social...

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