Kenya: Demystifying Brain Drain

The critical decade and the human capital challenge

This is the dawn of the Decade of Delivery: 2020–2030. It is pregnant with unprecedented expectations and promises for achieving the United Nations 2030 Agenda. For Kenya, this is the prime time for fast-tracking Vision 2030 goals. The African Union must also fast-track key goals for the decade, among them the Africa Mining Vision.

There is also a growing interest in data-related disciplines such as Geomatics, Data Science, Data Engineering, among others. The emerging Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0) summons an equivalent knowledge revolution to reap optimal benefits of the megatrends of the decade: Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), automation and robotics, 5G, blockchain, immersive technologies such as Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), and Mixed Reality (MR), among others.

The key topics defining my youth mentorship and career fair talks

Facing the irresistible wave of automation, businesses must adapt to technological innovation, which is the pillar of global competitiveness that does not run into diminishing returns. Automated journalism is already picking up, exemplified by the Associated Press and the Washington Post. Banks are already successful in the pilot stages of producing equity research reports using artificial intelligence. Countries, mainly in Africa, have been lamenting brain drain. Is this outcry justified in the era of Digital Transformation, a trend riding the wave of exponential data-driven revolution with increasing digitalisation and cloud-based sharing platforms?

Demystifying brain drain

Being a critical organ, the brain finds many mentions in memory, intellect, knowledge, and skills. “Brain drain” frequents national discourse on the migration of talented and skilled citizens. Kenya has been experiencing rising cases of experts in key STEM disciplines leaving the country for jobs or research abroad.

Without a transformed governance mindset, such migrations of human capital are simply debited as brain drain, a loss. A key feature is that these skilled emigrants constitute a much younger demographic than the median age in the target countries. While the median age in Kenya and Africa is barely 20, the same is 40 and above in the attractive wealthier economies of Europe, North America, and Japan. Unlike these economies, Africa’s demographic trend is still likely to favour annual population growth rates sustained at about 2% with a youthful majority, well up to the year 2050 as already projected by the UN Population Division. A continuation of such migrations is, therefore, foreseeable. In the face of such inconvenient truth, Kenya and fellow African countries must seek innovative adaptation strategies under the concept and spirit of a hyperconnected global village.

New thinking is necessary to benefit mutually from borderless collaboration and cross-fertilisation of local strengths. This model of cooperation can only grow stronger with enabling digital platforms, policies, and procedures for interactive real-time exchange. Ponder the prospects of e-residency, a novel concept implemented by the small Republic of Estonia that grants digital residency to promote borderless entrepreneurship.

Deconstructing legacy thinking

To reap optimally from the Digital Transformation, many governments think of overhauling legacy systems as the foremost intervention point. My argument is that legacy thinking is a greater barrier to transformation than legacy systems. Legacy thinking is linear, territorial, and narrow; it views the experts living abroad as “brain drain” merely because of physical separation. Liberated thinking is non-linear, borderless, dynamic, and systemic; it can utilise the digital revolution by instituting enabling policies, incentives, and mandates to reach out to, and tap into, the rich expertise and international exposure dividends of the diaspora. Remittances in the GDP matrix cannot be a sufficient representation of the immense potential resident in the diaspora.

To remain relevant and competent, students and experts alike must acquire a new mindset of global citizenry. They must be diligent in their trade to be internationally exposed and globally competitive. Among the unifying pursuits of advanced scholarship and targeted training should be IT-driven data analysis and data management technologies, including programming algorithms, mathematical modelling, and diverse aspects of software engineering.

Kenya is home to investment opportunities, a resource bank of diverse human and natural capital just waiting for suitable framework conditions and sustainable partnerships to flourish. The famous “Daring Abroad” series by Alex Chamwada confirms Kenya’s rich stock of highly qualified diaspora, including the brainchild behind the UK’s complex transportation planning project. Territorial legacy thinking, however, limits nations to blaming “brain drain” despite the liberal space of borderless online democracy for win-win collaborations with the diaspora. Soon, 5G and collaborative telepresence will expand more opportunities for the liberated borderless minds.

Africa’s political leaders should broaden the horizon for enhanced knowledge-led influence. This requires policy changes that exploit the digital revolution to tap into the rich transferable skills and mentorship benefits resident in the diaspora, physical separation notwithstanding

Nashon J. Adero

Nashon, a geospatial expert, lecturer and trained policy analyst applies dynamic models to complex adaptive systems. He is a youth mentor on career development and the founder of Impact Borderless Digital.