A.B. Assensoh -- who serves as Professor and Director of Graduate Studies and Admissions on the Bloomington campus of the Indiana University System -- adds some words to the debate on "brain drain/gain" and corruption".
The discussions on "brain drain/gain"(Ebere) and "corruption" (USA/Africa Dialogue, No.76), like several other submissions, were very useful. In terms of "brain drain/gain", I wish to add a few nuances that I learned from Gunnar Myrdal of the American Dilemma fame. When I first met this great scholar at the University of Stockholm (or Stockholms Universitet), he wanted to know my future plans, after my studies in several places in Europe, including his own Sweden. "I plan to earn my academic degrees and return to Ghana to work because I do not want to add my name to those causing brain drain by staying overseas..." Professor Myrdal smiled politely, but he was on his way to a meeting, so he decided to meet with me again, next time over lunch, and we did meet. His explanations were very instructive and, indeed, it was then that I realized that my intellectual or even academic understanding of "brain drain" was upside down!
First, Professor Myrdal talked to me about ethnic (tribal) factors in several places in the Third World, particularly in Africa. He also inquired of my own ethnic (tribal) affiliation in Ghana, etc. He then went on say that he knew several African scholars that worked under his academic supervision, who could not return home for several (mostly political and economic) reasons. It is a long time ago, but I still remember that he said something like this: "Some of them called themselves President of their student associations, and their political leaders back home saw that as an affront to the only President their nation has ever known since independence...". Professor Myrdal further explained why some of his former doctoral students were still stucked in perpetual exile. This, in fact. is also why I take it as a brotherly compliment when Professor Wole Soyinka addresses me as "A.B., the ancient exile"!
Professeor Myrdal went on to add that, on more than half dozen occasions, he had to raise funds to help Amnesty International and International P.E.N. writers' association to buy airline tickets to bring back to Sweden (or some where in Europe) some of his former students, often from African prisons. There were also, as he further explained, instances when his former students went home (armed with earned doctoral degrees and high hopes) to settle down. Sadly, these former students would learn to their dismay that -- being in the "wrong" ethnic (or tribal) group, which is often the opposite of the ethnic group (or tribe) of the political elite that is in power -- they could not find gainful employment to do. When they complained publicly, they were branded saboteurs or treasonable, foreign agents, arrested and clamped in local jails. "To me, that is brain drain. After all, brain drain is not when foreign students, upon completing their studies but fearing political and other repressive consequences, decide to stay abroad and still work hard to send money to help their people, sums of money that also help the economies of the very government that would not give these people jobs back home...," Myrdal felt. Maybe, to use the modern interpretation of Professor Owundiwe (Ebere), that is also "brain gain" in a way!
In terms of corruption, Professor Mbaku (John) said it well in an eloquent manner. However, what is sad is that the "do and die" corruption of several leaders in Africa leaves our people desperate, hopeless and even destitute. While corruption in the advanced economies often allow the corrupt funds to circulate around freely, our corrupt people (back in Africa) physically carry the money to overseas banking accounts, especially to deposit the stolen funds in Swiss and other banks, when it was easy to do so. When some of these corrupt politicians were assassinated or clamped in jail for life, the funds could not be retrieved.
That was why, in 1994, my late grandfather sadly asked me: "Akwasi, can't we beg the white people to return to help us? Our independence has worsened our circumstances..." I had to explain that since Ghana received its independence on March 6, 1957, that act could not be reversed. Subsequently, I asked for the reason for my grandfather's seeming desperation? He explained that when the colonial leaders were, supposedly, cheating us, they left something for us to use or eat. "Our own leaders cheat you dry, and when you complain, they arrest and put you in jail, foten they torture you brutally. You will soon hear about how Owusu was tortured to death not long ago, his private parts and nose were all broken ...," my grandfather claimed. I certainly know that my "Agya" (grandfather) died a bitter man a few years later, and I know why that is so!
Therefore, while we read and hear a lot about financial or monetary corruption, there has also been a lot of political corruption and outright human rights violations of unlimited proportions all over Africa during colonial and post-colonial times! For example, as much as many Ghanaians of my generation still admire the late President Kwame Nkrumah, as the Osagyefo (especially for his universal "free" elementary education policies), it is still a fact that Dr. J. B. Danquah, often described by his admirers as the "Doyen" of West African or Ghanaian politics as well as several prominent Ghanaian opposition politicians, died in Nkrumah's political detention camps at Nsawam and other places like common criminals!
As the Sub-Editor (or Deputy Editor) of The Pioneer newspaper of Kumasi, Ghana, I worked under Mr. A. D. Apea, the substantive Editor, who spent almost five years in Nkrumah's political detention camp at Nsawam, reportedly, for writing editorials against Nkrumah's CPP regime; Mr. K. Kesse-Adu, our Accra City Editor, was also detained at the camp for several years. After the February 1966 anti-Nkrumah coup d'etat that freed both men and other political detainees, they often recalled the sleepless nights that they (as well as Dr. Danquah and several other political detainees) spent each night because of the deliberate bright lights (with 200+ watts bulbs) that were beamed in their eyes. Mr. Kesse-Adu's book, Ghana: The Politics of Political Detention is still very useful. Certainly, some African critics of Rene Dumont's False Start in Africa (first published in French) see that publication as an "old" book! Yet, reading Professor Mbaku's very useful analysis of corruption in Africa kept on reminding me of Dumont's own assessments of corrupt and depraved political nuances in post-colonial Africa, which prompted Dumont to see African independence as a sham. As a historian, I won't harp on or support the notion that African nations (in the late 1950s and `1960s) were not ripe for independence! Nay, never so! Yet, I still feel that, for many of our kith and kin, independence has been more of a burden (or a curse) than a blessing! Some of you, as brothers and sisters, reading this piece, may differ. But I am still optimistic that Africa will prevail in the long run, and may long live Africa!!