The Diaspora Dream

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“In the course of history, there comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness, to reach a higher moral ground. A time when we have to shed our fear and give hope to each other.”

- from Wangari Maathai’s Nobel Lecture, delivered in Oslo, 10 December 2004.

The Story of the African Immigrant

Africans alike have a long history of movement, some voluntary and some forced. In pre-colonial times entire villages and tribes moved from one part of Africa to another in order to escape the ravages of warfare or agricultural and climatic conditions that led to drought and famine.

There was also internal African slave-raiding that resulted in forced movements. During the colonial period most large population movements were linked to the economic policies of colonial governments. Plantations and agricultural projects in coastal countries attracted unskilled labor from landlocked states. Large numbers of workers from further north migrated to South Africa to work the mines. White farmers forced Africans from the land in Kenya, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and South Africa.

The Post-Independence Period

Movements of Africans in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s occurred in response to economic conditions, political repression, and conflict. There was an exodus from Idi Amin’s Uganda in the early 1970s and from Mengistu Haile Mariam’s reign of terror in Ethiopia beginning in the mid-1970s. Many Ghanaians fled a downturn in the economy from 1970 to 1982. The oil boom in Nigeria initially attracted Africans from neighboring countries but then resulted in massive departures of skilled Nigerians when the price of oil collapsed in the early 1980s. They went to oil-rich Arab countries and the United States. Better pay and working conditions attracted professionals from various African countries to South Africa’s homelands (and later to black-ruled South Africa), Botswana, and Zimbabwe, until many Zimbabweans began leaving because of the failing economy and repressive government. Educated Kenyans found inadequate numbers of jobs in the country and sought work elsewhere in Africa or abroad.

Africans from Francophone countries tended to migrate to France, those from Anglophone countries to the United Kingdom and the United States, those from Lusophone countries to Portugal, and those from Rwanda and the Congo to Belgium. Germany and the United States became the preferred destination for scientists and professionals. By the 1985-86 academic year, an estimated 34,000 African students were in the United States. Continuing political instability in countries like Ethiopia, Uganda, Sudan, Mozambique, Angola, and Liberia caused more professionals to depart.

Between 1960 and 1989, an estimated 70,000 to 100,000 highly skilled African workers and professionals left for Europe and North America. This constituted about 30 percent of Sub-Saharan Africa’s highly skilled personnel. In 1984 there were 10,000 Nigerian professionals in the United States alone. Some 500,000 Sudanese, 80 percent of whom were skilled, worked abroad in 1985, mostly in the Gulf States. Sudan became a labor exporting nation and had to fill the gap by hiring Egyptians. In the first 30 years of African independence, the brain drain was a complicated phenomenon. Most of the movement by professionals and other highly skilled persons was away from the continent. Nevertheless, a few African nations like Nigeria in the 1970s and Botswana benefited by the arrival of well-trained Africans from other countries.

East Africa Brain Drain and Migration Trends

Statistics on Sub-Saharan Africa’s brain drain and migration are often confusing and contradictory. Nevertheless, there is general agreement on the trend lines. The brain drain has two categories. There are those who complete their education in Africa and then migrate for a variety of reasons. This group consists especially of scientists, engineers, health professionals, and entrepreneurs. The second category involves students who study abroad, finds jobs, establish families, and become permanent residents or citizens of another country.

The Kenya Case

For Kenya, an estimated 3.5 million live and work abroad. Since 1990, Africa has lost some 20,000 professionals each year. About 30,000 Sub-Saharan Africans holding PhDs now live outside Africa. Over the last three decades, for example, Kenya has lost more than one-third of its skilled professionals; 3,000 highly trained Kenyans leave every year. About 10 percent of South Africa’s IT and finance executives have departed in recent years. In 2007, 150 professionals left Ethiopian Airways, mainly for higher paying jobs with airlines in the Gulf States. Between 70 and 90 percent of Zimbabwe’s university graduates are now working outside the country. To fill the gap caused by this brain drain, Africa employs up to 150,000 expatriate professionals at a cost of $4 billion annually.

Causes of Migration and the Brain Drain

Complex push and pull factors determine the severity of the brain drain and migration for any particular country in Africa. Pull factors such as good security and better economic and social opportunities in countries that attract skilled people have essentially the same effect on skilled persons in all of Sub-Saharan Africa. The impact of push factors varies, however, from one country to another. Countries like Somalia, the DRC, and Sudan are impacted more negatively by conflict and political instability than they are by economic concerns. Others, such as Ghana, Kenya, Burkina Faso, and Zambia, are relatively stable but have faced serious economic push factors.

The Push Factors

Many political and security issues contribute to the decision of skilled Africans to move elsewhere. The Red Terror in Ethiopia, interminable conflict in Somalia, genocide in Rwanda, civil war in the DRC, and human cruelty in Sierra Leone are extreme examples. Military coups, political persecution, arbitrary arrest, poor human rights practices, intolerance of political dissent, absence of academic freedom, illegal regime change, and favoritism based on ethnic or religious affiliation add to the brain drain. All of these conditions exist somewhere in Sub-Saharan Africa today and in a few countries most of them prevail.

The Serengeti Option

All Serengeti Properties offer strong infrastructure, peaceful environment, and a high standard of living. More attention is given to human resource policies, supervision, and training. Hospitals and universities have state of the art equipment and well stocked libraries.

