It’s a matter that has been discussed so many times, yet no amicable solution has been reached. How should Africa tap the talent of its best and brightest who went to study and work abroad? Every year, thousands of students and workers troop out of the continent, and few ever come back. However, the few who come back achieve spectacular success.
Consider Patrick Awuah, a Ghanaian who left Ghana while still a teenager. He received a full scholarship to study at Swarthmore College in the US. He then ended up working for Microsoft, and was one of the millionaires churned out by Microsoft. With an additional MBA, from the University of California-Berkeley, he began proposals on the setting up of Ashesi University in his native country, Ghana. His dream was realized when in March 2002, Ashesi opened its doors to students from Ghana and neighboring countries. He believes that the problem with his own country is that the education system is too rigid, and set out to replicate what he learnt in Swarthmore, to design a curriculum that would foster creativity, innovation, critical thinking in the students. With a liberal arts grounding, he believes that the graduates will be able to offer new leadership to Africa, and create a renaissance in the continent. He believes that a strong education is the only way for Africa to solve its problems. For his contributions to education in Ghana, he has received numerous awards in Ghana, and was awarded The McNulty Prize in 2009. It was a $100,000 grant that recognizes the most outstanding, innovative, replicable and self-sustainable projects to address social problems.
Another returnee, Dr.Acha Leke, a Cameroonian, was the first black valedictorian at the Georgia Tech Institute. With his qualifications in engineering and masters in management from Stanford Graduate School of Business, he teamed up with Ghanaian Fred Swaniker and Chris Bradford to set up the Africa Leadership Academy (ALA), based in South Africa. The school opened its doors in 2008, and has since sent students to some of the best universities in the world, including the Ivy League Colleges. It draws students from Africa and beyond, and those who are the needy receive full scholarships. Among its former students is William Kamkwamba, currently an undergraduate at Dartmouth College. Before his enrollment at ALA, he designed and built a wind turbine that helped power their home, and radio. The neighbors were amazed at the blistering noise from their radio, and this drew curious onlookers. Thy evidently thought the boy was mad. He has been feted in many climate change campaigns and has met other erstwhile green campaigners such as Former US Vice President Al-Gore.
Still another returnee is Ethiopian Eleni Gebre. She has worked in senior positions in the World Bank, the International Food Policy Research Institute (Washington), and United Nations (Geneva). Armed with a PhD from Stanford University; she returned home to help set up the Ethiopian commodity Exchange (ECX). Ethiopian farmers are now able to eliminate middlemen, who took a huge chunk of their profits, thus rendering farming unprofitable. Farmers deposit produce in exchange for share certificates, and the commodities are traded in just the same way as would happen in a shares and securities exchange.
In Kenya, the remittances from the diaspora is now among the top four foreign exchange earners. Kenya generated just under $1 billion dollars from remittances in the 2010/2011 financial year, and a huge chunk of the money has gone to finance the now bustling real estate and housing sector. So good has been the response from Kenyans abroad that the Kenyan government is in plans to issue a diaspora infrastructure bond that will help raise the much needed money for heavy infrastructure development such as roads, schools, hospitals, telecommunications and other critical sectors.
As these examples show, Africa shouldn’t vilify those who went abroad to work and study. They are gaining access to more advanced markets, better technology, better management systems and in due time, some will come back and help power their home countries economies.