What Ordinary Zambians feel about brain-draining their country

Malama Katulwende


I must confess that the central idea of my novel, “Bitterness”, was actually conceived in a lecture room when Professor Godfrey Lungwangwa – then senior lecturer at the University of Zambia – debated human capital flight in Third World Countries before an audience of two hundred curious students. As I listened to his arguments, I suddenly stumbled upon an idea:  How can I demonstrate the cultural, social, economic and political causes of the brain drain in a guise of a fictitious story?

The force of this question was so powerful that I stayed awake that night, scribbling away in my notebooks as the plot unfolded before my eyes. Yet as things turned out, I was to take years before the story saw the light of print in New York. “Bitterness” won an award for the best creative writing in Zambia in 2006, and the book has since been used in some prestigious universities as a textbook.

In writing the novel, then, I drew upon the experiences of lecturers, engineers, doctors, IT experts, nurses, teachers and technologists in order to understand the brain drain.  I’ve had chances to migrate, too, but I am conscious of the fact that the skills gap created back home has a cost to it. The “Blue Card” initiative – by which the European Union proposes to attract over twenty million highly skilled foreign immigrants to offset some skills shortages and the looming demographic crisis in the Union – shall only worsen the situation in Africa.

Dr. Dambisa Moyo- she could have been Minister of finance in Zambia

Recently, I asked some highly educated Zambians what they thought about ‘brain draining’ their country. Was it of benefit to them?

Thirty-six year old Chola Lange, who had decided to leave England after living away from home for more than ten years, believes that the “Blue Card” scheme will under-develop Africa.

“You know, the human resource is the greatest asset which every country possesses because it’s the foundation of development. But as long as Africans fail to retain this resource, then they shall not develop. On the other hand, it is immoral for developed countries to preach development to us while they steal our professionals. The skilled immigrants are needed here – not there. We spend so much time and money to educate them though they end up being stolen by the West. While we are paying all the costs, the West is reaping all the benefits.”

Thirty- five year old Nsama Chikwanka, who gave up the comfort of a well paying job to set up “Read Beyond Zambia” – an NGO which promotes the reading culture in the country – also thinks that emigration will not answer unless it benefited both sending and receiving countries.

“I do not agree with the reasons advanced by those who have contributed to the brain drain.  My passion is for Zambia and Africa, – and while I could contribute anywhere in the world, I have chosen to start from my backyard!”

Kiki Macfarlene, a twenty – four year old finance director, said:

“Upon returning to Zambia after my degree, I was offered a fantastic job in a family business – so I can’t leave. Besides, my job offers me security and the majority of my family resides here. I have travelled extensively and I still regard Zambia as one of the most peaceful and beautiful countries in Africa. I think there are numerous business opportunities due to many unexploited niches, which I plan to make the most of. And to top it all, the weather is fabulous!”

Thirty- three year old asset financier and entrepreneur, James Kapesa, replied philosophically:

“If Africans choose not to work for themselves but whites, they’ll have chosen poverty. A worker can never be richer than his or her employer.”

Nachama, an IT engineer at a communications company, asked:

“Why do Africans leave when everything that they can be is here? I understand that some are driven by poverty, political instability, and civil wars, but if Africa has no brains, how will she ever develop?”

Statistics indicate that emigration has strangled Africa’s growth, nurtured poverty and delayed economic development. Over 20,000 professionals emigrate each year in search of better working conditions abroad.

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6 responses to “What Ordinary Zambians feel about brain-draining their country”

  1. Rophys says:

    Thanx for the encouraging words Malama ,and indeed i shall not keep quiet for the sake of our people .We’ll utilise every platform possible to try and get our leaders attention and into having the right values that respect and consider all humans.And like you’ve said we should be the generation that has chosen to serve our country wholeheartedly for the better despite all odds. I should confess that i do enjoy reading your Soul searching articles, and you always provoke and stir something inside me each time have sat down to read something from you.Have a good Day Munyina, Kalebalika.

