Too many of Africa’s brightest minds leave the continent


There is a striking trend among African scholars; they are leaving their countries rather than staying on to stay ahead of the curve.

The saying goes that when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. It’s also true, as Dan Simpson, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said, when life gives you very capable, well-trained individuals, produce a lot of intellectual capacity, very quickly and to benefit the continent’s most populous country, Nigeria.

Mr. Simpson is optimistic about the successes of graduates from Nigerian universities in places like Silicon Valley, and is definitely impressed with their work rate and productivity in the new technical fields. It makes sense for them to leave Africa so they can concentrate on research, for example, or setting up businesses. In exchange, African institutions should invest more on fostering their students’ careers when they return, he suggested.

But here’s a difference to note, he said: not everyone who goes to the U.S. university for the first time would make the same follow up leap to start a business or start an Africa business.

“What you’re seeing is a great influx of people who come to Africa from these very modern institutions, who are in places like Silicon Valley, who are working for American companies who have offices and have investments in Africa,” Mr. Simpson said.

Much of this leaves Africans in the Middle East and Asia to face the frustration of being shut out of opportunities that could help their countries flourish, according to the International Finance Corporation.

According to the report, the African continent is also ill-equipped to deal with intellectual capital like that being produced at the higher education levels of the less well-off countries. As the crisis of employment among Africa’s youth continues, limited opportunities for much-needed innovation and development, both in public and private sectors, are the result.

Donatella Rovera and Linda Wanjiru are the top talent of African Social Science Voices for Change (ASSCo). In the past two years, they have both been leaving Nigeria, their home countries, for good reasons.

Linda Wanjiru, the 2018 winner of the inaugural African Social Science Journalism Award, had already left home to study in Europe and the United States. There, she worked on a short film about one-eyed immigrant women living in Muscat, Oman. Her last assignment before returning to Nigeria was to cover a candidate whose million-dollar life insurance policy had gone missing.

Linda, who worked for several Nigerian newspapers and radio programs, loved her job in the country. But as more journalists emerged out of university with PhDs and potential to change the course of African countries through their professional actions, Linda was able to grow her talent while scaling up her profile internationally.

Donatella Rovera is finishing her PhD at Harvard University’s Kennedy School and is taking up a senior position in the International Monetary Fund’s research office in Washington, D.C. A key player in the global debate over refugees and migration, Donatella noted that six of the authors she had worked with in the Cambridge Refugee Hostility Project signed on to join the Mu’mineya Commission, the agency responsible for resolving the refugee crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Despite being a new organization, she said the project had proven very productive at gathering information and documenting information, and comparing it to similar projects that had come before.

Both of the women who left Nigeria for good said they were keen to see these trends continue. One of the most important questions, they say, is: can this digital world give rise to a constant flow of skilled and committed individuals to help “Africa in its time of need.”

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