While Namibia receives a considerable number of skilled immigrants from other parts of Africa and the world, several of its skilled population has also migrated to work and live outside the region.
With many working for international institutions overseas, such as the World Bank and top international accounting firms, it is now feared that Namibia is losing out on valuable human resources from its own citizens.
Yet in terms of development, Namibia is at a crossroads. The country aims to become industrialised by 2030, an ambition armchair critics have labelled as a “pipe dream”, yet one of the biggest challenges currently is lack of skills among citizens to help boost growth.
It has even been suggested that Namibia – with a paltry population of 2.3 million people – must relax its immigration policy in order to allow more skilled foreigners to come into the country and help develop it. Yet importing skills is neither cheap, nor sustainable.
In fact, it is often said – especially in the corridors of power in Namibia – that for Namibia to industrialise, she must be developed by “her own human resources”.
Lack of qualified locals is being felt more and more in the country and this brain drain trend – where the few skilled Namibians seek jobs outside the country – has escalated in magnitude to levels that have serious implications for the country’s capacity to deliver on the sustainable development front.
New Era Weekend spoke to several overseas-based skilled Namibians and the reasons why many are leaving Namibia are diverse – ranging from professional to economical opportunities.
It is now evident that government, and indeed the private sector, need to design pull factor packages that would ensure that Namibians studying abroad return home upon graduation and attract those working overseas to work inside the country.
True, even top economies like the UK and the US have citizens working abroad but this is largely due to other reasons such as adventure, rather than being pushed out of their countries by poor economic conditions and bad policies.
A number of Namibians in the diaspora spoken to this week also mentioned adventure as part of the reasons they are working abroad, but some also cited the attractive pull factors offered by those markets. And, frankly, these are markets that compete against our domestic market.
Whatever the reasons may be, however, the perpetual export of Namibia’s best professionals is now being acutely accentuated by the impact of the brain drain in the country. For every little conference, we bus in foreigners while our own local equals of these foreigners are plying their trade elsewhere.
To effectively reduce the magnitude of the brain drain requires an in-depth understanding of the problem, Namibia needs to develop human capital and build institutional capacity to absorb the labour force necessary to meet the demands of the economy.
Namibia now needs to establish what the causes of the brain drain are and identify the measures required to reduce or stop, or even reverse this phenomenon in the country.
It is not known how many Namibian professionals are working in the diaspora.
In November 2014, the Namibian embassy in Washington, US, wrote a letter to Namibians living in the Americas to register themselves and their academic and professional specialisations, as part of the Namibia Institute of Public Administration and Management (NIPAM)’s efforts to establish a databank.
Veteran journalist Ebba Kalondo, who until recently worked as a senior editor for France24 – an international news and current affairs television channel based in Paris – says working internationally is not a rejection of the opportunities in Namibia over another geographical area, but rather a test of Namibian skills in the global arena.
“I personally believe that working internationally and having a pool of nationals in the international arena is a measure of a country’s comfort and capacity to compete and engage globally,” she said this week from Dakar, Senegal, where she was in transit to Guinea Bissau to support the government’s response to the Zika virus.
Kalondo – an elder sister to First Lady Monica Geingos – worked for the Namibia Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) in the 1990s. She is currently leading the World Health Organization’s risk communications area of work for the African region.
“I have always wanted to test my skills in a larger pool with critical mass. And as a Pan-Africanist, I was very influenced by the return of our compatriots from exile and their outlook on the world,” she said.
Asked what would influence her return to Namibia, Kalondo said: “Personally, I applied for a few posts in the foreign service. This is my ideal home. Public service and diplomacy. My applications were denied or received no feedback. I guess I have to try harder next time! But more generally, there is certainly something to be said for a real brain-gain strategy on how to attract professional returnees to the benefit of our national interest and development.”
A young chartered accountant working in the UK, who preferred anonymity, said she was working abroad for adventurous reasons.
“I wanted to experience living in a culture other than my own but most importantly working in that environment. I also wanted to see the world and living in Europe made travelling easier. Getting international professional exposure was important for me too,” she told us.
“I believe Namibian professionals work outside the country to broaden their horizons and gain international exposure and experience, which is beneficial to one’s career advancement, being a small fish in a big pond rather than a big fish in a small pond.”
She believes many professionals would return home if the country addresses “things like agile working (working flexible hours and working from home), increased maternity leave (at least a year in most developed countries), and better salaries for professionals (even though this should be viewed in the context of costs of living).”
Kauna Nangula – an assistant professor for an English language department at a Japanese institution – is in Asia to help broaden her personal experience with an eye towards career grow, which is guaranteed by living and working outside her comfort zone.
She possesses a master’s degree in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), from the US.
“We are talking about Japan, which has one of the top 10 education systems in the world, and that’s quite important to me being a teacher,” she told us from Kanazawa, yesterday.
“I mean, it’s not difficult to imagine the valuable skills I’m honing as well as the ones I’m gaining. These skills are absolutely a great asset when I return home since my plan is to come to Namibia soon.”
Other notable Namibian exports include Kava Katjomuise, who worked as a senior economic affairs officer at the United Nations Capital Development Fund, World Bank’s Chris Hoveka and Meshack Tjirongo who worked for 15 years at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) until he was appointed as director of the Namibia Business School at the University of Namibia in December 2014.
Dr Alfredo Hengari works as a senior fellow at South African Institute of International Affairs, while Dr Charles Mubita was until recently based in Botswana working for SADC.