Developing Local Talent for Capacity Building in Liberia: The Myth About Brain Drain
Syrulwa Somah, PhD
Executive Director, Liberian History, Education and Development, Inc. (LIHEDE) Greensboro, NC
Associate Professor, Environmental Health and Occupational Safety & Health
NC A&T State University, Greensboro, NC
The Edward Wilmot Blyden Forum
June 5, 2009
The President, officer, and members of the Press Union of Liberia; Members of the Press Club of the Press Union of Liberia; Present and past officials of the Liberian government; Distinguished quests, fellow Liberians, ladies and gentlemen:
I am honored by the invitation of the Press Club of the Press Union of Liberia to participate in this edition of the Edward Wilmot Blyden (Danish West Indies) Lecture Series. Dr. Blyden was a great man with many accomplishments as an educator, diploma, and a statesman. He was a great man, a lionhearted man, who worked very hard for what he believed to be true and just, in fostering peace, unity, justice, and fair play in Liberia. Dr. Blyden was a passionate educator and diplomat who did not hide his desires to see a peaceful and prosperous Liberia that cherished its African roots. In fact, I can remember reading an article in The Perspective online newsmagazine many years ago by the current secretary-general of LIHEDE, Mr. Nat G. Gbessagee, that talked a lot about Dr. Blyden’s vision of an Africanized Liberia.
Blyden expressed in his 1906 National Independence Day oration at Buchanan, Grand Bassa County, two major concerns regarding his vision for the greatness and direction of Liberia, according to Mr. Gbessagee’s article. Blyden’s first concern was about the future of Liberia beyond the 50th anniversary celebrations, and the second concern was about the need for Liberians to cherish the African roots of Liberia. The following passages from Mr. Gbessagee’s article stipulate Dr. Blyden’s views on the twin issues of the 50th anniversary of Liberia and the African linkage of Liberia:
The Republic (of Liberia) has just celebrated its Diamond Jubilee. Still Liberia is called by foreigners an experiment. Nothing of the kind has ever happened before in the world’s history. A group of returned exiles - refugees from the house of bondage - settled along a few hundred miles of the coast of their Fatherland, attempting to rule millions of people, their own kith and kin, on a foreign system in which they themselves have been imperfectly trained, while knowing very little of the facts of the history of the people they assume to rule, either social, economic or religious, and taking for granted that the religious and social theories they have brought from across the sea must be adapted to all the need of their unexpatriated brethren.
Liberia is a little bit of South Carolina, of Georgia, of Virginia - that is to say - of the ostracized, suppressed, depressed elements of these states - tacked on to West Africa - a most incongruous combination, with no reasonable prospect of success; and further complicated by additions from other sources. We take a bit from England, a bit from France, a little bit from Germany, and try to compromise with all. We have no definite plan, no dominating race conception, with really nothing to help us from behind - the scene whence we came - and nothing to guide us from before the goal to which we are tending or should tend... We are severed from the parent stock - the aborigines - who are the root, branch, and flower of Africa and of any Negro State in Africa" (Gbessagee, “Liberia: Who Are We?” The Perspective, Nov. 2002).
The foregoing two passages from Dr. Blyden’s 1906 speech make Dr. Blyden a visionary because the very issues he talked about 102 years ago are the very issues we face in Liberia today, and even more if we add current socioeconomic and political developments in the country. Liberia has become so westernized in the last 102 years since Dr. Blyden’s speech that Dr. Blyden would be greatly disappointed in the sad direction of our homeland if he were alive today. But beyond the identity crisis facing all Liberians today, the issue of “brain drain” has become the new excuse for lack of unity, peace, and meaningful development in Liberia. I hear everywhere I go these days that Liberia or Africa is suffering from a huge “brain drain” in terms of professional human manpower. And in the case of Liberia, the common excuse has been that the 14-year civil war caused such a “brain drain” that a huge manpower vacuum now exists in Liberia for which people from around the world are being recruited on a daily basis to help Liberia rebuild. And I will be one of the first persons to concur that the civil war caused very huge damages to Liberia, both in terms of manpower and infrastructural development, but is Liberia or Africa suffering from a massive “brain drain”? What might be the answer to the question by you ladies and gentlemen in this audience? I hope your answer is not to confirm that Liberia is suffering from a brain drain. For if you did, then you just might be contributing to the myth about “brain drain” in Liberia and Africa. Or is “brain drain” really a reality in Liberia today?
