Monday, October 01, 2007

The African Brain Drain , Slavery and Racism

Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade said he was not interested in students from his country receiving scholarships "only to have them fly off to France."

The violence, corruption and generalised poverty marring more than three decades of independence in Portugal's five former colonies in Africa have been the main obstacles for development in these countries, but not the only ones.

Brain drain is another phantom that is slowly but inexorably destroying hopes for progress and wellbeing for the people of Guinea-Bissau, which became independent in 1974, Angola, Cape Verde, Mozambique and Sao Tomé and Príncipe, which became independent in 1975 .

Skilled and academically qualified people from African countries where Portuguese is an official language often give up their status in their unstable home countries to build a new life in peaceful Portugal, even if it means sacrificing their former careers and having to take up a hastily learned, lower skilled job.

Brain drain does not only affect the former Portuguese colonies, but is a problem throughout the developing South. The editor of the monthly magazine Africa 21, Joao Matos, describes it as "planetary apartheid."

"Nicolas Sarkozy...asked on a recent visit to Senegal if it could be considered normal that there are more doctors from Benin in France than in Benin itself."Africa needs its élites, because if they all end up in France one day, who will concern themselves with the development of Senegal?"" said the Angolan writer who lives in Lisbon. But according to Matos, the French president's statements were "of doubtful sincerity." He said he does not believe that "Sarkozy would make do without the doctors from Benin who are working in France: what he really doesn't want are poor and indigent migrants, mostly from Africa."

The shaky economies of most African countries "are largely a consequence of the plundering of the continent's resources by the West, which continues to this day. It began with its most valuable resource, people, millions of whom were taken by force to far-off lands, which they helped to develop with their slave labour," Matos said.

In a article published by Angolan professor Jonuel Gonçalves, who lives in Rio de Janeiro, in the latest issue of Africa 21, entitled "Negroes and Mestizos in Latin America Today Gonçalves points out that Latin America "is the region of the world with the highest degree of 'mestizaje' (mixed ancestry), from both the biological and cultural points of view, because it was the destination of the greatest flow of slaves in history, and the way in which slavery was abolished left deep marks that still endure."

"There was no consistent programme in Latin America to help former slaves integrate into society, which condemned them to poverty and illiteracy that have lasted, to a greater or lesser degree, through the successive generations," Gonçalves says.

One of the characteristics of Latin American social structures that demonstrate this "is the extremely low representation of descendants of slaves, blacks or mestizos in decision-making," the article says. "Brazil is one of the most striking examples, in spite of having the second largest population in the world of blacks and Afro-descendants, who make up at least 45 percent of its population of 188 million. It is surpassed only by Nigeria," with 131 million people, Gonçalves says. "Cuba, for three centuries another major destination for the slave trade, has similar characteristics," because, in spite of the 1959 revolution and the country's socialist system of government, "the number of black people in the governing bodies remains very small,"

Matos acknowledges that Africans themselves are not entirely free from blame because since independence they have not managed to turn their countries into "good places to live, beginning with our own citizens, especially the young.".

Former secretary-general of the United Nations Kofi Annan , of Ghana, spoke of the problems of destructive self-racism and of "our tolerance" of African tyrants.

Angolan intellectual Arlindo Barbeitos frequently deplored the tendency for Africa to reproduce "the same ideas and models imposed by the colonial powers, such as racism, but in reverse."

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