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Peter Kuthan / AZFA
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« on: March 17 2007 »

by Josh Ogada

"Brain-drain", or the loss of skilled professionals to other parts of  the world, is a major contributor to the slow pace of development on  the African continent. According to estimates by the International  Organization for Migration, the continent was already losing in  excess of 20,000 skilled individuals per year in the decade of the  90s. This loss of human capital continues to negatively impact the  continents ability to nurture autonomous development, given that the  brain drain tends to apply more to the professional skills that are  most in need. Ironically, Africa, in turn spends US$ 4 billion per  annum to recruit foreign experts to meet skills shortages. This  amounts to 35% of development aid given to Africa.

The issue of labour migration is indeed complex, and there are a  number of factors that contribute to the exodus of skilled and  unskilled individuals from their home countries. Aside from the  proverbial 'greener pastures', many individuals leave due to  underdeveloped and exploitative labour markets in their countries,  corruption and mismanagement in recruitment procedures both in the  private and public sectors, as well as unfavourable social, economic  and political conditions. The stark reality is that more people would  probably leave if they were able to.

Beyond the din of political leaders decrying the loss of skilled  people while condemning the developed world for robbing the continent  of its human capital, there are no easy solutions to the problem. The  introduction of oppressive emigration policies that curtail citizens'  freedom of movement increases extra-legal movement of people across  borders, with all the attendant risks. Until the economic, political  and social conditions improve in countries, the brain-drain will  continue.

Research is increasingly focusing on 'virtual participation' by  citizens abroad in the development of their countries. This refers to  the ability of foreign-based citizens to contribute to the  development of their countries. The primary way in which this occurs  is through financial remittances. According to World Bank Data,  global remittances amounted to US$80 billion. In Africa alone, they  amounted to US$17 billion per year, US$2billion more than the amount  the continent received in foreign direct investment. Research studies  have shown that although remittances have a significant impact on  development, a lot more needs to be done before the true benefits are  recognised.

Firstly, there is not enough widespread information on remittance  patterns on the continent. This is crucial from a policy stand-point,  since it gives and indication as to whether there is sufficient  economic benefit from the labour migration to mitigate the brain- drain. Secondly, most countries lack the mechanisms in place to  formalize and adequately exploit the potential developmental value of  the remittances. As a result of this a significant percentage of  remittances are informal and difficult to quantify, or positively  harness.

Remittances have the potential to generate savings and investment,  and overall development, but there needs to be an enabling regulatory  and policy framework in place. This would allow for cost-effective  and accessible money transfer facilities, rational currency exchange  rate regimes and institutions that offer support to the optimal  deployment of these funds. The formalization of remittances would  also help to head off the potential negative effects such as  unsustainable modes of consumption, economies of affection and  dependency relationships, all of which impact negatively on  sustainable development.

Whereas the ultimate goal is for the continent to be able to nurture  and keep its human resources by creating an enabling environment, the  short-term aim should be to harness this potential by opening up more  channels for virtual participation. The issue of remittances must not  however detract from the discourse on addressing the brain-drain, nor  worse yet, be seen as an excuse for the deliberate raiding of the  continent's brain-basket. If participation in the global economy is  inevitable, it must benefit Africa as a major contributor.

Further Reading

World Bank - Africa Region Working Paper No. 64
http://www.worldbank.org/afr/wps/wp64.pdf

United Nations - Remittances and FDI
http://www.un.org/africa/osaa/press/Promoting%20International% 20support%20for%20peace%20and%20development%20%85.pdf

Global Development Research Centre
http://www.gdrc.org/icm/remittance/more-remittance.html

Institute for Security Studies
http://www.iss.co.za/pubs/Monographs/No112/Contents.htm

International Development Research Centre
http://www.idrc.ca/en/ev-71249-201-1-DO_TOPIC.html

source: pambazuka.news 295
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Peter Kuthan / AZFA
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« Reply #1 on: June 25 2007 »

ZIMBABWEAN EXILES TURN TO THE WEB

Inflation in Zimbabwe is soaring, and its citizens abroad are pitching in to help relatives at home -- giving part of their earnings in South Africa, for example, to Zimbabwean businessmen there, who then truck food, cooking oil and other scarcities across the border.

