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Last Updated: Sunday, 4 March 2007, 13:03 GMT
Dealing with the brain drain
By Alexis Akwagyiram
BBC News, Accra, Ghana

Abdul Nuhu
Abdul Nuhu moved to the UK from Accra, Ghana, in 2003

Abdul Nuhu remembers the pain of receiving rejection letters.

Day after day he sent job applications, and day after day the envelopes that returned contained rejections - or worse still, bills.

He is just one of thousands of Africans who leave the continent each year in the hope of starting a new life abroad.

"I knew it was going to be difficult and I was going to have to do menial jobs - I had been warned. But there was no way anyone could really prepare me," he recalls.

Abdul, 30, arrived in London three years ago from Ghana after emigrating because his girlfriend moved to the UK. Back in Ghana, his career progression had been seamless.

Persistence pays off

A first class degree in arts and graphics led to a job at one of the country's most respected advertising agencies, where he spent three years handling major accounts for high-profile companies.

After moving to Norbury, in south London, Abdul completed a one-year diploma in video production at Lambeth College, while working part time at Starbucks.

I gradually realised that London is a very expensive city
Abdul Nuhu

But the search for full-time work after the course ended proved to be difficult and Abdul took on jobs at McDonalds and Ikea to make ends meet.

"It was difficult to get a job that matched my experience and I was adamant that I wanted a creative job like the one I had in Ghana," he says.

"I got dozens of rejection letters. Mostly, I was told that my experience was in a different country and therefore didn't count.

"I didn't have the time to prepare for interviews because I had to work - sometimes two jobs - to pay the bills. I gradually realised that London is a very expensive city."

Abdul's persistence eventually paid off. Last year, he landed a job as an advertising and marketing manager at a firm based in Canary Wharf, east London.

"I love my job because it's skill-based work in a pressurised environment," he says.

"I feel like I've made it because I'm doing something that I really enjoy."

'Important to come back'

Despite his newfound success, Abdul and his wife, Cynthia, plan to return to their country of origin within five years to set up an advertising agency.

As Abdul considers his next move, thousands of his countrymen are dreaming of ways to emulate him and others who have successfully forged a life in Europe or the US.

The brain drain, and the best way to retain talent, is a hot topic of debate across Africa.

The loss of medical talent, for example, is a source of great concern.

Samuel Quayson
Samuel Quayson will return

In 2003, 5,880 UK work permits were approved for health and medical personnel from South Africa, 2,825 from Zimbabwe, 1,510 from Nigeria and 850 from Ghana.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that thousands of young Ghanaians move abroad each year in a bid to earn more money and attain a higher standard of living, with the UK and US being the preferred destinations.

However, it is difficult to ascertain precise figures for the numbers migrating as some workers travel illegally or overstay after visiting a country.

Some fear that much of country's future talent seems focused on moving abroad.

Frank Agyekum, the government spokesman on governance, said young Ghanaians should look for opportunities at home instead.

Speaking at a BBC event to mark the 50th anniversary of Ghana's independence, he said: "All the prospects are looking up for this country. The trajectory is upwards."

Samuel Quayson hopes to study political sciences at the University of Ghana in Accra before continuing his studies in the US and working there "for about two or three years".

He will then move home to start his own business.

Standard of living

"The quality of higher education is better over there, or in the UK," reasons the 20-year-old.

"A lot of people go abroad for the money because the economy in other countries is strong. And some don't come back. The standard of living in the West is attractive.

"But I think it's important for people to come back home. I need to come back so that my country can benefit from what I have learned."

He also points out that the work many Ghanaians find themselves doing in such countries is, essentially, "hard labour".

Others have different reasons for wanting to move.

Erica Okyere
Erica Okyere is a 21-year-old student in Accra

Erica Okyere, a communication skills student at the Ghana Institute of Journalism, says the ambitions of aspiring graduates are often thwarted by the corruption and nepotism which she says remains endemic within her country.

"People get good degrees but don't get the work they deserve because they don't have a relative in a position of power," says Miss Okyere.

"Graduates often find they're over-qualified for the job they're doing and decide to go abroad, make money and come back with the money they've made."

She also argues that political leaders in the country are often corrupt and more interested in amassing a personal fortune than creating jobs.

Vickie Bright
Vickie Bright: "They're impatient and aren't prepared to work hard"

But not everyone is convinced - particularly older Ghanaians.

Vickie Bright, a lawyer, says the young graduates she encounters are often more interested in financial gains than building a career.

"Hard work and commitment is important and that's often what is missing."

She said young people, particularly graduates, felt they could simply move abroad to make large sums of money instead of working hard.

Abdul agrees that there is "a lot of ignorance" about the opportunities offered outside Ghana.

"There's a perception that people abroad are wealthy, but when you move yourself you realise how hard it is," he says.

"It is very difficult to get a skilled job in the UK or US.

"It took a lot of hard work and perseverance for me to make it. If you aren't prepared to work hard you should go home."

Abdul suggests people visit the country they are considering migrating to before committing themselves to a permanent move.

"It's good for people to come over and see for themselves, so they can make up their own mind."


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