Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A Green Card for Africa?

Map of Africa
Africa. Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1890
Public Domain Image
I've long wanted to post more information about jobs in Africa, but it's been hard to get solid information. Aside from a couple of classmates from the US who now live in Lilongwe, Malawi (who have a great blog, by the way), most people I know who are associated with Africa have come out of the continent, not gone to it.

Today, aside from some opportunities in Nigeria and South Africa, there doesn't appear to be much of a way to find permanent work in Africa aside from limited opportunities with NGOs. Believe it or not, some people would like to immigrate to Africa but African countries make this very hard to do.

For Europe, the European Blue Card is designed to be a single immigration device for those EEA countries which have signed on, but many lesser-developed nations, particularly in Africa, have complained bitterly about "brain drain" to Europe. This is not a spurious complaint. As I've written before, more than a quarter of highly skilled workers from many African nations have left for more developed nations. If the US ever fixes their immigration system, it's going to get even worse. If China eases up on their immigration restrictions, more Africans will continue to immigrate to China.

It seems to be largely a one-way street, but while Africa rightly frets about brain drain, they're not doing much to encourage people to come to Africa. The global economic downturn has led to some "brain gain" for Kenya, but largely for returning Africans (as far as I can tell). For others hoping to try a new life in Africa, corruption in the immigration process is quite common. Others have told me stories of African officials simply not knowing the law or not responding. Africa, in short, is letting people out, but not letting people in. Even if they did, the political uncertainties of many countries would be daunting.

Kigali, the capital of Rwanda
Photo by Dylan Walters
There's a way to solve this. If the 54 member African Union would put forward a proposal to create an African Green Card, modeled after the European Blue Card, the brain drain trend might be mitigated or reversed. Instead of trying to fight through the bureaucracy of a country which, quite frankly, may not have immigration as their highest priority, you could know that there's a standardized process by which your application could be reviewed and you could bring needed skills to the African continent.

Imagine moving to Rwanda. Stay there for a couple of years and earn "African residency". From there, if the economy floundered or it became politically unstable, you could then move to another participating country, such as Namibia.

Not only could this potentially bring much needed skills to Africa, the potential economic benefits could help to stabilize countries that have seen much upheaval over the past couple of centuries. It would be an exciting experiment, though clearly there would be many challenges and it would take years to see the benefits. However, instead of the rest of the world traveling to Africa to exploit it, it could be a partnership to help Africa.

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