Nigeria has set aside $5 million for diaspora activities and prescribed a stipend of $2,500 to be paid to any member of its massive number of experts based abroad who decides to return home in a bid to turn “brain drain into brain gain’’.
All over Africa, there are already attempts to operationalise this drive.
In Kenya, a Draft Sessional Paper on the Diaspora is already being circulated and a web site is in place to identify the skills and expertise of citizens operating abroad.
In Senegal, a ministry has been created to deal with diaspora issues while in Tanzania, the plan is to go for the expertise of the big fish and not “dagaa”, said the head of the country’s delegation, Prof Shukuru Kawambwa.
These grand dreams were expressed at a conference in Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou, which is being held under the auspices of the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA).
Among countries cited as having a large number of highly qualified citizens in the diaspora is Zimbabwe, South Africa, Ethiopia, Algeria, Tunisia, Ghana and Egypt.
The large number of experts based abroad is in most cases a result of a good education system that led to the production of highly qualified staff who had to seek greener pastures.
In other cases, it is a result of conflict that forced many to flee their motherland.
There are two levels of Africans in the diaspora.
“There are those who were born on the continent and left willingly while others were forcibly removed many years ago,’’ said Prof Kimberly L. King-Jupiter, of the Albany State University, United States.
She adds: “Those of us who were forcibly removed from our homes and live in the US receive messages about Africa that are not positive so the challenge of that part of the diaspora is to move beyond the messages about black inferiority in order to reconnect with the continent.’’
African experts based in the US are already meeting once a month to coordinate the transfer of know-how to the continent.
One such expert is Dr Wilson Wamani, a Kenyan based in Texas who has developed a system that tests railway joints to avoid derailments.
As part of its efforts to harness the massive potential of the continent, the African Union is set to open a university that would attract experts based abroad to conduct research on the continent.
The Kenyan delegation at the meeting is led by Education minister Sam Ongeri. Prof Ongeri is also the chairman of the African Ministers in Education and co-chairperson of ADEA.
He explained that the ADEA Triennale is held every three years to review education progress, this year preceded by the special session on Africa’s foreign experts and an exposition by a South Korean delegation that explained how the Asian country moved from being an underdeveloped country to one of the most advanced in less than 50 years.
Prof Ongeri said: “Each country must have its own priorities. Kenya has Vision 2030 aimed at transforming the country into an industrialised nation. In order to get there, we must invest in education.’’
The minister stressed that Kenya has taken the path of free primary education and free tuition in secondary schools with the aim of improving on access to learning.