Now a high-tech solution has arrived, with internet-based companies allowing Zimbabweans across the globe to go online to buy their loved ones everything from fuel and food to generators.

The website Mukuru.com offers an alternative to long queues at petrol stations short of fuel. Once a friend or relative has logged on and paid for fuel, the company sends an SMS to the recipient's cellphone in Zimbabwe containing a 10-digit number the person can exchange for vouchers at a designated coupon office.

They can then fill up their car at stations that import fuel independently and sell at market rates, rather than having to scramble for fuel when it becomes available locally at prices heavily subsidised by the government.

Two other sites, Zimbuyer.com and Zimland.com, offer a virtual shopping centre of Zimbabwean goods. Sitting in front of their computer abroad, people can pay for Zimbabwean staples such as sadza -- corn meal -- and a popular brand of baked beans, or even TVs and power generators, which are then delivered to addresses in the country's three largest cities within 72 hours. Buyers can log on to check the delivery status.

Mukuru.com founder Rob, who gave only his first name out of concern for his family in Zimbabwe -- where criticism of the government and its management of the economy can be dangerous -- came up with the idea when he worked for a multimedia firm. His site is run by eight Zimbabweans based in Britain, home to the second-largest diaspora community of Zimbabweans, after South Africa.

He said cellphone users in the West are fixated on the pictures they can put up on their cellphone screens or take with them, or features like using their cellphones as radios. But in the developing world, he said, "the power of the mobile phone is the SMS".

Africans in general have pioneered the use of cellphones to transfer value by using airtime as a virtual currency. Phone users can sell airtime for real money, or trade it for something else, thereby avoiding the relatively high costs of transferring small amounts of money through banks.

In Zimbabwe, the technology meets a stark need. Thea Fourie, a South Africa-based analyst for independent market-analysis firm Global Insight, said scarce goods and high unemployment in Zimbabwe, combined with salaries not keeping up with the rises in goods and services, mean any transfer of money to Zimbabweans from abroad can help.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is accused by critics in the West and at home of ruining what was once an African economic success story with a chaotic and often-violent campaign to seize thousands of white-owned commercial farms for redistribution to black Zimbabweans.
Mugabe defends the program as a way of righting severe imbalances in land ownership inherited from British colonial rule. He blames food shortages in a country that once was a regional breadbasket on years of crippling drought, and has cracked down on dissenters.

Fourie said that while some Zimbabweans can be helped by money from abroad, it will have only a "marginal" impact on overall economic performance in Zimbabwe, "because the whole problem is so structured around the political aspect".

A Zimbuyer.com spokesperson, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear for the safety of his family in Zimbabwe, said that the site's most popular items are cooking oil, soap, rice, meat, and corn meal. "Also, people are buying the power generators a lot because there are 20-hour power cuts in Harare now," he said. The company is run by four Zimbabweans in Britain and the United States.

Douglas Siwira, a 41-year-old businessman living in Britain, uses Mukuru.com to buy fuel for his family in Zimbabwe. He praises the "promptness" of the transaction.

In 2005, the most recent year for which figures were available, Zimbabwe had 668 000 cellphone subscribers, a penetration rate of 5,6% -- double that for land lines -- according to the United Nations's International Telecommunication Union, which is responsible for standardisation, coordination and development of international telecommunications.

Mukuru.com started in February last year and now has 6,500 customers all over the world. It also allows those registered on the site to pay for satellite TV for and transfer money to people in Zimbabwe, and plans to offer mobile airtime top-ups by the end of the month.

