| Reverse Brain Drain: Can it work for Puntland?|
Wed, 22 May 2013 06:23:43 -0400 am -04:00 -14400
By Omar Mohamud Farah 'Dhollawaa'
In this paper I will discuss some of the key issues surrounding the Reverse Brain Drain (RBD) phenomenon and briefly visit the Brain Drain concept, which is where the Reverse Brain Drain originated. We need to understand its causes, its consequences and its effects in a global context, before we can analyse its specific implications for Somalia. I will also examine activities and interventions that have had some success in reversing the Brain Drain and helped developing countries begin to reclaim their intelligentsia from the developed world. I will specifically discuss how Somalia - and the Puntland State in particular - can facilitate the return of their educated and skilled people by initiating a formal Reverse Brain Drain process. I will then attempt to provide some recommendations that may help Somalia and Puntland, in particular, to encourage their qualified "Diaspora" to return and take part in the development of the State.
The term Brain Drain is used to describe a phenomenon in which qualified people migrate, in large numbers, from a developing country to the developed world. This challenge has been experienced by many countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. In most cases, there are two motives that encourage this phenomenon to occur. The first is when the country has failed to address the needs of its qualified elites because of political instability, economic depression, or poor employment opportunities. Secondly, the country's elites often demand larger salaries and more challenging jobs than their country can offer. This group is usually influenced by family, friends, personal ambition, economic issues, or experience of some form of discrimination.
When the Somali State collapsed in 1991, a third phenomenon emerged, which has impacted upon the lives of every Somali, from tea boy to president. This phenomenon has been the total collapse of government and its institutions, which forced many educated and skilled citizens to leave the country and seek resettlement in the West. This was not the choice of the citizen; it was the only option available for most of them to survive in a dangerous and dysfunctional new order.
Iraq has been facing the same challenges since 2003, when American forces invaded the country, sparking clan warfare and the emergence of ruthless terrorist organisations with no real regard for human life (apart from those with whom they share a philosophical affinity). This has had the same effect of leading Iraq to lose many of its most skilled citizens through the Brain Drain phenomenon.
In recent history, many countries have experienced the same characteristics of Brain Drain and lost the intellectual backbone of their society, including China, India, Nigeria, Ghana, Israel, Somalia, Kenya and others. The phenomenon has not spared developed countries such as Canada and United Kingdom, many of whose skilled citizens continue to move from one country to another, depending on which is offering the highest wages in their professional field. The move to unite Europe as a single political and monetary entity has also encouraged many East European people to migrate to other countries in the West in search of better opportunities. This political dynamic of merging States will ultimately impact negatively on some countries, as they lose their academics to countries that better suit and value their expertise.
Fortunately, many countries are now getting their educated and skilled people back through the phenomena known as the Reverse Brain Drain, which encourages people to return from developed countries to their native lands to create new opportunities for themselves and for their countries of origin.
In Somalia, like several other countries suffering long-term instability, this type of migration has already been taking place for a long time. In fact, the Somali people, particularly the young, have traditionally moved from rural areas to villages, then from villages to towns and on to the main cities. The city dwellers then move to other countries for one reason or another. In other words, the people were moving from one area, where the opportunity is minimal, to others, where there are better opportunities for them.
Reverse Brain Drain
The Reverse Brain Drain (RBD) is a new phenomenon that has seen skilled professionals and academics returning to their countries of origin voluntarily, mainly in the developing world. Some of the reasons for the RBD include people's desire to create better opportunities for themselves, seeking a better social status in a familiar environment, avoiding political hassle, finding training grounds to improve their experience, and reuniting with their family members. Many countries have implemented policies to specifically encourage their citizens to come back by giving them tax exemptions and special status. For example, Taiwan has established a National Youth Commission principally to encourage its citizens to return to the country, where they are offered competitive employment opportunities.
It cannot be denied that most countries that have attracted their citizens back have achieved enormous positive economic and political changes. These changes have created a "snowballing" effect that helps their Diaspora to believe they will be better off if they return. There are also cultural issues in which individuals feel obliged to return to their countries of origin - such as South Koreans, who have a very strong sense of responsibility to their families. This in particular happens where the individual is the only child or son in the family.
Can Puntland encourage the Reverse Brain Drain (RBD)?
There is no doubt that Puntland can benefit from the RBD, but only with strong cooperation between the government of the day, qualified Puntlanders in the Diaspora, UN agencies and the public, which aims is to develop and rebuild Puntland socially and economically.
