Brain drain in Africa: Burundi least able to retain its top talent, Rwanda, Kenya top and Jammeh’s Gambia surprises

The pursuit of opportunities outside one's country is a feature of working life, but some countries seem to do it better than others.

ONE of the more notable things about Burundi’s political crisis has been the absence of the voice of its intellectuals in steadying the listing ship.

The political debate in the country has been dominated by regime loyalists, and militant opponents, with neutral voices such as those of independent media having been muzzled.

One might argue that Burundi’s small population of 10 million might account for the small pool, but then the Seychelles has less than 10% of its population, and its intellectuals are often heard from.

Data from the World Economic Forum (WEF) may hold the answer. According to its  Global Competitiveness Report 2014-2015, Burundi is the African country that is least able to hold on to its top talent, with most leaving.

In other words, ranked from a scale of 1 to 7, it has the highest rate of brain drain in Africa. Countries with lower scores nearing one means their best and brightest tend to leave to pursue opportunities in other countries.

Those with higher scores closing in on 7 are the ones best able to retain their talents, according to the WEF, which links the quality of policy and institutions as factors key to determining the level of productivity if a country, and consequently its economic fortunes.

And as often argued, well-fed citizens tend to agitate for social change less frequently.

According to WEF data, Burundi has the highest rate of brain drain in Africa, scoring 2.0. Algeria, Mauritania, Chad and Guinea round out the top five countries that are most unable to retain their top talents.

Struggling Zimbabwe is also high up the brain drain, coming in eighth.

On the other end are the African countries that are able to convince their best talents to stay and contribute. Rwanda tops this ranking, by some distance ahead of Morocco and Kenya. Ivory Coast and South Africa make the top five African countries who hold on to their best and brightest.

A related indicator is the ability of an African country to attract talent from other countries internationally. On a similar scale Rwanda again tops the scale, ahead of Seychelles and Ivory Coast.

The Gambia is a surprise attraction for outside talent, coming in fourth, ahead of even Mauritius, ranked fifth.

Morocco, South Africa, Zambia, Angola and Nigeria bring up the top 10 countries that are able to bring it talent from outside, the latter two being increasingly attractive to oil expats.

Again Burundi brings up the rear of this ranking, ahead of Libya and Algeria, with security considerations probably a factor for this.

A third indicator of a competitive labour market and, by extension, economy, according to the report, is how much nepotism and cronyism are likely to play a role in the appointment of senior managers.

Countries that score lowest means relatives and friends are most likely to be picked with little regard to merit, while those that are closest to 7 means the preference is on professionalism.

On this score Mauritania is the country where merit is least likely a consideration, ahead of Chad, Angola, Algeria and Libya. A common denominator seems to be that these are resource-rich countries, specifically oil.

 Zimbabwe also ranks highly.

On the opposite end is The Gambia, another surprise given the tight control of its leader, ahead of Rwanda, Kenya, Botswana and Malawi.

The rankings suggest the perception of Rwanda as a star African economic performer is further supported, while that of Gambia as a tinpot dictator’s playground where only allies and connections matter is weakened.

Just more evidence that Africa is complex.

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