Zimbabweans are allowed to have foreign-currency accounts in local banks, but the money can only be changed at the official exchange rate. So Zimbabweans living abroad also protect their earnings by keeping them in foreign banks and transferring money only as needed.

The companies may have started with the idea of helping their countrymen. Now they are looking at expanding to other parts of Africa where it is easier to operate. "I think the tragedy of the situation is we're least excited about Zimbabwe," said Rob. "We're out to spend time and money in Africa. We want to be putting billboards up; we want to be sponsoring attractions and music events there."

Mukuru.com has already started offering services to South Africa and now plans to branch out into Kenya and Zambia by July, Malawi by August and Ghana by the end of the year.

(SOURCE: Mail & Guardian)
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Peter Kuthan / AZFA
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« Reply #2 on: July 03 2007 »

HP AND UNESCO TEAM UP WITH AFRICAN UNIVERSITIES TO COUNTER BRAIN DRAIN

HP and UNESCO today announced their selection of universities in Algeria, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal and Zimbabwe that will benefit from their joint project "Piloting Solutions for Reversing Brain Drain into Brain Gain for Africa".

The goal of the project is to allow universities in Africa to collaborate on research by connecting to international networks through the use of advanced technology called grid computing. HP and UNESCO developed the project following the success of a similar programme in South-East Europe.

Replacing the 300,000 highly qualified Africans who have emigrated costs African countries an estimated $4 billion annually. HP and UNESCO will cooperate with IT-intensive science departments of African universities which can use grid computing to connect students to the valuable experience of emigrated researchers.

"Technology represents a powerful tool in facilitating "brain gain". It has the potential to help create environments for the sharing and exchange of knowledge among scientists who remained in their home country and those in the diaspora," said Ana Luiza Machado, the UNESCO deputy assistant director-general for education. "But more importantly, access to joint research and development collaboration and to the worldwide distributed scientific community through high performance technology, could prove to be a strong incentive for experts to continue to work in their home country."

"We selected the universities from a wide range of impressive proposals in disciplines ranging from biotechnology to renewable energy," said Jeannette Weisschuh, head, Corporate Affairs, Europe, the Middle East and Africa, HP. "The project will make it possible for ambitious researchers who stay in Africa to benefit from the experience of those who have left."

HP and UNESCO chose the five universities for their ability to connect with their diasporas in order to carry out advanced scientific research:

- Centre de Développement des Energies Renouvelables (CDER), Algeria

- College of Engineering, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana

- University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Nigeria

- Université Cheikh Anta Diop de Dakar, Senegal

- Chinhoyi University of Technology, Zimbabwe

Beyond the provision of IT equipment and training, HP will fund research visits abroad and meetings between the universities. For example, one of the grantees, the Centre for the Development of Renewable Energies in Algeria, will create a 'virtual network' of Algerian researchers working on solar power at home and abroad. Using video-conferencing, experts working in advanced laboratories abroad will lecture students in Algeria. The university will thus be able to offer doctorate-level teaching to its students and relay the classes to remote parts of Algeria.

"Before, if we funded researchers to work in laboratories abroad, we could not be sure if they would come back," said Dr. Maïouf Belhamel, director of the CDER. "We hope that this project will set an example that others can follow."

Grid computing is a hardware and software infrastructure that clusters and integrates high-end computer networks, databases and scientific instruments from multiple sources to form a virtual environment in which users can work collaboratively. The grid concept was developed in the mid-1990s as a shared computing approach that coordinates decentralised resources and uses open, general-purpose protocols and interfaces to deliver high-quality service levels.

Grids of computing centres are being created by universities and public research laboratories to be able to make massive distributed computations in areas such as bioinformatics, physics, molecular science and meteorology. Most efforts in grid computing are related to the ability to build infrastructures and use them for cooperative work. The grid is designed to render almost anything in IT - computers, processing power, data, web services, storage space, software applications, data files or devices - a "grid service".

source: Balancing Act's News Update 361
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