A month ago, the BBC published an article titled Brain drain in Africa: 90% of my friends want to leave.
In the article, British journalist Cecilia Macauly discusses a series of surveys conducted by the Africa Youth Survey as well as one by the South African Ichicowitz Foundation, which asked a sample of young Africans across the continent a series of questions about their job prospects and attitudes towards their country of origin.
The results of these surveys are extremely negative. In the article, Macauly interviewed a young Nigerian, Mr. Oni, whose ambition is to study computer science.
Throughout the interview, Mr. Oni made no effort to hide his contempt for the current situation in his home country and his determination to leave, perhaps never to return.
What was disconcerting in this article was not so much Mr. Oni’s opinions, which are shared by many young people across Africa, but the data as presented by the African Youth Survey.
They asked a sample of young people from 15 African countries a simple question: “Is my country going in the right direction?” and asked them to respond with “right direction” or “wrong direction”.
Kenya had the third lowest positive score in the entire survey, with 84% of young people surveyed saying Kenya was going in the wrong direction. It is nothing less than an indictment, not only against our leaders, but against our society in general.
Now, in the interest of integrity, it is important to mention that I, too, operate outside of Kenya at the present time.
When I left high school in 2015, it was quite obvious to me that I would not be able to acquire the skills that I desired, and that I would not be able to maintain myself in the field that I chose if I stayed in Kenya.
Most Kenyan universities did not offer the course I wanted to study, which was art history, and those that did lacked the resources I needed to excel.
Patriotism alone won’t get you a job, nor can you eat it, and it certainly won’t pay Kenya Power to keep your lights on.
No one can blame a young person for wanting to learn new skills and improve their job prospects abroad.
The problem is that many who leave see no reason to return and use the skills they have learned to improve their home country. What we need to do, therefore, is ask ourselves hard questions, namely, what are the solutions to the problems that are causing the brain drain in Africa?
Before even aiming for solutions, we must scrutinize the problem in depth. At first glance, we can appeal to buzzwords that we all know and that plague our country; corruption, nepotism, lack of jobs, etc.
But these are symptoms of a cultural disease, and the culture is run by its leaders.
Ghanaian entrepreneur Fred Swaniker, who founded the African Leadership Academy, says the main problem facing African countries is lack of leadership.
He cites Zimbabwe and the fact that one man, Robert Mugabe, is solely responsible for bringing a country that was once a flower of prosperity to its knees.
Swaniker argues that this is due to our weak institutions, which are unable to defend the general populace against the voracious greed of corrupt bureaucrats and politicians, who have rendered the rule of law null and void by completely corrupting the judiciary.
When the law does not respect a nation’s constitution, a country’s citizens are defenseless and their leaders cannot be held accountable.
How can we even begin to address these issues? How are the next generation of Kenyans trying to reform and strengthen our institutions?
As an art historian, there are many jurists and political scientists far more qualified than I to provide a clearer answer, and I rightly defer to them. But one thing is obvious to me, and that is that if we young people in Kenya do not take on these responsibilities, then we will be in serious trouble.
The man interviewed by the BBC in the article says that 90 percent of his friends wanted to leave Nigeria.
It’s a common thread among many conversations I’ve had with my peers, with a young engineer saying “we don’t owe this country anything”.
Indeed, a hypercritical response to the brain drain would be to assert that Africans themselves see no value in Africa.
The late US President John F Kennedy said Americans should “ask not what my country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”.
And yet, many privileged young Africans, myself included, seem far more inclined to seek a better life elsewhere than we are to improve the quality of life in our home countries.
But it unfairly criticizes enterprising young people who are simply trying to make their way in the world and those fleeing war and persecution. On July 24, at least 23 African migrants were killed by Moroccan and Spanish border police at the Melilla border when a mob of young men attempted to storm the border fence.
A video has circulated on the internet of young African men being beaten with truncheons, some dead and/or unconscious, and thrown in a heap by the police. The video was rightly widely condemned.
But the question remains, why were so many young Africans so determined to leave their homes and venture into foreign and hostile territory at the risk of death and persecution in the first place?