Well, for too long we Liberians and Africans have only lined up row upon row with our mouths opened and our eyes gazing about in our self-pity zones waiting to be told in books, news specials, and documentaries; IMF and World Bank meetings, and on American and European talk-shows, radios (BBC, VOA, and CNN), and TV cartoons that Liberians and other Africans cannot compete with the non-Africans due to “brain drain”—the shortage of professional manpower. As a result of these constant bombardments that Liberia and other African nations are suffering from massive brain drain, American and European "experts” have begun to run the affairs of Liberia and other such nations, by designing, approving, and implementing various socioeconomic development projects for us.
Lingering impacts of colonial legacy
I therefore believe that one of the lingering impacts that colonial legacy continues to have on African or Third World Nations like Liberia is the notion that we are so brain drain that we can do nothing for ourselves without the help of so-called foreign experts. And so it has become a modern global phenomenon for African nations to be saturated with water purification experts, soil and irrigation experts, malaria experts, military experts, monetary and financial management experts, procurement experts, civil society experts, education experts, health experts, media experts, and even coughing experts, if you will, to help Liberia and other African countries make progress. But is the notion that African nations such as Liberia are suffering from a massive brain drain in every sphere of human endeavor a myth or a reality? This is the question I want you—the Liberian media experts, education experts, public policy experts, economics and management experts, health experts, and other professional experts at this forum—to join me in answering, as together we navigate the topic: “Developing Local Talent for Capacity Building in Liberia: The Myth about Brain Drain.” I believe that all is not lost in Liberia and other African nations when it comes to available experts in all professional fields of human endeavors as we have been made to believe, but we in Liberia and Africa will continue to feel sorry for ourselves unless we take the gamble to chart our own course and develop our own local talents for national capacity building.
History tells us not only that notable African empires like Mali, Ghana, and Songhai were places of great intellectual pursuits, but also that we Africans managed our own affairs for centuries before the Europeans came with their Bibles in one hand, and swords in another hand to conquer our homeland. The colonial intruders therefore succeeded in imposing their rule on African and other Third World countries, including Liberia. The intruders have also made it impossible for our people to regain independence and use our ability to govern ourselves, employ ourselves, and depend on our brains, unless we learn to work with western institutions and use western experts at the helm of every development. Just look around Liberia today and it will not be difficult to find experts from the IMF, World Bank, European Union, GEMAP, UNMIL, and the dozens of foreign-funded NGOs calling the shots. But all of this is not unique to Liberia.
The Black Continent has a long history of pride worthy of historical legacy in defense of its national sovereignty and independence against the many attempts by foreign expansionists and colonial powers, as demonstrated by the African independence movements in the late 19th century, especially in the 1960s. However, while the Black Continent got political independence, it did not get economic independence, as it continues to depend on the former colonial masters for military hardware, monetary exchanges, technological exchanges, and exchanges in almost every field or socioeconomic activity. In other words, the Black Continent’s political and economic challenges are at the pinnacle of the global agenda that is dominated by the Black Continent’s former colonial rulers. Africa is not represented in the United Nations Security Council where key decisions impacting socioeconomic and political developments on the Black Continent are discussed and approved for implementation. It is as if to confirm that there was no serious appreciation of the implications for political independence, socioeconomic transformations, and human capital development on the Black Continent by the architects of the de-colonization movement that blanketed the conscience of people in Africa for so long.
Now, somewhere in this process of de-colonization, we in Liberia and Africa lost appreciation for the spiritual and cultural values dearest to us at large—those spiritual and social practices that sustained us through the centuries before colonization created two breeds of Africans. The first group of Africans which holds allegiance to the way of life of the colonial masters are called the mentally colonized Africans, while the second group of Africans which opposed total elimination of colonial influences on the African continent are called the African traditionalists. The mentally colonized group not only followed the colonial masters’ blueprint by receiving money, tokens, and suppressive weaponry to suppress and control fellow Africans, but also adopted the mindset that anything written or said by the oppressor was carved in stone, and everyone else had to get with the program. The mentally colonized continued to support and sustain institutions created by the colonial masters, and they are even prepared to sell out family members, coworkers, fellow kinfolks and citizens, natural resources, and anything or anyone to placate the colonial masters. And as stewards of the colonial masters, mentally colonized Africans don’t usually have time to investigate or research history or current events to ascertain the truth or falsity of such events, as they are inclined to believe whatever the colonial masters told them. The mentally colonized Africans are what the Bassa man calls, “Dyu meni vehnneh”, meaning “King of child play,” as regards socioeconomic development of Africa.
