There is a phenomenon occurring in Africa and indeed other parts of the ‘developing world’ called the ‘Brain Gain’. This is in contrast to the notion of human, financial and technological capital leaving an underdeveloped country to go to a more developed country. In a ‘Brain Gain’ scenario, the same resources which left the developing country begins to return to their country of origin. The motivations behind this move can be numerous and are often inconsistent between one person to the next. Some try to argue that there is a consistency among all people that choose to return to their country of origin. But if you’re at all familiar with buying behaviour you know that there is a rational reason for doing something which is often given to justify the persons actions and the real reason which is underpinned by emotions and more intangible qualifiers which people are often less willing to admit to as a reason for upping sticks.
If we use Nigeria as an example then, I’ll be able to clearly illustrate where I’m coming from in choosing the position that in most cases, the Brain Gain we’re experiencing with many repatriates to Nigeria is not bringing us much gain at all!
If you’re within the age bracket of about 20-40 in these current times you will have either heard someone say (or you would have said it yourself) “I’m tired of the UK! I wanna go back home.” Or “Mehn we’re really suffering in this jand o!” (jand being England/UK). This statement is often uttered by people who feel disenfranchised in their current country of residence either through some feeling of alienation or emphasized ‘foreignness’ which reminds them that ‘this isn’t your home’. For others it’s the economic situation of their current place of residence which forces them to seek other – albeit not necessarily greener – pastures; consequently Nigeria (for those who left the country and still have a valid means of returning) appears to be a viable option. While there is much study done by various media and academic outlets on the effects (see here for FT report) (and here for CNN documentary) of the Diaspora Brain Gain, I, from mere observations (after all what is mere observation when quantitative data flouts qualitative rationale in academia) have noticed a less reported and fearfully more damaging motivation behind many of my peers zipping their suitcases, buying a one way ticket to Lagos or Abuja and saying goodbye to foreign shores.
The reason (and to a large extent I’d argue that the CNN video perpetuates the exact opinion I hold) I suspect is just good old peer pressure. Yes, peer pressure. The devil in our psyche’s which encourages us to behave as others behave, to follow the crowd and be standard rather than set a standard. I say this not because I believe that every single individual has moved back to Nigeria because they’ve been pressured by their friends to do so. After all some people have a limited tenure on their visa, others are on secondment, others are making a strategic decision while some are just genuinely unable to become accustomed to life overseas and hence prefer to be on familiar territory. Of course I recognise those genuine motivations. However, when I listen to conversations and engage with people in conversations around these topics, the reason is often given that there are “so many opportunities back home” however when I enquire where the opportunities are, how they will utilise it, what they will contribute to the country in return, what their strategy is, what their roadmap for success is when going back, I get blank stares or confused expressions (I got an angry one once because apparently my questions were ‘irritatingly pretentious’).
Ultimately, because of the fantastic stories they had heard and scenes or luxury they had seen when they went on holiday once a year in December, partied in VI and mingled with our version of celebrities, they had decided that life would always be this way and thus they needed to be a part of the action before it went dull! This confirmed to me that in order for someone to make a decision so bold as to change geographies without consideration of the long term implications is either stupidity or they don’t need to consider it because they have a cushion which would act as a buffer for any hardship they may come across. To remove the previous euphemism and say it in layman’s terms; Mummy or Daddy will sort them out should push come to shove.
It saddens me that much of my generation are caught up in the allure of the luxurious offerings a December or Easter holiday offers them when they go back that few stop to think “now how do I help the other XMillion people in my country so we can enjoy this together. But then why would they. Everybody knows that in Nigeria it’s an “oppress or be oppressed” mentality so it’s a constant competition to do better than your neighbour rather than do with your neighbour.
I have to admit that I wasn’t far from getting sucked into this mindset. I was near this ludicrous mindset of hopping onto the next flight to Lagos with no plan, no strategy and no aforethought for how I would survive once I get there. Because while it’s easy to follow the crowd, how easy is it to keep up when they begin to outpace you?
Now I don’t want to be misunderstood or misquoted as an opposition to the progress of Nigeria through the brain gain effect. Far from it! I’m a champion of taking Nigerian resources currently residing in foreign shores back home to help to rebuild our fragile economic and political state. However, I only believe this can be done if we return with something to offer rather than only thinking about what we can gain personally. When we think only of what we can gain we become consumed in oppressing through our accumulation of consumer goods that we do no good at all. When we want to return to Nigeria, let’s do so under a remit of commitment to develop the country. Let’s set ourselves targets of how we will do that and lets EXECUTE our plans in delivering those self made promises. Let’s not lean on our parents hooking us up into roles in government agencies and multinational organisations that we know we are INCOMPETENT in just because we want to be ‘busy’ when we get back. Our inefficiencies as individuals make the organisations we operate in inefficient and consequently make the country inefficient and stagnant. Focus on your strengths and what you can contribute to the greater good that will allow you to make a living rather than wanting to work for Shell because everyone you know works there.
Have I touched a few nerves here? If I have then I’m glad. Maybe this will force you to rethink before you pack that bag and book that ticket.