  2. Mwangido says:

    Each of us ,who is outside and inside the country can contribute something to mother Zambia.We have always come up with excuses about whats not working why not focus on what is and take it from there , Zambia is a peaceful country and people are always willing to help . …

  3. Malama Katulwende says:

    Rophys: Thanks again. I totally agree with you. Right now in Zambia, our leaders are busy propagating a lie that Zambia is on the right path, just as they have been doing for the last 20 years. The country ranks very low on the Human Development Index despite having great resources. Perhaps, from the Diaspora, you could make a change back home, even a small change. (I believe in the Doplar or Butterfly Effect; a small flap of wings by a butterfly can have consequences elsewhere). Forge links with our people at home; send them some money whenever you can and, pass on your ideas and experiences of how things ought to be run and why. Speak from where ever you are. Someone is bound to listen. Also, use UKZambians as a platform for change. No matter where we are, we shall always be Zambians. We musn’t despair because some corrupt leaders have taken over the reins of government; we should make this pass in our little ways…In every generation, some people choose to serve their country wholeheartedly for the better. I am sure we can do this from where we are.

  4. Rophys says:

    Thanx for your response Malama and i do understand your point of view.I wouldn’t say my being abroad has benefited my country because Zambia has lost on my skills and my contribution in the local community where i activelly participated .I agree that we need to look at the bigger picture rather than individual or personal benefits.But that is difficulty to do my Brother when most of the Country and especially our own leaders who are supposed to be becons in putting the interest of Zambians at heart,seem to be dislutioned and don’t share these values.To make matters worse they have chosen to delibertally Alieniate those who advocate for good Governance and have the interest of all Zambians at heart.How can you choose to better your country when the powers that be have chosen to continue to worst on their selfish ambitions,and you know for sure that the little contribution you’ll make will just be wasted because you don’t share values.Well ,i may have not contibuted to the welbeing of Africa but alot of institutions in the Donor world have tried to ,(I know this has become a contraversio topic)but nothing has changed.The African situation is so inhibiting for anyone who choose to look at the big picture, and part of the reasons in my view lies in the lack of respect for Human Dignity,and by this i mean any human at all levels.We may not be accordded the same dignity here in the Diaspora as their own people , but all the same, the level of dignity we experience cannot in any way compare to the humiliation most of us ordinary Zambians suffered back home.What is Dignifying in Living in Povert as most of us did, despite our hard work?The little i understand about the creation of Israel is that ,the Americans had their personal interest in Israel,and the Jews themselves had lived long enough in Diaspora , became so established and accumulated wealth before they could start returning home.We’ve only learn’t to live abroad in the last 2 Decades,it may take a few generations before we can compare to the Israel experience.My parents still live back home in a Zambian village and as you may expect, i do remmit something to them.For the sake of this discussion,am saying”what’s the point of trying to better our country when there don’t seem to be a platform or infrastructure that support this cause and people are so adamant against such belief.”Speak to our leaders in zambia today,they’ll tell you they’re doing well and the country is progressing.A few privilledged ones in Lusaka will also tell you the same.To them Zambia is right now at it’s best.
    Enjoy your evening Malama,Usendame bwino.

  5. Malama Katulwende says:

    Rophys: I understand your point very well. However, the thrust of the argument is that the bigger picture is the country, not the individual. To what extent has your stay abroad improved the welfare of our country? Have you been sending remittances? Have you invested back home? I suppose the challenge we face as Africans is that we have to choose to better our countries so that we have the dignity as a people… In England, or anywhere else for that matter, African are just foreigners and not accorded the same dignity as the locals. In 1945 when Israel was created, the jews did not run away from the desert. They weathered the storm and created a very powerful country. In terms of resourses Africa has far more than the state of Israel…but I do understand, also that our family needs matter. Its a balancing act. Thx for sharing.

  6. Rophys says:

    Everything they can be is here??????maybe for a few priviledged who are lucky to be born in privilledged families.That weather is fabulous for those who are in Lusaka and have money,it’s a source of suffering and disease to my relatives in Kaputa,shan’gombo e.t.c. Everything i could be was certainly not there, when i toiled in filthy unsuitable Hospital Wards for years for almost nothing and could hardly manage to put a decent meal on the table,and we were being mocked by Politicians of that time.But everything i could be was there when i came abroad as i was able to further my studies,live a decent life as a proffessional and take care of my family in a way i never imagined.Even in Zambia some had to work for others ,we all can’t be bussiness People . These are issues we need to put right in africa and learn to respect every human as human,whoever they are whatever they are doing,with or without Educatinon.

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