War and economic collapse driving new Ethiopian brain drain

War and economic collapse is driving Ethiopian brain drain(photo from Quora)

Brain drain of university trained professionals and successful entrepreneurs may now be driven to even higher levels by the ongoing Ethiopian conflict with Tigray and other nationalities.  Even though in the post Derg era Ethiopia built 33 universities including medical schools, engineering schools, and literally a whole gamut of professional training to help develop its economy, brain drain has always been a problem especially to Europe and the United States. 

Academics describe that the “push factors” such as low pay, poor working conditions, and poor chance for advancement or continuing development combine with “pull factors” such as higher salaries, children’s education, favorable immigration policies,  career development, political and economic stability drive professionals to leave their home country. Restrictive policies to trap professionals are against United Nations principles and just add to unrest.

Before the onset of the Ethiopian Tigray conflict Ethiopia had one of the fastest growing economies in Africa. While the salaries of professionals remained significantly lower than more developed Western democracies many young graduates elected to stay in Ethiopia because they saw that economic development was a possibility. They were motivated by helping their country, having jobs where they had significant responsibility, and also that future income would improve as the country grew. A forecast for improving political stability and quality of family life convinced them to stay.

After almost a year of war that saw severe devastation of not only Tigray but now spreading to Amhara, Oromia, Afar, Somali, and SNNP. The cost of war has rendered the national debt so high that the government will have little left after paying foreign debt service to invest in infrastructure development. Meanwhile the value of the birr drops to new lows every week. Professionals who never thought about leaving are now reassessing this decision in the face of uncertainty.

This past month I have had contact with many doctors, engineers, and other professionals not just Tigrayans who have left Ethiopia and do not plan to return. Many of them were Amhara from Addis Ababa who are in their third and fourth decade of life with extended families to support who see no future in Ethiopia. Even in Somaliland many merchants from Addis Ababa and other regions have been seen.

International economists have had varying ideas about what are the effects of brain drain. Certainly many professionals receive higher wages and then send remittances back to their home country. This remittances significantly improve local economies where they are received. Although diaspora may help developing countries develop most immigrants to developed countries never return to their country of birth.

In the past few years not only Ethiopia has had stability and growth in Africa. Many Ethiopian doctors and other professionals for example have recently left Addis Ababa to work in Uganda, Rwanda, Malawi where their skills are in high demand at salaries sometimes two or three times what they earn in Ethiopia. The high quality of Ethiopian university education combined with the fact that English competency is required opens the possibility for pursuit of careers in the United States, Canada, Australia, England and countries of the old British Empire.