In the book Elsewhere, Home, all the stories revolve around an African living, working or studying abroad hence the title, Elsewhere, Home. The name makes me homesick. I don’t have to know what the author had in mind but it makes me feel like I should be home but I am elsewhere, not home.

While studying, working or living abroad isn’t a bad thing, a few questions muddy my mind as they callously walk through it, chief among them, why leave our beautiful continent to go there?

I am not naïve and so understand that there are some obvious benefits of studying, working or living abroad. For those who have studied abroad I have noticed the ‘extra’ respect the locals give them. ‘If they travelled that far for education, something must be special about it and them.’

For those who work abroad, we all expect that they have more money than the average employee in an African country. Enough money to cough up in social functions and buy a round of drinks at the local hang out den (some locals have this power too, not many, just some).

Now if you live abroad, you are living the ultimate life. You are eating from a silver platter and nothing can go wrong for you. You always have money and you are extremely smart. You have hit the jack pot in life and are indeed living large.

I tend not to buy the obvious narratives told by those who don’t know those studying, working or living abroad, some are classic old-wives-tales. However, I do read about them and statistics tell me that most Africans who go to study abroad will do this for career reasons as opposed to going for the ‘sake of it’. Maybe because they are from middle-class and upper-class families. They don’t harbor the illusions of grandeur most rural-natives hold about the distant lands of the west. But do they come back? Do they make a conscious choice to say goodbye to the paved rural roads abroad and come back to potholed urban roads in their countries of birth? Actually most do, family ties are an important reason for them coming back. Family is everything.

I completely relate with the desire for a student to study abroad, I would love to study abroad. The ability to relate closely with multiple vastly different cultures, experiences and create uniquely different memories than I would in my local country sounds like a blast. I would be motivated by career aspirations and the prospects of improved career opportunities too, just like most young people…but if things didn’t work out as I expected at home, I wonder if I would leave and go back to the lands flowing with ‘milk and honey’.

Brain drain. Right, if I left then I would be helping in making the brain drain problem worse. But it happens all over, this is not a uniquely African challenge. There are many Chinese leaving china for the west. I will give you that, however, the rate at which it is happening in Africa as opposed to other continents is not encouraging. The reasons that most will leave Africa is:

  1. War
  2. Political instability
  3. Poor education
  4. In search for better wages
  5. In search for better opportunities

None of the above reasons appear to be permanent reasons as to why we should continue to see brain drain happen in our African countries.

Rwanda has been able to hold onto its talent and is ranked the best in Africa in being able to hold on to its talent and attract foreign talent. This after a massacre that brought the nation to its knees in the 90’s. Rwanda refused to play from the same old excuses playbook most African countries play from and decided to take a step towards helping its citizens realize a better life. All this as they go through a healing phase from the atrocities that they perpetrated on themselves.

You see, I have a theory that I have noticed is true in life. Life has important Reset Moments that will reset individuals, families, communities and even countries to allow for a more balanced way of life where give and take are respected and balanced. Reset moments are not the easiest moments, actually they are pretty harsh moments, ask citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah or any society that went through a particularly difficult time that forced them to review how they lived.

Back to the brain drain challenge in Africa. Brain drain means that in Lamu, there won’t be enough doctors to ensure that the more than 100,000 strong population is taken care of. It means that as dangerous diseases like Ebola ravage our people, we have very few championing the research on how to do away with it. Brain drain means that Africa will watch from afar as those of African heritage go on to do amazing things in the west and other countries as African countries continue in poverty and squalor.

When did slums become a tourist attraction site? Money follows value and we have valued the wrong things in our beautiful African countries. Not all of them, not all African countries have valued the wrong things. There is indeed hope to do better. If only the leaders did away with their egos and served, truly served the people who elected them. If only the people understood that they are the government and they need to actively take charge of their lives and not allow repressive systems to pacify them and hold them back from the success that is truly theirs. If only we will understand that our worth is not in the gold and oil that form part of the earth we tread on but is intrinsically priceless because we have dominion over everything in this world. If only we understood that we can solve problems we created and also those that others created in our beautiful continent before leaving and calling us ‘dark’. If only we decided that EACH OF US, not one of us but EACH OF US needs to pull his/her own weight in realizing the greatness of our beautiful continent. Then we will throw away the yoke from our own shoulders and walk free from all that holds us back. Until then, BRAIN DRAIN!!!