Brain Drain – Can Kenya Reverse It?

Many experts on economic development and education have lamented on the impact of brain drain on the country’s economic prospects. Many cite brain drain as one of the reasons for the country’s slow economic progress. In the last two decades or so a huge number of Kenyan professionals and students have left the country for greener pastures. Whereas many of them hope to return, few actually return. In an increasingly globalizing world, the war for talent is increasingly getting stiff. Professionals have now become the new mobile capital and in deed human capital is in deed more beneficial to a country than the actual money itself. As the late management theorist Peter F.Drucker pointed out, this is the era of the knowledge worker. Knowledge workers are expected to be at the frontier of economic development in this era of the knowledge economy. In a way therefore, the calls by many experts for these brains to return home may be correct.

Brain drain starts right at Form four when students are doing their KCSE exams. In deed many top students give our own universities a wide berth. This has been partly as a result of the deteriorating quality of education in many of our universities and partly because they have to wait at least for two years before they can enroll in university.Hence, by the time some students are sitting for their KCSE exams, they have already sat for the SAT and TOEFL tests. KCSE is merely a formality test and a fall back position in case they are not admitted to any of the top universities in the US. Such top students at Alliance, Mang’u, Starehe, Narobi School, Precious Blood among others have already set their eyes on studying in some of the world’s most prestigious universities. In fact, the trend is so common in some of the top schools that in a school such as the Alliance High school for example, the class that comprises index one to thirty is exclusively marked as the Harvard class.

Other top schools have similar trends albeit to a smaller extent. It is also worth noting that since the inception of KCSE in 1989,all the best KCSE students have gone on to receive full scholarships to some of the world’s most prestigious universities. The only exception was Paul Bundi of kenyakine High school in 2002 and Dickens Omanga from Friends school kamusinga in 2006.Perhaps, the only reason that the two students never went to a top college in the US is that they came from the lesser known schools and hence were not adequately equipped with information on how to seek the scholarships. Some of the current students at top colleges include John Kandie Rotich formerly of Moi High school kabarak, top student in 2005 and currently at MIT, Former Alliance student Antony Mabonga, currently at Harvard College, John Kimani formerly of Nairobi School and currently at Harvard and Anne wanjiku Mungai formerly of precious Blood Girls Riruta and currently at Harvard. So it is easy to see that it will be extremely difficult to keep such brains in the country.

The other major brain drain concerns professionals. This is a particularly acute problem that is not unique to Kenya alone. This is a problem that is manifest in most of sub Saharan Africa. For instance, according to estimates, there are more Malawian doctors in the UK than in Malawi.

One reason that has been cited for such loss of brains is the poor working conditions and salaries in the country. The conditions in many hospitals is in deed appalling and sometimes its hard to rely on patriotism alone to keep doctors in hospital. Meritocracy has also to be maintained as it is not uncommon to find the person supervising you to have lesser credentials than you.

Perhaps the global financial crisis is providing some reprieve as some of the brains have started returning home. For instance, James Mwangi, after a stint at wall street, is now back in the country as the MD for DALBERG. Another returnee is Mr. Edward Macharia, with a Biology major from Amherst college has also returned to take up a position with a not for profit firm. He had previously worked for the Clinton Global initiative fund.

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