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Address brain drain before effects hurt major sectors of the economy

Human capital flight, also known as brain drain, has in many ways dented Kenya’s economic prospects let alone its academic and professional standing in the region. There’s nothing to celebrate about it. When trained and talented workers opt to serve in other countries, we simply lose our investments in basic, tertiary and higher education.  In the last five years, it is estimated that thousands of personnel in nursing, hospitality, aviation, media, education and engineering among other key sectors, have left Kenya in search of greener pastures. The outcome has been a depleted workforce, less knowledge transfer and most importantly, a huge dent on Kenya’s social and economic development. According to the UN, there are more than 300,000 highly qualified Africans in the diaspora, 30,000 of whom have PhDs. Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe have suffered significant brain drain while Australia, Canada, Britain and the US have benefited the most from recruiting doctors in Africa. With this reality, basic questions should fly through our minds. Why are Kenya’s best brains ditching the country? Can this problem be reversed and if so, how? And, how will the country survive going forward without these vital skills? This phenomenon should be addressed in a more decisive manner.

A good starting point for the government would be to put up a team to examine the extent and impact of brain drain. This way, we can begin to appreciate the crisis. Poor pay and lack of opportunities for graduates is a major factor. We need better career opportunities besides deliberate programmes to lure emigrants back.

A culture that values continuous knowledge transfer would minimise the effects. While tackling brain drain may not be an overnight affair, factors to examine include tackling under-employment, investing in rural development and taming graft. The National Treasury has a key role in addressing this crisis. We need an honest conversation and it should begin now with everyone on board.


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