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Is there hope for Eritrea?

Comments (0) Africa, Featured, Politics

Eritrean refugees

Can Eritrea shake its reputation and get a handle on its migration problem?

Is Africa’s youngest country also its most repressive state? The labels it has carried for the past decade have become the lens through which the international community views it, but how fair is the reputation it has developed? Eritrea gained independence in 1993, nearly 30 years after Emperor Haile Selassie seized the land for Ethiopia in 1962. It has never held elections, has no free press and has a mandatory and indefinite national service. However, this oppressive picture seems to be at odds with the experiences of recent visitors, journalists and diplomats who have reported the country to be clean, relaxed and relatively advanced. People can be seen enjoying bars, restaurants and cinemas while going about their day under no obvious restrictions. The issues contributing to its high levels of emigration are unique. Can the problems be reversed and stability returned to this troubled nation?

Eritrea’s Troubled Past

The UN has repeatedly criticized the government for its lack of democracy and suspected human rights abuses. For over a decade, journalists have been barred from entering the country and in 2001, the government shut all down all free press houses. International sanctions placed over its alleged support of Al Shaabab Islamists in Somalia have further damaged Eritrea’s economy and deepened its isolation on the world stage.

Modern Eritrea has faced a number of crises in its young life. After just a few years of independence, a two-year war broke out in 1998-2000 that left tens of thousands dead. After 15 years of tentative peace, there has been a recent resurgence of violence. Details have been vague, with 200 Ethiopian troops reportedly killed, and both sides accusing the other of re-starting the hostilities.

Europe Watches On

Eritrea’s problems have been compounded by severe droughts and the nation’s heavy reliance on agriculture. A revival of the conflict with Ethiopia would be nothing short of catastrophic, inevitably forcing more people to flee the nation, adding to an already alarming exodus from the troubled country.

Migration from Eritrea hit new highs in 2015, with Eritreans being the largest contingent of Africans to arrive in Europe. This migration, although detrimental, is forcing the international community to take notice of the problems faced in Eritrea, driving change.

Mass Migration 

Eritrean refugee camp

Eritrean refugee camp

Due to this influx of migrants reaching Europe’s shores, the EU has recently announced a $227m “development fund” for Eritrea and has opened access to a number of emergency finance mechanisms. There is a growing perception that sanctions and further isolation are far less effective than engagement with these problematic countries; an increased amount of communication, research and aid has proven to be a more valuable strategy. It has been suggested that international isolation and hostilities with Ethiopia would only force it closer to its Somali and Sudanese neighbors, something unlikely to elicit the reforms that the UN has demanded.

The development fund, which is due to run from 2016-2020, as well as collaboration with the government to improve democratic and human rights, is expected to reduce the number of Eritreans leaving the country. The effectiveness of this campaign will depend on the government following through with reform. They claim the restrictive state has been a necessity due to a “no war, no peace” policy towards Ethiopia, and a need to be vigilant and prepared for further confrontation.

Looking Forwards

Alongside fresh UN aid, additional money is finding its way into the country through private investment in industry, particularly in the mining sector as Eritrea boasts strong mineral resources. The conflict in Yemen has also led to a fortuitous collaboration with the United Arab Emirates, with Eritrea providing “logistical facilities” from its southern port of Assab. Commentators feel that this foreign capital and cooperation is critical in paving the way to improved conditions and stability within the nation.

Despite its troubles, Eritrea has made some meaningful progress on its own. Since its independence from Ethiopia and subsequent war in 1998-2000, the country has posted promising health statistics. Under-five mortality has decreased by two thirds, due in part to successful vaccination programs that have saved thousands of lives. AIDS has long been a scourge upon Africa, with the continental infection rate standing at 5% today. Defiantly, Eritrea has bucked the trend by bringing its infection rates down to a comparatively low 0.8%.