Returning to Africa

It is wonderful when you don’t have the fear, and a lot of the time I don’t … I focus on what needs to be done instead.
– Wangari Maathai From the article “Planting the future”, The Guardian, 16 February 2007.

There has been considerable discussion and some action on the concept of encouraging highly skilled Africans to return to their continent of birth. So far, however, these programs have met with exceedingly modest success and are almost certainly not the solution to the problem until more African economies are able to attract skilled people and democracy takes firmer root. The vast majority of African countries have not reached the point where they can attract significant numbers of returnees nor could they accommodate them if they did return in large numbers.

A few non-African countries have had success with this concept. In the 1960s only 16 percent of US-trained South Korean science and engineering doctorates returned home. The figure jumped to about 75 percent in the 1980s. Korea’s strong economy and progress on democratization almost certainly accounted for the change. Taiwan, Ireland, and Singapore have also had some success with the return policy. In 2000 an estimated 1,500 highly qualified Indians returned from the United States.

There are very practical reasons why the return option has limited appeal. Most in the diaspora are married, have families and children in school, and become accustomed to their new lives. Incentives to return such as free air fare, loans for housing, and temporary salary supplements are just not sufficient to attract significant numbers of returnees. One group in the diaspora that may be more willing to return is recent retirees. Each new generation that is born in the diaspora will have less interest in returning.

The Humanitarian Return Strategy with Serengeti

The Serengeti approach takes on a humanitarian and environmental strategy. It is not just about buying a plot of land singularly or in an investment organization, it is more about how the Diaspora can and will contribute to overall development of the area. This aspect can be summed up in the following terms:

  • investing in the various counties
  • establishing professional links
  • creating virtual information networks, and
  • becoming a catalyst for development in the surrounding area
  • using the available land to the benefit of all; from an agricultural standpoint, industrial development and socio-economic standpoint
  • creating an enclave of security, environmental awareness and family-oriented safe haven
  • setting an example for county development projects
  • creating the affordable alternative for Kenyans resettling back in the homeland
  • using the “We” factor instead of the “I” factor – we can do it “TOGETHER.”
  • ensuring that the community represents Kenyan’ regardless of backgrounds

Example: The Ethiopian North American Health Professionals Association is engaged in several of these activities. The Canadian-based Association for Higher Education and Development is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving education in Ethiopia. It sends medical books and equipment to the medical faculty, provides scholarships to medical students, and networks with the medical faculty. Ghanaians in the diaspora created a Ghana Association of Distance Learning and Computer Literacy. It has the full support of the government of Ghana and colleagues in Ghana. The Association of Kenyans Abroad, Association of Nigerians Abroad, and the South African Network of Skills Abroad are knowledge networks aimed at linking the diaspora with its homeland for the purpose of exchanging knowledge and skills.

Focus on the Future

As long as so many African countries are troubled by weak economies, conflict, concerns about security, poor governance, and a lack of individual freedom, migration and the brain drain will continue to have a severe, negative impact on the continent. The long-term solution to stemming migration and the brain drain is to ameliorate the basic, internal problems. Impacted African countries should also focus on tapping the skills and finances in their respective diasporas and reinvesting in higher education. This will require reaching out more effectively in order to generate more remittances, develop skills data banks, build more and stronger virtual networks by using the Internet, encourage nationals to volunteer their time on a short-term basis, and perhaps enlist skilled retirees to return. For their part, the developed, donor countries need to do more of their specialized training in developing countries, hire more indigenous nationals in their assistance projects, discourage proactive recruitment of skilled individuals in developing countries, and take a hard look at immigration policies that encourage skilled persons to leave Sub-Saharan Africa.

Home, here we come

The largest income-earner for Kenya, has not become the Kenyans living abroad. The ever increasing figures have come with a cost: the loss of connectivity, lost investments through corruption and loss familial lineage. With these complications, the Kenyan who moved abroad may never return, or worse still, return in a coffin. In every return, circumstances of resettlement are never rosy, nor well-planned, and it is always a ‘crash-landing.’

“I sent money to build a house for me. I trusted my brothers and sisters. On returning, the photos I was sent did not match any house. There was only a foundation. I had been conned…. by my own family.”

- Frustrated Kenyan

These and other horror stories haunt the potential returning resident and also reinforce their continued stay abroad.

And hence Serengeti International Group was born with the primary objective of making the diaspora dream come true. With a team of widely traveled, highly skilled and honest personnel, the organization embarked on this project with all the right information and with a winning strategy that incorporated the humanitarian aspect. With reasonably priced homes and a strategy for an environment similar to what the returning resident is used to, Serengeti has made the landing extremely pleasant and warm. No more ‘crashes’ and no more stolen funds.

Serengeti welcomes you back to your homeland and promises to make your return the most memorable part of your travel back to Africa. It does not mean that you totally vacate your home abroad, it just means that now, you have a real home in your beloved country. Put politics aside, put any fear aside; it is all about landing and driving to a safe and secure environment that places diaspora first, and nothing less.

“The projects initiated by Serengeti all have the following in tandem:

  • They empower the diaspora
  • They not liable to political cronies.
  • They empower societal development
  • They are environmentally sensitive
  • They are cost efficient

Join the generation of and community of forward-looking patriots, join the Serengeti Family.”


Please cllick on one of the links below to initiate your best project ever.

 ”Those of us who have been privileged to receive education, skills, and experiences and even power must be role models for the next generation of leadership.
– from Wangari Maathai’s Nobel Lecture, delivered in Oslo, 10 December 2004.