Ethiopia: It Is Still Possible to Make Use of Human Capital Exodus


The current pace of socio-economic progress and aspirations make Ethiopia in desperate need of highly skilled and well-educated professionals in various sectors. For this reason, the government has been intensely investing in the expansion of higher learning institutions that are believed to meet the rising demand for skilled manpower.

Yet, on the other hand, the country’s intellectuals with valuable expertise knowledge are opting to migrate to foreign lands in search of better life and opportunities to pursue their professional career while at the same time making large sums of income.

This human capital flight or brain drain has social, economic and political costs on the country. Most importantly, it poses a huge challenge to the country’s capacity building initiative which is necessary to achieving the lofty goals of bringing about overall socio-economic transformation.

Though data on human capital flight out of Ethiopia is scarce, it is clear to witness the fact that there are a large number of Ethiopian professions abroad who are serving in key sectors in the US and Europe, the very people the country needs most to facilitate and support its overall economic, social, scientific, and technological transformation.

True, every investment is made to generate a return at some point in the future. The sad thing about the situation of brain drain in Ethiopia is that the country gets little return from its investment in higher education, since too many graduates and post-graduates leave their country or fail to return home at the end of their studies abroad.

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On the other hand, it is an irony that the country is forced to hire highly qualified and expensive foreign professionals in its higher learning and other institutions.

The brain drain is even severe in some sectors which require sophisticated expertise knowledge in hard sciences and which are fundamental for socio-economic transformation. For instance, in a country like Ethiopia which is significantly striving to improve access to health to its citizens, it is a surprising fact that the number of Ethiopian health professionals working in foreign countries is almost equal to those serving inside the country.

Though it seems unfair, developed countries are making the most out of the human capital flight as highly skilled people are leaving their homelands to the developing world. Some studies even indicate that nearly one in 10 tertiary-educated adults born in the developing world — between a third and half of the developing world’s science and technology personnel — now live in the developed world.

Now the key question is what should be done. In reality, it is such an impossible task for developing countries to reverse this reality as it would be inhumane and impossible to limit mobility in the rapidly globalized world where travel and access to information is becoming easier every day. Repatriation also cannot be taken as an alternative at this moment as the country is not in the position to curb both push and pull factors of migration.

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Hence, first it is important to recognize the fact that such human capital flight would have positive outcomes. First and for most, the Diaspora professionals could contribute significantly to the country’s foreign currency earnings through remittance.

Besides, it could not be denied that the professionals would be able to further improve their educational knowledge and expertise capacity. They definitely would have advantages that are not available here, such as better research and educational facility, technology, research fund and the likes. Hence, favourable policy should be put in place to enable professional Diaspora to reinvest their knowledge and engage in their country’s development.

Further the on-going rapid development is also forcing the Diaspora to look back at their country. Though the number of professionals leaving the country is rising from time to time, the willingness of the Diaspora to engage in the country’s development is increasing. Hence, the government should provide incentives to those who are willing to come and contribute their part to the country’s development.

Due emphasis should also be given to retain highly qualified professionals who are still serving the country. It is necessary to promote these highly qualified Ethiopians based on merit alone and provide them with opportunities to develop their expertise knowledge and attractive benefits in order to hold on to them before migrating to other countries.

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