The African traditionalists, on the other hand, were Africans who wanted to liberate African minds from the umbilical cord of colonial linkage, and educate Africans in their birth/mother tongue, and cultures. The African traditionalists wanted very much for African nations to produce their own food, create their own political and economic systems, and develop industries and intellectual pursuits that avoided any economic, educational, military, and political systems the colonial masters had introduced on the Black Continent. These African traditionalists once drove the colonizers out of Africa, but the colonizers returned to the Black Continent through the “back door” to re-establish the crutches of colonialism, with the help of the mentally colonized Africans. These African traditionalists were over-empowered by the colonizers in many respects, and their dreams for an African Black Continent free of the residual influences and other effects of European colonialism were interrupted or short-lived. Hence, the question of whether or not the issue of “brain drain” in Liberia and other African countries can be seen as an extension of the philosophical fight between the African traditionalists and the mentally colonized Africans regarding which direction Africa should take in its development aspirations. And the key consideration in this regard is whether or not the African Black Continent can be developed to the delight of all Africans with or without the assistance and influence of the colonizers.
Three Main Arguments
To this end, I want to devote my presentation to you this morning to three key arguments as to whether or not Liberia and other African countries are suffering from massive brain drain, as many of us have been made to believe. My first argument is that “brain drain” is a political ploy used by the former colonial masters to control Africans and their resources. My second argument is that unless Liberians and other Africans learn to depend on themselves by using local talent to develop the necessary local human capacity, the prevailing notion about “brain drain” in Liberia will never be defeated. My third argument is that speculations about “brain drain” in Liberia will continue to be a serious hindrance to the socioeconomic growth and development of Liberia unless Liberian authorities, and Liberians in general, get to appreciate the diversity of Liberian talents by giving first preference in employment in Liberia to Liberians educated at home and abroad, and stop the current dependency on non-Liberian experts for provision of technical and managerial services to the Liberian nation and people. These are the three key arguments of my presentation, and I shall now invite you to join me in exploring these three arguments before I summarize my presentation with a few recommendations of what I consider the way forward.
On my first argument regarding “brain drain” being a political ploy by the former colonial masters to control Liberian and fellow African resources, I think the evidence is plentiful. First, I don’t know about you, but from the time I was a little boy growing up in Liberia, I always wondered why almost all the senior management executives at LAMCO, Bong Mines, BF Goodrich, and other companies across Liberia were mostly white men rather than Liberian men and women. Similarly, I wanted to know why almost all the black persons in junior executive management positions at these same companies were Nigerians, Ghanaians, and Sierra Leoneans rather than Liberian men and women. But I have since come to realize that the major excuse given in each case was that of “brain drain” or the lack of professional Liberians to occupy such senior and junior management posts at companies that made millions of dollars from the natural resources of Liberia. And “brain drain” or lack of professional Natives was the same reason given when I asked my parents and older relatives, and my friends why many cabinet ministers, directors, and other officials in the Liberian government did not come from my village or chiefdom, and the nearby villages and chiefdoms. Hence, from the time I was a little boy up to this time in my adult life, “brain drain” has been the most common excuse given for non-blacks and non-Liberians holding most of the key policymaking posts inside and outside the Liberian government.
However, is it true that “brain drain” is the main reason why LAMCO, Bong Mines, BF Goodrich, and other companies operating in the gold, diamond, rubber, and iron ore industries of Liberia, and depleting the natural resources of Liberia, failed to hire Liberians in top managerial posts? Are Liberians so dull that these companies could not find suitable Liberians with the mental, physical, and psychological capacities to train to take up senior management posts in these companies within the 30, 40, and 50 or more years some of them operated in Liberia? Was “brain drain” the main reason why citizens from countries bordering Liberia were preferred—and maybe still—for employment considerations in the public and private sectors of Liberia, as compared to hiring and training Liberians to serve in those managerial and senior administrative positions? To me, the answer to each of these questions is a resounding NO. I do not think it can take 20, 30, 40, or 50 years to train a Liberian to become a general manager of LAMCO, Bong Mines, and other such companies. And this is why I think “brain drain” was and still is being used as a ploy to exploit the natural resources of Liberia to enrich non-Liberians and a few greedy Liberian politicians at the disadvantage and detriment of the majority of Liberians.
But I’ll tell you this much. In the 1950s, Argentine economist Raul Probisch and German development economist Sir Hans Wolfgang Singer developed the Probisch-Singer thesis, which provided the foundation for what is known today as the “dependency theory,” a theory that, in essence, argues that in order for the rich and industrialized nations to maintain their princely lifestyles, they usually undertake to remove mineral and other natural resources from poor and developing countries. In other words, the steady flow of resources from developing countries such as Liberia to the developed countries such as the United States creates a sort of dependency by which the developing countries must depend on the developed countries for vehicles, airplanes, agricultural tools, telecommunication equipment and such resources rather than produce these tools and equipment in developing countries from which the mineral resources are being extracted by the rich nations.
In fact, Theotonio dos Santos, a Brazilian economist, professor, and researcher, and president of the United Nations University on Global Economy and Sustainable Development has provided a greater insight on dependency theory in relation to African nations like Liberia. In the ‘”Structure of Dependency,” dos Santos wrote that “[Dependency is]...an historical condition which shapes a certain structure of the world economy such that it favors some countries to the detriment of others and limits the development possibilities of the subordinate economics...a situation in which the economy of a certain group of countries is conditioned by the development and expansion of another economy, to which their own is subjected” (source). In like manner, historian Walter Rodney of Guyana posits in How Europe Underdeveloped Africa that "African economies are integrated into the very structure of the developed capitalist economies; and they are integrated in a manner that is unfavourable to Africa and ensures that Africa is dependent on the big capitalist countries” (source). He also argued that underlying this “structural dependence,” or unequaled relationship between the rich and poor nations, with respect to natural resource explorations, exploitations, and capital flights, is a set of “characteristics of underdevelopment” (source) that creates an un-avoided parent-child relationship between the rich and poor countries. In Rodney’s view, “When a child or the young of any animal species ceases to be dependent upon its mother for food and protection, it can be said to have developed in the direction of maturity,” (source) but just as a child might not be considered grown enough to strike it out on its own by continuing to depend on the parents for everything, so too “Dependent nations can never be considered developed” (source) unless they begin to explore and exploit their own natural resources locally to stimulate local socioeconomic development and increase their capital margin in the global economy.
Now, I hope you understand that based on the sort of dependency relationship that exists between the rich industrialized nations like the U.S., France, Germany, Canada, Italy, and The Netherlands and poor underdeveloped nations like Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone, one cannot truly argue that the key issues at stake here are about “brain drain.” First, all of these technical explanations about the dependency theory by dos Santos, Rodney, Probisch-Singer, and others in regard to rich-poor nations relationships, especially economic relationship, only point to the fact that once the rich nations established formal controls in developing nations like Liberia, they could not be easily removed. Just look around Liberia and other countries in Africa today and you will find all sorts of experts from the rich nations running things. The rich nations usually exercise control over the mineral and natural resources of developing nations by ensuring that all natural resources or profits in nations like Liberia are sent back to nations that are sending these experts to supposedly develop Africa, thereby undermining domestic reinvestment, causing capital flight, and hindering local socioeconomic growth.
Second, I believe that there is a direct link between a “brain drain” in Liberia and other African nations and the maintenance of the dependency theory that mostly reaps huge benefits to people of the industrialized nations than for Liberia and other developing nations. And this is why I believe that the idea of a “brain drain” in Liberia and sister African countries is a ploy in that economic growth in the advanced industrialized countries will not happen if Liberia and other African nations were allowed to rely on local brain power to develop their own economic systems and local industries that most benefit the Liberian people, as opposed to western experts designing, approving, and implementing basic systems for Liberia. In other words, the way the current world systems are set up, it wouldn’t matter if Liberia had all the best brains in the world because economic activities in the richer countries will by design continue to lead to serious economic problems in poor African countries such as Liberia.
At present, the world economic systems dictate that developing nations like Liberia are required to export primary mineral and natural resources to the rich, industrialized nations which in turn will produce manufactured products and other commodities from these mineral and natural resources and sell the commodities back to the poorer countries at exorbitant prices. At the same time that this sort of exploitation is taking place, the industrialized countries continued to send so-called “technical or management experts” to the developing countries to control the natural resources of those countries under the pretext that a “brain drain” crisis exists in those countries for which experts from the rich nations would be necessary to smooth over things. But really? Does this kind of scenario pertain to the lack of trained local manpower as the phrase “brain drain” implies, or does the scenario present a clever scheme by the rich nations to control and exploit the natural resources of developing nations such as Liberia?
