In the exceedingly large and historic endeavor of human migration, where stories and destinies intertwine, the wanderlust of individuals echoes the nomadic tumbleweeds of the American West where me and my family used to live. Like the picturesque Sand Dunes in Southern Colorado, the shifting sands of global migration witness a kaleidoscope of individuals uprooting themselves from the familiar soils of their origins, propelled by aspirations that flutter like the wings of migrating birds, seeking new horizons and pastures anew.
This delicate dance of movement, akin to the tumbleweeds set adrift by capricious winds, carries both promise and peril, similar to the duality of a coin. Migration, an act emblematic of human spirit and resilience, paints an intricate canvas where the hues of opportunity and challenges intermingle, echoing the dichotomy of the tumbleweed’s journey across unknown terrains.
At the heart of this nomadic odyssey lies the world diaspora, a constellation of individuals fleeing their homelands in search of greener pastures, spurred by ambitions for prosperity, education, a safe and better livelihood. Yet, in this pursuit of dreams, lies the specter of brain drain – a phenomenon where the departure of skilled and talented individuals from their native lands deprives these regions of valuable resources, impeding their growth and development.
The numbers, comparable to constellations mapping the skies, illustrate this complex tapestry of migration. According to the World Bank, over 270 million individuals, similar to a myriad of tumbleweeds, reside outside their country of birth, each representing a story, a dream, and a chapter in the ongoing narrative of human migration. Nations across continents witness the exodus of their brightest minds, akin to the diasporic tumbleweeds, leaving a vacuum in their wake.
The statistics are staggering. From Ethiopia alone, between 2.5 and 3.0 million people are estimated to live outside of their country, especially in North America, Europe and the Middle East. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that, next to Nigeria, Ethiopia and Egypt are top birthplaces for African immigrants in the US. That same publication states that, in terms of highest education levels for Ethiopians, 12% hold doctoral and higher degrees; 29% hold masters diplomas, and 35% hold bachelor’s and specialists’ diplomas.
In terms of occupation, 15% are in business and financial operations; 12% in architecture and engineering; 10% in computer and mathematical fields; 10% in education, training and library; 7% in management; 7% as healthcare practitioners and technical; and 6% in arts design, entertainment, sports and media, among others. For a synopsis of the role of the Ethiopian Diaspora, Solomon Getahun’s paper, titled: “Challenges and Prospects for Constitutional Democracy in Ethiopia”, and presented at the Ethiopia Forum Conference at Michigan State University, in March 2019, is a good source.
When asked why these Ethiopians left their country, the reasons given are straightforward and list government-related obstacles, including: lack of government accountability; fraud or corruption; unpredictable future government policies; taxes on imported products; difficulty in getting the attention of government officials; political instability; regulations on transferring capital in and out of Ethiopia; long procedures for registering a business; personal safety and security concerns; and inability for non-resident Ethiopians to vote; among others.
The advantages of migration, similar to the golden facets of sunsets in New Mexico (where we also lived), shine with the promise of opportunities, cultural exchange, economic growth through remittances, and the blossoming of new ideas in foreign lands. For example, Ethiopia remittances received by origin country of origin show that the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Israel are among the top, followed by Italy, Sudan, Canada, United Kingdom and South Africa, just to name a few.
However, the disadvantages, again similar to the harsh unpredictable high desert winds that scatter the tumbleweeds, cast shadows upon the homelands these migrants leave behind. The brain drain, in particular, emerges as a critical concern, as the departure of skilled professionals deprives nations of vital expertise, hindering progress and perpetuating a cycle of underdevelopment.
Historical migration record in Ethiopia tells an alarming story. From 1950, (base year) to 1963, the growth rate of migration was negative. A trend started beginning in 1964 with relatively high growth rates of migration (17%); reaching an astronomical level in 1974 (618.4%); a major decline in 1983 (-190.7%) followed by another decline in 1998 (-171.4%); and yet another triple digit growth in 2010 (269.4%); which is then followed by a huge surge in 2023 (326%).
Comparable to the tumbleweed’s detachment from its roots, the departure of skilled individuals disrupts the socio-economic fabric of their native lands. The vacuum left behind strains healthcare systems, impedes technological advancements, and weakens educational institutions, perpetuating a cycle of dependency and stunting growth.
Yet, the world diaspora, much like the tumbleweed that finds fertile ground in distant landscapes, contributes immeasurably to their adopted homes. Their expertise enriches foreign economies, fosters innovation, and embellishes the mosaic of cultural diversity.
What is to be Done?
The challenge, of course, lies in striking a balance, harnessing the vitality of migration while mitigating its adverse effects. Initiatives encouraging knowledge transfer, investments in education and technology, and fostering an environment conducive to talent retention can serve as beacons in navigating the labyrinth of brain drain. In this regard, the Ethiopian government, for example, introduced a diaspora policy in 2013, and again in 2018 by launching a Diaspora Agency to engage Ethiopians and foreigners of Ethiopian origin in meaningful participation in the country’s development. However, given the chaotic nature of governance in the country, including interminable wars over the past four years, there seems to have been very little progress made in achieving durable results so far.
To conclude this lamentation, the ceaseless ballet of migration, akin to the tumbleweed’s transient journey, requires acknowledging, and addressing the repercussions of brain drain becomes imperative. For only through concerted efforts can nations, especially emerging ones, stem the exodus of their brightest minds, ensuring that the diasporic odyssey remains a voyage of enrichment rather than depletion.
*Teshome Abebe, a former Provost and Vice President, is Professor of Economics.
Editor’s note : Views in the article do not necessarily reflect the views of borkena.com
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