IMF links African slump to brain drain

July 9, 1999

Latest evidence from the International Monetary Fund suggests that a brain drain continues to block sustained economic growth in most African countries.

IMF researchers found that a sizeable proportion of the highly educated skilled workers produced by 61 developing countries were now working in Canada, the United States and the European Union.

They included university academics and researchers, computer experts, corporate lawyers, doctors, school-teachers, nurses, engineers and business executives. However, according to William Carrington, a senior economist at the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics and a visiting scholar at the IMF's research department, the only common feature is that they had all received tertiary education.

Estimates indicate that there are about 100,000 highly educated African professionals working in the US alone. Many of these originate from Egypt, Ghana, South Africa, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Kenya and Uganda.

According to Enrica Detragiache, also of the IMF research department, more than 60 per cent had had a university education. "Migration of Africans to the US with only primary education is almost nil," Mr Carrington confirmed.

The brain drain to Western Europe showed similar trends. While the IMF was unable to obtain exact data on the number of Africans working in EU countries, concentrations of Africans with university-level education were identified in Britain, France, Belgium and Italy.

IMF researchers have linked the brain drain to the upsurge in absolute poverty in sub-Saharan Africa. "Differences in educational levels may exist between developed and developing countries, but there is little doubt that highly educated workers are absent from most economies in sub-Saharan Africa," Ms Detragiache said.

While the number of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa to North America and Western Europe may be small in comparison to those from Latin America, Southeast Asia or India, the cost is enormous for most African countries, researchers say.

The implication is that so long as the brain drain is not curbed, investment in education in sub-Saharan Africa may not be translated into a catalyst for economic growth. Available statistics show that, on average, Africa may eventually lose 30 per cent of its highly educated professionals to countries in the West.

"The outflow of highly educated people from many countries in Africa is now a phenomenon that policy-makers cannot ignore," Mr Carrington said.

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