OPINION: Brain drain — the loss of critical human capital — is the migration of highly-educated people leading to a hole in the very societies and economies they left behind
What do the countries of Haiti and Nigeria have in common? Perhaps it is their high populations of Black and brown people? Or could it be the civil and political unrest that has recently plagued each country?
While all of these issues are in fact accurate, the one we are seeking to address here is the brain drain phenomenon. But what is brain drain and what does it have to do with the aforementioned countries and their issues? The notion that civil unrest spurs the emigration of the country’s most intelligent and highly trained people — the very individuals best equipped to remedy the perils of their countries — is not a novel idea.
In fact, the concept was introduced with the term “human capital flight” as early as post-World War II, to define the migration of highly-educated people leading to a hole in the very societies and economies they were leaving behind. This form of economic terrorism leads to the draining of resources in the form of human capital.
Economic terrorism, isn’t that a bit harsh? Studies say no as “the number of foreign-born people in rich countries has tripled since 1960, and the emigration of highly-skilled people from poor countries has continued to accelerate.” Developed countries, like the United States or United Kingdom have spent countless resources in order to attract foreign students and workers — and the ramifications of these decisions are often crippling for the poorer countries these immigrants are leaving.
Not only is there a dearth in the labor force, but oftentimes, the country is losing its most educated and skilled; highly- trained doctors, lawyers and engineers going to practice their craft in another country, places that don’t suffer from a lack of anything. And as we see in our examples it is often a traumatic event that spurs the flow of human beings to leave their homeland.
Take Haiti — a country riddled by violence and structural inequity. Although once upon a time Haiti was heralded as the “Pearl of the Antilles,” since the Duvalier regime, Haiti has seen a mass exodus of their best and brightest in search of a “better standard of living and quality of life, higher salaries, access to advanced technology and more stable political conditions.” But who suffer most are the nations that are being abandoned.
In a country like Haiti, where there exists a general lack of post-secondary education, most individuals must leave the country altogether if they are interested in a college education or beyond. This spurs the intelligentsia or those of means to immigrate to places like the United States or France in order to better their life. However, this opportunity is not available to all Haitians. Sadly, within a country where most of the people live in poverty, this opportunity to flee is only yielded to its “Talented Tenth.”
This further exacerbates the two C’s — classism and colorism — leading to the dominance of the mulatto ruling class that isn’t discussed quite enough in a predominantly Black country.
Since Haiti’s president, Jovenel Moïse, was assassinated last month the economy has tanked. People are living in a perpetual state of fear and those who have the means to have left. This means the young professionals that are best equipped to grapple with Haiti’s deepest instabilities have evacuated. The very missing pieces of the puzzle — the agronomists, engineers, entrepreneurs, economists, city planners, writers, doctors and lawyers have all fled. The job market is abominable. And while people continue to burn tires in the street to protest Moïse’s death, Haiti’s best and brightest have settled into their new jobs in the Dominican Republic, Canada, France, and the United States.
Haiti’s President Jovenel Moise speaks during an interview at his home in Petion-Ville, a suburb of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Sources say Moise was assassinated at home, first lady hospitalized amid political instability. (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery, File)
This fight or flight phenomenon has been seen across the pond too in one of the very countries from which many Haitians originate — Nigeria. Since the late 1980s, Nigeria’s lofty middle and upper class has fled — shortly following the economic oil boom of the 1970s and early 1980s. This occurred again in the 1990s during the dominance of the military regimes in the country.
In Nigeria, like the case of many countries suffering from brain drain, the issues started within the medical community —yet now the issue of brain drain has decidedly permeated nearly every industry within the country. And although Nigeria boasts one of Africa’s largest economies, the unemployment bubble continues to swell. But why are Nigeria’s young people leaving?
It is difficult to openly explore the subject without understanding the social uprising and indeed revolutions that Nigeria witnessed last year via the #EndSARS movement, which addressed the violent police brutality within the country. Then on June 5, President Muhammadu Buhari indefinitely banned Twitter from the country after launching into a fury following the platform deleted tweets he made that arguably incited violence.
Lai Mohammed, Nigeria’s Minister of Culture, alleged the ban would be lifted after Twitter submits to “local licensing, registration and conditions.” And while many viewed this as a severe tantrum by Nigeria’s president, others thought it was simply blowback for Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey choosing to make Ghana (Nigeria’s long-time nemesis) Twitter Africa’s headquarters. Whatever the case may be, Nigeria’s millennials do not do well with their freedom of speech being impinged upon.
All the while programs like “express entry” have made it easy for young Nigerians to emigrate to countries like Canada or Australia — as under the Trump administration the United States was no longer seen as a friendly haven after the former president’s vitriolic comments. In fact, Nigeria has taken the lead in countries like Canada with the most pending asylum claims — followed closely by Haiti. Like Haiti, it boils down to an education issue within Nigeria, with Nigerians hoping to secure a better education and future for their families and, quite frankly, not believing they can achieve this within Nigerian borders.
A woman wearing an “END SARS” protective face mask speaks with the police outside the Nigerian Consulate during a demonstration on October 21, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
The importance of global competitiveness to Nigerians has pushed more and more out the door as many play the balancing act of keeping one foot outside the country for personal and professional success while still keeping one inside the country as a result of patriotism and family ties. And while all of Nigeria’s young professionals seek a better future for their beloved homeland, not many are convinced it will happen anytime soon, due to the political instability and corruption that continues to manifest throughout the country.
Despite Haiti’s and Nigeria’s many differences, what unites them is greater than what separates them. The continuation of the brain drain has continued to perpetuate and the only solution to this quandary is increased political stability and better education, resources and opportunities for the patriots that do choose to remain. Until these two countries figure out how to execute those goals they will continually face the loss of their best and brightest to the nation’s who colonized them in the first place — continuing the cycle in perpetuity.
Wen-kuni Ceant is the CEO and Co-Founder of Politicking. She is a Fulbright Scholar and through the fellowship she studied health infrastructure in Senegal during the last year. She received her Masters in Public Health in Health Management and Policy in 2016 from Drexel University. Before Drexel, she attended Howard University, in Washington, D.C. where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa and with honors with a Bachelors of Science in Biology.
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