Brain Drain



I. Introduction
Increasing numbers of Africans educated overseas never return to their home countries. In addition, many Africans educated in their own countries leave for better employment opportunities abroad. Others leave to avoid political repression or turmoil caused by war. Whatever the reasons for the migratory trend that economists call the “brain drain,” the departure of so many African minds is having a devastating effect on the continent.

Many observers, including U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, have pointed out that Africa’s future development is at great risk if it does not participate more fully in technological advancement, which is the key to future economic growth

Experts at many forums have been discussing this problem extensively with no feasible solution insight. Others are now arguing that brain drain with all its deleterious effect on the economies of African countries can in fact be a “blessing in disguise”. In fact it can be turned into a “Brain Drain”.
II. The Problem of the Brain Drain

General Views

  • A brain drain is said to occur when a country becomes short of skills when people with such expertise emigrate.
  • Like many developing countries around the world, Zambia has suffered from the “Brain Drain” disease.
  • The number of Zambian professionals living outside Zambia is currently NOT KNOWN but has steadily increased over the past few years.
  • Brain drain has a debilitating effect on the economic development of Zambia.
  • Unfavorable political and economical conditions have contributed too many people leaving the country.
  • Most Zambian professionals living abroad are not prepared to return permanently to their country of origin but, at the same time, would like to contribute to Zambia’s development.
  • If the drain were stemmed or stopped, Zambia does have the economic capacity to absorb the returning workers.

III. How Can the Brain Drain Be Reversed or Used for the Benefit of Zambia?

Current Schools of Thought

Zambians in the Diaspora can and should be important partners in the development process. They are numerous and many of them are highly skilled. Some have capital to invest. The sooner that Zambians in the Diaspora, the Zambia government, non-governmental organizations, the international donor community and the private sector appreciate this fact, the faster Zambia can take advantage of this resource. Here are some thoughts on how to facilitate return of talents to (beef up intellectual capital in) Zambia:

  • Enabling Zambians everywhere to share their expertise by participating in projects at home.
  • Enabling those who desire to return to the continent to take up jobs and consultancies to do so
  • Pooling funds and other resources together to undertake major investment projects at home
  • Create an accurate and continuing database of highly skilled indigenous Zambians living abroad. This will help decision-makers formulate policy for those areas where the brain drain is negatively affecting Zambia’s development priorities,
  • Using the database, mobilize the skill sets of these individuals and avail their skills to Zambia.
  • Facilitate professional contacts between Zambians abroad and at home, so they can be an exchange of ideas and mutual support.
  • Zambian government, perhaps assisted by international expertise, draw up a strategy for making the best use of the skills and knowledge in the Diaspora.

The Economic Commission for Africa, International Organization for Migration or partner governments might be willing to help establish the database.
IV. International African Efforts

African Leadership and Progress Network (ALPN), is currently developing what should eventually become a global network of African and non-African (“Africanist”1) professionals/experts/scholars/intellectuals, which will:

  • Facilitate generation, discussion, exchange, and dissemination of ideas and innovative approaches in various subject areas, thereby harnessing knowledge/intellectual capital that can help to foster African development;
  • Help to nurture and provide intellectual support and mentoring to young and emerging African leaders; and
  • Facilitate the formation of professional, business, political, and social networks and alliances that can serve to advance discourse and action on various issues that strongly interested in using their expertise to help foster progress in the continent. We therefore expect that they would welcome and actively participate in a credible and effective vehicle for doing so.

African Human Resource (AHR)

  • Developing a human capacity database of African teachers and academic professionals living outside Africa (A UNESCO Project)
  • African Development Institutions Database
  • African Experts database (in collaboration with International Organization for Migration (IOM) database

International Organization for Migration (IOM)

  • Migration for Development in Africa (MIDA) project: a capacity-building program, which helps to mobilize competencies acquired by African nationals abroad for the benefit of Africa’s development.

South Africa Network of Skills Abroad (SANSA)

  • Utilizing new technology in telecommunication and Internet, “Brain Drain” is being turned into “Brain Gain”

V. Possible Areas of Immediate Attention for Zambia


  • Zambians living abroad to use their positions and influence in their host countries to campaign for donations for Zambia; e.g.  Hospital beds and wheel chairs;
  • Zambian health professionals at home and abroad to form professional partnerships, contacts and collaborative ventures to provide health care services
  • Zambian doctors to work with their counterparts abroad on common problems
  • Take advantage of technical developments in communication such as internet, tele-radiology to share knowledge and experience among ourselves
  • Zambian health care professional abroad can be formed into a special resourc


  • Academic institutions in Zambia can, can fill their urgent need for qualified teaching and research personnel in a number of key areas by bringing Zambian academics living abroad back to their home country on short term contracts.
  • Establish strong professional ties between the young professional Diaspora from abroad and their colleagues at home and build on these contacts in order to strengthen links between institutions in Zambia and their counterparts abroad.
  • Zambians abroad can actively participate in attracting donations from institutions in their respective host academic institutions, e.g. reading materials, research equipment, access to scientific journal etc,

Engineering including Agricultural

  • Pooling technical knowledge between local and professional outside Zambia
  • Identifying problems needing solutions in a collaborative fashion.
  • Zambians in senior and /or positions of influence in their host countries can cause their companies to direct investments to Zambia, in the form of subsidiaries and branches
  • Zambians directly investing in the Zambian economy
  • Other areas of importance to the economic development of Zambia can be mobilized in the similar fashion to harness the intellectual resource that is outside Zambia.

Recommendations to form a Zambian Network of Skills Abroad (ZANESA)

  • Zambians abroad and at home should consider forming ZANESA
  • A network linking skilled professionals living abroad who wish to make a contribution to Zambia’s economic and social development
  • Connecting outside professionals with local experts and projects.

The Author
Wyndioto F.M. Chisela, Ph.D, ABMP, Lead Medical Physicist, Radiation Oncology Department, Columbia St. Mary’s, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA