Africa calling for Africans

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Will the opportunity at home be enough for Africa’s talented diaspora?

It’s a traditional tale. African nationals – who have the means and inclination – leave the familiarity of their home country in search of a better job, a better education and a better life abroad. Meanwhile, the exodus has left the continent struggling with a brain drain that, to a certain extent, has stunted the continent’s development.

As a result, African companies have often relied on expensive expatriates to fill the talent gap. This, however, causes some resentment between locals and international workers: according to a recent study by EY, approximately one in three expatriates in executive positions earns on average three times more than their local counterparts. Difficulties in integrating to a new society also remain a factor.

However, as opportunities in more developed regions continue to decline, opportunities back home are becoming a lot more attractive to those Africans who thought the continent could do nothing for them. As EY highlights, African companies are starting to hire from the returning diaspora for reasons of cost and experience.

The African diaspora have the added advantage of international experience combined with a local connection, providing them with a distinct view on African development precisely because they have experienced both worlds. 

Hiring returning Africans could also help companies localize their businesses. There are even dedicated institutions, such as the African Leadership Academy, which invest in young African people to study abroad with the intention that they return to the continent to work.

But some of the diaspora have also been finding it hard to fit in. While desperate to make a contribution to their home countries, they are often painted with the same brush as the expatriates who initially occupied local and regional African businesses. In some cases, they no longer speak their native languages or have few family members left in their home country and sometimes they find they have little in common with the locals. While expertise is returning to Africa, these Africans are in many cases still regarded as the 'other’.

Bringing internationally taught expertise and skills back to Africa will help develop the continent, and there is no doubt that opportunities in Africa are rife. But while a life abroad may not offer what Africans hope for, neither is it guaranteed that a life back home will be easy either.