The government of the day should begin to set in place strategies aimed to strengthen the security of the State, and to create an environment conducive for development. They then have to convince qualified people in the Diaspora to come back and take part in the rebuilding of their State. Furthermore, the Puntland government should engage the international community and interested countries to take part in financing, directly or through the United Nations, those who want to work in social services. For example, Australia has agreed to pay unemployment benefits to residents from the newly created South Sudan who wants to go back to the country and take part in its reconstruction. This formula can be copied and presented to other countries with the help of the right lobbying groups and the Puntland Diaspora Forum. Additionally, the government of Puntland should enact a form of legislation that governs policies to encourage those who want to come back and run private business as long as the public will benefit from it. Tax exemptions, subsidies, and incentives such as free residential land, may be offered by the government to the returnees. Because of the historical events in Somalia over the past 40 years, there is a sizable number of Puntlanders who are currently living in the Western world with internationally recognised qualifications. Some of these people are not finding jobs suited to their area of expertise or employment and they are likely to accept to return and work in their country if the right arrangements and conditions are in place.
Qualified Puntlanders have something of a moral obligation to help Puntland stand on its own feet. It is crucial that the Diasporas' focus should not be political power or personal gratification, but rather the progress of their State - the Puntland State of Somalia. The former President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, once said to his people: "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country". In saying this, Puntlanders should be open to all challenges and prepared to make certain sacrifices. Similarly, they have to aim to be innovators and visionaries in all fields without any preconditions.
To simplify the flow of information, the Puntland Diaspora Forum and the government could jointly fund a Diaspora Reference Centre to collect data and provide support to those who want to return to Puntland and local residents who may have questions regarding their return. Such a centre will also have a role to play in supporting public and private institutions involved in promoting the Reverse Brain Drain, including international NGOs and UN organisations that are already exploring ways and means of accelerating the return of professional Somalis.
Furthermore, INGOs, UN organisations, the government of the day, and the Diaspora Reference Centre (when established fully) must communicate with each other and exchange information to identify where the RBD fits in the social map and where it can best be utilised.
The UN and NGOs have to urge the international community, through their contacts, to support the Reverse Brain Drain, using employment as a pretext to end extremism, piracy, and other social ills in Somalia. Local NGOs and UN agencies should avoid employing non-Somali workers from overseas until it is certain that there are no qualified people to fill positions in the State. In this process, the RBD may play a successful role to tie up "loose ends" across the civil service, as well as filling vital roles in the private sector.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that Quest, the United Nations program originally established by the UN to employ Somali professionals to work in Somalia, has not been very successful. It is clear that this program should be reviewed and revised to make it more transparent and effective.
Several local Somalis have expressed dissatisfaction with the high number of well-paid senior jobs taken by non-residents from the Diaspora. Despite this dissatisfaction, however, this trend may have to continue while there remain no local people with the qualifications or expertise to carry out such jobs. This dilemma needs to be addressed with great sensitivity to avoid further misunderstandings and unnecessary tension within the community. For remedial purposes and to bring locals on board, both the government and other job providers should implement a formal program to retrain and develop the skills of local people so their own expertise will not be bypassed. Returnees themselves will be able to assist in such training programs, to improve the job opportunities and employability of their local counterparts.
Similarly, efforts should be made to encourage local people to welcome their returning brothers and sisters, and to see the inevitable benefits that will accrue from the skills of professional Diaspora. As well as helping to avoid negative stereotypes and comments about returnees, a positive attitude towards their return will encourage them to smoothly resettle and invest in the country - and, in time, to pass their skills and experience on to the local community.
To make the Reverse Brain Drain successful, all stakeholders should be encouraged to adopt the following key recommendations simultaneously:
1. The government, local NGOs and international agencies, the Diaspora, and the local community must cooperate wherever possible to develop and maintain a steady flow of returning countrymen;
2. The Puntland government should, as a priority, provide a secure environment conducive for development to increase the confidence of returnees;
3. The Puntland government must give returnees practical and financial incentives, particularly if they are investing in projects and will be able to create further employment;
4. The Diaspora should avoid focusing exclusively on high government positions, but explore other ways - commercial, social, legal, or through community-based projects to help build the country;
5. The Puntland Diaspora Forum and Puntland government should establish a Diaspora Reference Centre to collect data and provide support to returnees and their relatives, employers and colleagues;
6. Major international NGOs and UN agencies should be approached to support and fund initiatives to promote and maintain the impetus of the Reverse Brain Drain;
7. The UN and international organisations should give first priority to skilled Somalis returning to Somalia before contracting or employing non-Somalis from overseas;
8. Locals should be encouraged wherever possible to support and learn about the many benefits of returning Diaspora;
9. Returnees should be encouraged and facilitated to train members of the local community to improve their own skills and employment opportunities;
10. Specific community education programs should be introduced to "spread the word" about the benefits of skilled and educated returnees, and by the same equation, to promote tolerance and understanding within the Diaspora community.
I would like to end with a quote from world renowned basketball player Michael Jordan, who neatly described the kind of tolerance and open-mindedness that will be needed to ensure the success of your adventure in life: "If you're trying to achieve, there will be roadblocks. I've had them; everybody has had them. But obstacles don't have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don't turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it."