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Last Updated:  Friday, 14 March, 2003, 08:09 GMT
The turning tide of Africa's brain drain
By Briony Hale
BBC News Online business reporter

Find a Job in Africa's jobs fair
2,000 CVs were doing the rounds
"To this day we continue to lose the best among ourselves because the lights in the developed world shine brighter," Nelson Mandela said recently.

The so-called "brain drain" has seen more than 40% of African high-level managers and professionals desert their home country for opportunities elsewhere.

Now there are the first signs that the tide may be on the turn.

Several hundred African ex-pats gathered in London this week with a common goal: finding a job that will allow them to return home.

The Commonwealth Business Council (CBC), organisers of the African job fair, did so with the worthy goal of reinvigorating Africa's economy through the repatriation of skilled workers.

But many of the Africans present had other reasons for returning home.


Eric Afolabi is already packing his bags to leave for Nigeria after 13 years of living in Essex and working as an IT contractor.

Coca-Cola stand at the jobs fair
Coca-Cola: The sky is the limit when Nigerians return home
"The taxes here are killing me, life's too stressful and the standard of life in Nigeria is improving fast," Mr Afolabi explained.

"For one month's rent in Essex I can get a mighty mansion for a year in Lagos," he said.

There may also be more disturbing reasons for having had enough of life in the UK.

"There is a perceived glass ceiling against Nigerians here in the UK," said Yemi Ade John, head of human resources at Coca-Cola Nigeria.

"But if they come back to Nigeria - with all its problems - then the sky is the limit," he said.

In demand

Indeed, Mr Afolabi is supremely confident of finding a job on his return.

MTN stand at the jobs fair
MTN: Africa's skills pool lacks telecoms expertise
"I've got the qualifications and I've been exposed to Western technology - that's what firms want," he says.

A recruiter from Africa's mobile phone giant MTN confirmed that this is what his firm is after, and offered Mr Afolabi an interview.

"Most top managers and those in critical positions in our firm have all been recruited as re-pats," said MTN's Mutari Wada.

"Although the skills base within Nigeria is building, the skills pool within Africa is lacking specific telecoms experience," he explains.

"We know there are many people who want to come home and we can build our skills base more quickly by recruiting from overseas."

Permit trouble

But not all the job-hunters were quite so optimistic about their chances.

people surfing for a job at the jobs fair
Not everyone found the hunt for jobs easy
Kenya's Cecilia Nanfuka has just finished four years of studying in the UK, gaining a degree in economics and a masters in computing.

But she is finding that few firms offer graduate training schemes in Africa and want people to return already trained and with several years of work experience.

And Dalmar Jama, originally from Somalia before graduating in Canada as an engineer and completing an MBA in finance, says it is tougher for the East Africans.

Most of the job opportunities are in Nigeria or South Africa where it is almost impossible for non-nationals to obtain a work permit, he explains.

Steve Price from Barclays Africa confirms the difficulty of securing work permits, and is at the jobs fair to hunt out Botswanans and Zambians able to fill staff shortages in those countries.

Nepad role

The experiences of these job-seekers underlines the other, trickier side of the CBC's work: liaising with African governments to ensure that such obstacles are overcome.

Dr Mohan Kaul, director-general of the Commonwealth Business Council
Mohan Kaul: It's a question of trust
Dr Mohan Kaul, director general of the CBC, told BBC News Online that a more significant flow of Africans returning home is dependent on greater trust.

Africans need to feel confident that their jobs are safe, that there is the proper legal framework and correct administration in place, he says.

"Bureaucracy needs to be reduced and the governments need to create more attractive job packages," he says.

The question of salary differences also needs to be addressed, although the contrast in the cost of living often balances this out, he adds.

Despite the difficulties, Mr Kaul is confident that African governments will respond to the challenges as part of Nepad, their new commitment to home-grown economic development.

"Nepad is based on good governance, on cutting bureaucracy and on attracting more investment into Africa," he explains.

"And for all this to happen - and to be African owned - you need skills, people, professionals."

UK 'behind SA brain drain'
16 Feb 01 |  Africa
Africa woos workers back home
23 Sep 02 |  Business

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