I should think, though, that in the scenario given, the main object is not to abate the problem of brain drain but to create a system of dependency through manipulation and exploitation. For if the real concern of the rich nations sending their “experts” to Liberia and other African nations was to help these developing nations with the problem of “brain drain,” then the natural course of action would have been for industrialized nations to build some of the major manufacturing plants and factories in Liberia and other nations of mineral extraction and train the Liberians to man the steel processing plants, tire manufacturing plants, and railways systems in Liberia. Instead we have natural resources and they have the machines, and instead of sharing the technology equally, they want to take all—both the technology and the natural resources. And the problem is any African leaders that opposed the rich nations could trigger serious drops in world market prices of such commodities as cocoa, coffee, iron ore, diamonds, gold, etc, or the military or political overthrow of the incumbent leaders. President Kweme Nkrumah and other African leaders who wanted to unite Africa through a union called United States of Africa soon found themselves out of power. And rumors have been that President William R. Tolbert, Jr. of Liberia met his fate when he tried to promote a non-aligned foreign policy and socioeconomic policy that deviated from the policies of his predecessors, which policies were based on complete dependency on the U.S. In essence, the problem of underdevelopment in Liberia and other African nations might not necessarily be the direct result of “brain drain,” but rather an intentional or sinister design by the rich nations to keep poor and developing nations like Liberia in a dependency queue. The thousands of experts from the developed nations who have visited Liberia in the past, and even at present, to spearhead development initiatives in Liberia took the Liberian iron ore, rubber products, and other resources away and built no college to train Liberian engineers, and factories to produce finished iron ore and rubber-related commodities in Liberia. Is this sort of outcome still a matter of “brain drain”? I don’t think so.
The second point of my argument is that unless Liberians and other Africans learn to depend on themselves by using local talent to develop the necessary local human capacity, the prevailing notion about “brain drain” in Liberia will never be defeated. And I think you know exactly what I mean if you consider that in Liberia today, we tend to value people, goods, services, and even food items from outside Liberia than we value fellow Liberians, Liberian goods, Liberian services, and Liberian foods. Generally, Liberians are known for the following:
- We have much higher taste for other people’s food—food items from outside Liberia—than our local Liberian food.
- We value people with education from outside Liberia than people who got their education inside Liberia.
- We prefer to hire and pay non-Liberians, especially European and American “experts,” more money and reward them with more incentives than we are prepared to offer Liberian citizens and experts.
- We have the habit of underutilizing our human resources by placing people trained in one profession to work in professions for which they have little or no training.
- We do not respect one another so we are never willing to accept ideas of our subordinates, peers, and rivals because we think we will make such persons more known than ourselves or that the person might take over our jobs.
- We deliberately set job criteria based on college degrees and other qualifications our learning institutions do not offer.
As a result of these acts of self-destruction, my brothers and sisters, the citizens of Liberia and other African countries have continued to look to foreign, non-African experts for basically every local development initiative instead of relying on local professional talents and experts for such initiatives. Liberia and other African countries also have abundance of natural resources along with local talents in the fields of music, dance, sports, arts, and ceramic and clothing designs, yet many Liberians and fellow Africans will not feel fulfilled in their lives unless they acquire academic and professional degrees from American and European schools, or play in European and American soccer leagues when West Africa alone could have organized annual soccer leagues to showcase talented soccer players from Liberia and the remaining nations of the West African sub-region. Worst still, it is sad to note that while Africa produces some of the best soccer players in the world, almost all of the national soccer coaches in Africa are Europeans. Now, you tell me, is this sort of outcome a problem of “brain drain” or a problem associated with lack of respect for the development and promotion of local talents? I will choose the latter rather than the former for reasons that have been very obvious throughout this presentation.
I think I have already established problems undermining the developments of Liberia and other African countries are not the result of “brain drain,” but rather the underutilization of the existing local brains and talents in the socioeconomic development process. For Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu was right to declare the following aphorism centuries ago: "Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for life." I think while many have attempted various interpretations of this proverb over the years, one can still deduce the meaning of that proverb in the context of “brain drain” that self-sufficiency in the national development goals and aspirations of any group is based almost entirely on the full development and utilization of local professional, managerial, and artistic talents rather than on outside or foreign professional, managerial, and artistic talents. So if we in Liberia are to survive as a nation and people, we must develop, promote, and harness all available local talents that bespeak of the greatness and independence of Liberia.
I should also remind all of us that we Liberians have the right to self-preservation by depending on our own talents and know-how. For in times past, a country did not depend on military officers and generals from other countries for national defense. Military generals throughout history won wars by identifying the bravery of and talents in individual citizens and developing those talents in defense of the country through trainings centered around patriotism and allegiance to the nation. Everyone and every military unit from the squad to the battalion, and from land, sea, and air knew that their duty as military officers and units was to defend the country rather than destroy it. And these are examples that tell us about a lot of the things we do as Liberians and Africans. These examples point to the very systems under which we operate in Liberia and other African countries, which make us to always think that we lack the necessary local talents and brains to depend on in building our socioeconomic development infrastructures.
As a result, we in Liberia and other African countries have continued to rely on outside experts to come plant our potatoes greens; harvest the greens for us; cut and cook the greens for us, and all we have to do at that point is to sit and each the greens. And this is the case because for some of us who do not want to cut the greens, we do not even want to allow our fellow countrymen and women who know how to cut the greens to do so. Hence, we tend to prefer outside help in that we regard because we tend to think that their brains are better than ours, including their education, their food, their language, their clothing, and the list goes on. But how do we in Liberia expect to survive as a nation and people when we are not even willing to listen to one another and cooperate with one another? For even in the animal and plants kingdoms, all species survive as a colony. Go look at the black gravel ants, and you will learn that these ants have leaned to work together more than we are prepared to do in Liberia. Just make a mistake and step into colony of gravel ants bare footed and you will realize that gravel ants are united in the defense of one another in search of food and other matters.
Liberia is in turmoil today because Liberians do not like one another and our own kind. Liberians have helped to advance the American and European socioeconomic and geopolitical agenda in Liberia by telling fellow Liberians that the western brain is better than Liberian brain, although no scientific reasons exist for Liberians to harbor such a mindset. We prefer in Liberia to make foreigners our economic, monetary, political, and military advisors when qualified Liberians are walking the streets in their last pairs of shoes and coat suits in search of gainful employment to feed themselves and their families. Moreover, we have the tendency in Liberia to give more weight to professional and academic college degrees from European and American colleges and universities than professional and academic degrees earned at Liberian colleges and universities. Again, this sort of mindset bespeaks not about “brain drain” but about the lack of respect for local intellectual, professional, and creative talents. And the sad part is that we fought war in this nation, isn’t it? We fought not because there were conflict between the men and the women of Liberia; conflicts between selected ethnic groups in Liberia, or conflict between Liberia and another country. Rather we fought a civil war in Liberia because some of us felt that we were not benefiting from what the Liberian nation has to offer to every citizen, in light of the country’s abundant natural resources and small human population.
Finally, we got wearied of the war and decided to come together to rebuild our homeland. But what is happening in the rebuilding process is some of the things that led us to fight among ourselves. We are seeing some elements of divisions as opposed to elements of national unity and oneness. The issue of “them vs. us” is well-pronounced both in the Liberian Diaspora and Liberia today. People are afraid that others want to take their jobs, even where free services are being provided. And so this is not an issue of brain drain because the brains are available to contribute to the reconstruction of Liberia. But when a Nigerian general is hired to reorganize the Liberian military while career Liberian military officers and generals walked the streets unend in search of job, then the issue is well beyond a serious “brain drain” problem in Liberia. We do not use the full capacity of our people in Liberia, so we are not likely to reap the desired benefits to the national reconstruction process unless we begin to develop and promote local Liberian professional, managerial, and creative talents to take over leadership positions in Liberia.
Liberians will need a new mindset that will listen to the views, opinions, and wise counsels of Liberians inside and outside government service. In other words, the new Liberia need a group of national leaders who will be open to and take advantage of criticisms and suggestions from a cross-section of Liberians without branding persons uttering such criticisms and suggestions as enemies of the state. Ethnic and racial hatred, a tactic which tyrants use to divide and rule, remain the key pillars of our social, economic, political, cultural, religious, and educational institutions in Liberia, thereby contributing to an untreatable cancerous crisis and political shortsightedness in the Liberian society. Again, fear, mistrust, and distrust of one another are some of the key problems undermining socioeconomic growth and development in Liberia and not brain drain. We already have the local talents and brains, but we must be prepared to welcome and appreciate points of views of every Liberian, regardless of the person’s social status, education, or ethnic background, if we wish to make developmental progress in Liberia. We must not permit ethnic hatred and political dictatorship to germinate in the 4th Liberian Republic as in the past. We must accord due respect to every Liberian, and we must embrace good governance and the rule of law in the 4th Liberian Republic and beyond. At least these are the thoughts that crossed my mind when I declared that my second argument is that unless Liberians and other Africans learn to depend on themselves by using local talent to develop the necessary local human capacity, the prevailing notion about “brain drain” in Liberia will never be defeated.
My third argument, of course, is that speculations about “brain drain” in Liberia will continue to be a serious hindrance to the socioeconomic growth and development of Liberia unless Liberian authorities, and Liberians in general, get to appreciate the diversity of Liberian talents by giving first preference in employment in Liberia to Liberians educated at home and abroad, and stop the current dependency on non-Liberian experts for provision of technical and managerial services to the Liberian nation and people. Just look around you. In a country with unemployment rate as high as 85 percent as per public and private estimates, key jobs are given mostly to people imported from abroad rather than to new graduates of local Liberian universities and Liberian professionals stationed in Liberia. There are also issues of underbidding of Liberian owned businesses in public and private contracts by some of the companies from the home nations of our international partners, while local public and private firms, like the central Liberian government, are bent on hiring not local Liberian professional, managerial, and administrative talents, but non-Liberians. I would, therefore, suggest that to not hire qualified Liberians is to say that Liberian money is good for expatriates and not educated Liberians locally or abroad with the same qualification. This mindset is a great peril to our own development because it is a known fact that in nations like US, UK, and even in our neighboring Ghana, certain jobs are restricted to only citizens of those nations.
Liberia must adopt the same practice as the US, UK, and Ghana in restricting certain Liberian jobs to Liberians only. Liberia must use whatever manpower it has and develop the manpower it wants, but Liberia should never to use what it doesn’t have. I am convinced that the best use of what we’ve got will encourage Liberians with professional talents to still in Liberia and work rather than go abroad to work. In other words, we in Liberia must learn to embrace our diversity and reward people with senior and junior administrative and managerial jobs in government based on individual talents rather than friendship or political party affiliation.
Ladies and gentlemen, we should never be afraid of one another’s professional experience and educational qualifications to the extent that we continued rely on foreign professionals and experts to develop our homeland when we have ready supply of competent Liberian professionals and experts to render services to the Liberian nation and people. Liberia should not for any reasons continue to subject itself to massive underdevelopment and exploitation of its national resources by outsiders due to fear of one another. Hence, I do hope that in my lifetime, Liberia will go beyond the personality cult and the “he’s my friend” doctrine in public employment by undertaking to attract more local professional talents to the Liberian workforce and abolish or minimize the current dependency on foreign professional workers. Liberia currently has local professional talents to join the public service and unleash their many ideas on what it takes to create winning Liberian nation-state and an African continent allergic to poverty. For history will not judge our generations by what we did not do but what we did. So we cannot continue to cry “brain drain” in Liberia when we have yet to make maximum use of the local talents and brains, and associated educated people in our amidst simply because we are either afraid that if we hire someone smarter them us they will take over our jobs.
The time has come in Liberia that we must begin to hire people based on professional, administrative, managerial, and creative talents, and avoid not hiring fellow Liberians because they are not members of our political parties and social clubs, or because they disagreed with us in principle in the past on certain issues or policy decisions. And we in Liberia must also avoid the destructive attitude that because a person’s party defeated your party in an election, you might not be inclined to work with that person in the service of the Liberian people. Some people have even gone as far as spreading rumors and lies to keep other good Liberians out of employment by poisoning the minds of national leaders. For the most part, it is very important that we put all our talents and brains to work in Liberia if ever wished to get beyond the issue of “brain drain” in Liberia–whether a myth or a reality—and work to build and sustain the local Liberian economy. In other words, we must hire our fellow Liberians in the new Liberia based on their professional background and capability to honorably use their knowledge selflessness for the growth and development of the Liberian nation and people.
The Liberian government and people must understand that no foreigners will leave their homes and families to travel to Liberia to work just make sacrifice. That will not happen. Every foreigner in Liberia right now is here to make money through direct employment with public or private Liberian entity, or by exploiting the natural resources of Liberia. Even the people who come to Liberia to perform charity work as missionaries and health workers usually return to their home countries reap tons of money by writing books on their Liberian and African experience, and undertaking speaking engagements as “experts” on Liberian and African affairs. And for Liberians and persons of Liberian origin who work in Liberia but still have their families in other countries, the sad story is that most of the monies they make in Liberia are sent abroad for upkeep of their families and making any real investments in the Liberian economy. Hence, the solution the problems of capital flight and lack of activity participation in the socioeconomic growth of Liberia can lies in developing and hiring professional and managerial talents already living in Liberia, by reducing the import of Liberian professionals stationed abroad or relying on foreign non-Liberian “experts” to run the affairs of Liberia. .
Widespread poverty, illiteracy, malnutrition, and inadequate water supply and sanitation, as well as poor health, affect a large majority of our people who reside in the new Liberia, where the population is living on under $1 per day. And to make matter worst, though Liberia has 3.6 million people with 350, 0 00 academic and professional degree holders worldwide, it is said that Liberia is suffering from a “brain drain” severe enough to be unable to deliver key public services, drive economic growth, and articulate calls for greater democracy and development. I take exception to this colonial hoodwink, at least in the case of Liberia where “brain misplacement” in key administrative and managerial posts rather than “brain drain” is the problem.
Liberia must, like the U.S. and other nations, have a better system in place for hiring the best Liberian brains or professional talents in public service jobs, with clear 360 evaluations. I believe where there are high professional standards, productivity and general job performance in the public service will increase because the people will know that the officials set over them will act consistently, and that where inconsistent exists, complaints can be made and will be listened to and addressed appropriately.
All nations can self-develop if people are hired based on qualification is well rooted. And Liberia can develop if Liberians with the requisite training and professional experience are put to work and empowered to find creative ways to develop Liberia. We must, therefore, teach our government and people to be critical, to examine the facts that lie behind popular theories, to explore alternate theories, and to test ideas and assumptions against the prevailing “brain drain.” We can do better in Liberia but we must first join our resources together and work toward the common good of Liberia.
The Way Forward
So what actually is the “brain drain” our nation is suffering from? Is it a “brain drain” of lack or loss of intellectual and technical human resources or is it a “brain drain” of pure neglect in utilizing local Liberian talents in key administrative and managerial posts? Indeed, it is true that Liberia is not today the most favorable geographic, economic, or professional environment for rapid socioeconomic growth and development due to residual effects of the 14-year civil war and lack of employment opportunity and associated social and health hazards, but is the best solution to Liberia’s socioeconomic recovery and national reconstruction complete reliance on handouts from donor countries? Should Liberia not begin to develop its local talents for national capacity building? Again, the latter option might be most preferable than the former option, if Liberia must develop and sustain itself as a nation-state.
Liberia can develop and sustain itself as a nation-state through national capacity building by not only attempting to bring qualified Liberians home from abroad on short-term and long-term basis to work in Liberia, but also by developing a professional workforce in Liberia by sponsoring talented Liberian students to obtain college education or vocational and technical education at home and abroad and join the local workforce. An independent body should also be set up to regulate the flow of professionals on long-term and short-term administrative and managerial assignments in Liberia. College graduates who would like to pursue professional academic careers in engineering, mathematics, science, or medicine should be encouraged by the government through sponsorship to develop their talents in those areas.
The choice, therefore, to make Liberia live up to the expectations of its citizens lies with Liberian brains because a functioning Liberian nation must be a Liberian priority. And the fundamental reality is that Liberia needs her manpower talents to ensure innovation, build institutions, and implement programs—the key pillars of long-term development. However, when our nation’s most skilled people are continuously being overlooked at a high rate and excluded from participating meaningfully in the reconstruction of Liberia because we see them as not members of our political parties, or too smart for us to work with, then such attitude is invariably a signal of deep and significant problems in our nation. I believe that the checkered history of foreign aid in Liberia clearly illustrates the severe limitations of what outsiders can do to develop Liberia. Like foreign aid, Diaspora Liberians can facilitate (and sometimes harm) development, but they cannot by themselves fundamentally improve the development prospects of a country. And while financial remittances by Diaspora Liberians are helpful for the Liberian economy, they are not a substitute for institutional building and human capital development.
I believe that there is on this horizon of Liberian tropical sky, as yet only dimly perceived, a new dawn of conscience on how brain drain abuses or discriminates. In that purer light, Liberians will come to see themselves and the development of their nation in each other, which is to say we will make ourselves known to one another by our similarities rather than by our differences in our political affiliation. Our knowledge of things will begin to spread like rice seed to be equaled to our knowledge of nation. The significance of Liberia’s development should be measured not in terms of European and American brain advantage, but in terms of advantage for our own Liberian brains. It will be the triumph of the heartbeat over the drumbeat the day we take complete charge of our own destiny in Liberia by developing our local talents for capacity building in Liberia. Thanks for listening.
Dos Santos, Theotonio. "The Structure of Dependence," in K.T. Fann and Donald C. Hodges, eds. Readings in U.S. Imperialism. Boston: Porter Sargent, 1971. 226
Rodney, Walter. How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. Dar-Es-Salaam & London: Bogle-L'Ouverture Publications, and Tanzanian Publishing House. 1973. 6th reprint. 1983.
Gbessagee, Nathaniel, G. “Liberia: Who Are We” The Perspective. November 2002. Retrieved 5/30/08 from http://www.theperspective.org/whoarewe.html