- The so-called "brain drain" means that for example more than one-third of Ethiopia's doctors have left the country in recent decades. At the same time, Ethiopia spends over US$ 5.3 million every year in hiring expatriates to address the shortage of qualified staff in the country. Now, the government discusses how to get skilled Ethiopians to move back.
According to the conclusions of a recent workshop in Addis Ababa, "Ethiopia needs to provide such incentives as reduced import duties, foreign exchange accounts and stronger private ownership laws to promote investment, encourage professionals to stay in the country, and attract those abroad to return, invest and share their expertise."
The workshop was organized by the Ethiopian Ministry of Capacity Building in partnership with UN development agency (UNDP) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). The aim was to "propose steps to reverse the country's brain drain and promote development led by Ethiopians with vital technical and professional skills," UNDP reports from Addis Ababa.
With half of its 66 million people living in severe poverty, mainly in rural areas, Ethiopia is trying to build the capacity of the public sector and grow its private sector. But as soon as young Ethiopians finish their state-sponsored education, a great part of them turn abroad to find employment.
The exodus of skilled Ethiopians over the past few decades has contributed significantly to the 'brain drain' phenomenon. According to the Ministry of Education, the government of Ethiopia spends over US$ 5.3 million every year in hiring expatriates to address the shortage of qualified staff in the country. A plan to re-recruit emigrated Ethiopians is needed, the government holds.
Ato Fikru Desalegn, State Minister of Capacity Building told the workshop participants that Ethiopians in the Diaspora offer "varied and potentially transferable expertise in wide-ranging technical fields," which could fill in the human resource gap of the nation.
- The financial resources accumulated by the Ethiopians over long years of their stay can also be injected into the economy to create more job opportunities and promote trade and investment, the Minister added.
Mr Fikru also said that the government, through its newly introduced Education and Training Policy, as well as the 20-year Education Sector Development Programme, had been making efforts to raise the standard and level of education that would adequately meet the development needs of the nation.
Participants from the public and private sector and civil society however urged the government to foster a middle class, further expand technical knowledge and generate resources to spur economic growth, including having Ethiopian embassies reach out to Ethiopians abroad and creating a database of professionals outside the country, matched with other databases detailing the needs of government agencies.
UNDP representative Nileema Noble agreed that that skilled Ethiopians abroad represented an enormous capacity, offering skills critical to economic, social and political development, the UN agency reports.
- But for this to happen, a conducive environment, coordination arrangements and incentive structures have to be put in place, perhaps similar to what has been done in India and China, she noted. These are large countries with highly qualified, influential and enterprising Diaspora valued by their respective countries of origin, Ms Noble pointed out.
Teshhome Yizengaw, Vice Minister for Higher Education said that Ethiopian universities needed over 600 teaching staff in business and economics, engineering and technology, medicine and health science, law, veterinary medicine and agriculture and other fields.
The Ministry was now expanding graduate training at Addis Ababa University and abroad, mainly in India, seeking incentives to encourage the return of many Ethiopians, more than half according to some estimates, who remain abroad after study in Western Europe and the US. "Now is the time to harness this potential and make full use of it," said the Minister.
The major recommendations brought forward in the workshop were to establish a multi-stakeholder working committee, chaired by the Ministry of Capacity Building, made up of ministers, the private sector, civil society and other stakeholders.
Further, one should create a database of Ethiopian professionals living abroad, encourage a manpower survey on local skills and create an inter-agency office dedicated to the Diaspora to synchronise and streamline ongoing efforts.
The conference however did not seem to address the questions of human rights standards in Ethiopia, which, according to several Ethiopian emigrants, is a major concern. Ethiopia has experienced increased attacks on the independent press and on the political rights of both students and several ethnic minorities lately. Many Ethiopians currently finalise their university studies with abundant memories of violent acts from Ethiopian police and other authorities.
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