A few years ago the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) caused a stir after a statement that in 25 years, Africa “will be empty of brains”.
This was in reference to the continued migration of skilled workers, and the exodus of African men and women with innovative ideas and skills, to other continents mainly Europe and America, in search of greener pastures and environments that allow them to thrive. Although data is inconsistent, skilled human capital has steadily been trickling out of the country over the years. The ECA estimates that between 1960 and 1989, 127 00 qualified professionals left Africa. A further estimated 20 000 leave the continent annually since 1990. To date, there are almost 300 000 professionals living outside Africa.
This has brought insurmountable challenges to the continent. About 35 percent of Official Development Assistance (ODA) to Africa is spent on expatriate professionals. This has surfaced fears that emigration of Africans stifles development. The role of the African Diaspora in the continent’s capacity building efforts to assume a more active role in Africa’s development has been confirmed by a study carried out by Canada’s Association for Higher Education and Development (AHEaD). It explored the potential of virtual participation to facilitate an effective and sustained Diaspora commitment to the continent’s development. The study concluded that virtual participation has potential to channel untapped intellectual and material input from the African Diaspora.
These are largely non-political, nonprofit virtual linkages to Africa’s development, and facilitate capacity building and skills transfer. Emigration and the outflow of skills and widening gap in science and technology between Africa and other continents have worked against developmental efforts. Africa’s global scientific output fell from 0.5percent in the 1980s, to 0.3percent in the 1990s. This was blamed on depleting human resource and institutional capacity. However, Africa is proving that it’s not a mere charity case, with different organisations and think tanks spearheading initiatives and summits aimed at improving innovation and development in the continent. Africa is now testing ground for breakthrough ideas, innovations and high-tech products.
For example, Africa is pitted as home to the fastest growing mobile phone market. African Brains is one of the organisations tapping into potential, and facilitate platforms for entrepreneurs, multinationals and educators. The Innovation Africa summit slated for October in Gaborone is part of the Brains Network initiative and will be hosted under the patronage of the Ministry of Education and Skills development. According to Matt Troplis, the creative director of Brains Network, Innovation Africa will bring government officials and ministers under one roof for networking sessions and one-on-one meetings with industry leaders and networking sessions. “There will be 35 hosted roundtables. All the delegates will have access to online scheduling in order to choose their preferred meetings. The format will be in question and answer panel discussions and will focus on ICT for education, curriculum development, rural development, special needs and community access; African digital content, libraries and learning resources, technology, innovation hubs, digital media and knowledge economy.”
The purpose of the summit is to connect civil society and government, and expand on opportunities for public partnerships in science, education and research initiatives in Sub-Saharan Africa. This is an effort to ensure that education matches the requirements of industries and labour markets. The managing director of AfricanBrains John Glassey has pointed out that as well as being a regional significance to the continent, the summit will demonstrate Botswana’s capability to host events of such immense magnitude. “The Botswana Ministry of Education and Skills development has pitted itself as a notable leader in attracting and determining public-private sector partnerships.” He further pointed out that the establishment of the Education Hub, as well as the Innovation Hub combined with the recently established technology park, confirms interest in advancing vocational development; which could attract international skills and development.
The previous summits were hosted in Ammam, Jordan, Cape Town, South Africa and Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. Last year it attracted over 50 ministers, their deputies and over 200 government officials from nine African countries. The opening speech for the summit will be delivered by the Minister of Education and Skills development Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi.