This weekend, the first games of the 2013 African Cup of Nations- the annual football competition – showcased a wealth of sporting talent across the continent. With many of the stars playing in Europe or elsewhere, I wondered: does this trend apply to other Africa industries? As part of our series of guest blogs on CEO Insights, I have invited Abel Myburgh, BDO Africa Desk Coordinator, to give his thoughts on the continent’s current challenge of retaining talented professionals.
Abel Myburgh, BDO Africa Desk Coordinator
One of the biggest false perceptions is that Africa is poor. The continent is one of the wealthiest in terms of natural resources, especially valuable minerals and commodities such as oil, gas and timber.
This begs the question as to why Africans aren’t among the wealthiest people in the world. Looking at the latest Forbes list of African millionaires, there are many rich Africans - a large number of them between the ages of 20 and 30. Historically, however, wealth has not translated into better living conditions for the average African.
Where does one apportion the blame: colonialism, corruption, armed conflict or the policies of the World Bank and IMF?
Some critics will say that Africans are not educated enough due to a lack of access to proper education. But 49% of African immigrants to the USA aged 25 and above have a Bachelors Degree or higher qualification, compared to 33% of Europeans, 45% of Asians, 6% of Central Americans and 25% of South Americans.
Herein lies the problem: how can Africa retain its highly educated people? Why does a country like Zambia have the biggest brain drain of any country in the world? The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) acknowledges: “The emigration of African professionals to the West is one of the greatest obstacles to Africa’s development”.
There are a number of factors that can contribute to such levels of brain drain, including low salaries, bad living conditions, social unrest, political conflict, a declining educational system, discrimination in appointments or promotions and a lack of freedom.
I find some of the statistics frightening: Africa spends US$ 4 billion annually to employ Western experts for technical assistance. Nine in ten private companies in Gabon are managed by expatriates. Half of Ethiopia’s population went abroad for training and never returned.
There is, however, scope for an appropriate regional solution. In 2008, the East African Community (EAC) - made up of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda - started a regional manpower survey in the region. Its findings will be critical in informing policy in relation to skills needed and gaps at national and regional level. I believe it is crucial that the EAC’s efforts are recognised by the other five African regions to reverse the brain drain. Success can result in harmonising efforts across regions to benefit the whole continent.
Africa’s leaders – and, crucially, business leaders - need to ensure they create an attractive environment for returning skilled expatriates . for example with:
· Higher wages and salaries
· Higher living standards
· Better working conditions and career development opportunities
· Political stability
· A modern education system
· Intellectual freedom
At BDO South Africa, we’ve employed a number of audit and accounting staff from other African countries, including Nigeria, Zambia and Zimbabwe, to further their skills development. We have also arranged secondments for numerous employees across our audit, accounting and tax divisions to the US, UK, Netherlands and China, to ensure our staff are as well trained as they can be and can offer our clients the tailored approach we are proud of. Not only do we realise the wealth of talent across the continent, we are taking responsibility for both developing it and offering opportunities right here. This means ensuring our people are equipped with the skills and experience to cater for our clients’ needs.
We pride ourselves on our exceptional service offering for clients and know that, when operating in a diverse and complex political, economic and cultural business environment, the local knowledge and expertise of our staff, combined with technical ability, is integral to helping our clients realise success. African talent forms an essential part of our workforce and enables our business to continue to grow in this part of the world.