Eritrea’s mass-migration problem is unlike those of Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia. It has relatively low rates of corruption, it is not currently at war, and is not a hotbed of religious extremism or persecution. The problems its citizens face are related to democracy and a lack of rights, decisions the government claims are to protect the country’s future. Can this government be persuaded to work with the international community and democratize the country? The issues it faces are unique, but with an international focus on decreasing migration, coupled with foreign investment, its future could be promising.

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Africa’s crippling brain drain

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Featured

africa brain drain

Millions of highly educated African professionals move to other countries in search of greater opportunities, undermining health care, science and development.

With thousands of well-educated Africans emigrating each year, brain drain is stunting the continent’s growth, especially in medicine and science.

African migrants totaled more than 30 million by 2010 – about 3 percent of the total population of the continent – more than doubling over the previous 20 years, according to a report by the World Bank. About half migrated to other countries within Africa, while others went abroad to the Middle East, Europe and the United States. Many are fleeing conflict in their home countries or seeking better economic opportunities in more advanced African economies. However, many of those fleeing are among Africa’s best educated, and they are seeking to work abroad.

“You cannot eat patriotism”

Gichure wa Kanyugo, a Kenyan-born psychiatrist who works in Boston,
said domestic conditions such as poverty, conflict, unemployment and poor health care discourage Africans from returning to their homelands.

“We would like to return home, but domestic conditions don’t allow it. You cannot eat patriotism, can you?” Kanyugo said.

The Economic Commission for Africa estimated that 20,000 educated professionals have left Africa every year since 1990 and the United Nations declared that the outflow of African professionals is “one of the greatest obstacles to Africa’s development.”

The problem is especially acute in the fields of health and science.

In sub-Saharan Africa, 38 of 47 nations fall short of the minimum standard of 20 doctors per 100,000 people set by the World Health Organization.

Shortages of qualified medical personnel were evident during the recent Ebola crisis. In 2014, for example, Liberian officials reported that there were only 170 doctors in the country. Liberia had nearly eight doctors per 100,000 people in 1973 but the rate dropped to just 1.4 by 2008.

Limited opportunities

Meanwhile, experts say most engineers and scientists who train in Africa choose to work abroad because opportunities are limited in Africa, which provides only one percent of the world’s scientific research.

Thierry Zomahoun, chairman of the Next Einstein Forum, said Africa loses $4 billion a year because jobs in science, technology, engineering and math must be outsourced to foreign professionals.

Zomahoun, whose organization staged Africa’s first international science and technology conference in Dakar in 2016, said the solution is greater investment in science and research on the continent to make scientists who have remained on the continent more visible.

The International Development Research Center said brain drain also has financial and societal costs. This is because African countries lose significant amounts of their investment in higher education as graduates leave or decide not to return home when they finish studies abroad.

According to the World Bank, Egypt, Morocco, Burkina Faso, Algeria and Zimbabwe were the top five African emigration countries in 2010.

Emigration rates are among the highest in countries that have gone through armed conflicts, such as Eritrea and Liberia, and in countries with small populations such as Cape Verde and Lesotho.

The most common destinations are France, the United States, Ivory Coast, Saudi Arabia and South Africa.

In the United States, African immigrants account for 4 percent of the country’s foreign-born population. Nigerian, Ethiopian, Egyptian, and Ghanaian immigrants account for 4 in 10 of the African born population in the U.S.

A slowing drain?

Fortunately, there are signs the drain may be slowing. Adcorp, a South African human resources management company, found that more than 350,000 highly skilled South Africans returned from other countries in the six years following the 2008 financial crisis.

One expert said governments must put in place policies that encourage African expatriates to return.

But African businesses also must create more opportunities, said Menghis Bairu, CEO of Serenus Biotherapeutics, which develops medical therapies for sub-Saharan Africa.

Until Africa can more effectively retain professionals or persuade those who have left to return, “Virtual participation” may help ease the problem, engaging expatriate professionals to coach, mentor and help plan advancements, according to the International Development Research Center.

“Virtual participation … shows promise as a means to engage the African Diaspora in development efforts,” the center said.

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