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International Organization for Migration Encourages Exiles to "Transfer Knowledge" Back Home

We’ve been talking this week about the brain drain, the loss of skilled Africans who go to other countries to work. If they want to go home, one organization will help facilitate their return, the International Organization for Migration (IOM). In the 1980s the IOM launched a program called “The Return of Qualified African Nationals.” And that served as the framework for the current program, “The New Migration for Development Initiative.”

Meera Sethi is the senior regional adviser for sub-Saharan Africa with the IOM. With English to Africa reporter Angel Tabe, she discusses the transition from the earlier program to today’s more practical one. “The focus was on permanent return. In fact, we were not able to return as per the demand. A package of US $10,000 to a returnee sounded very expensive, but compare that to what a technical expert from a European country would cost, it was really not big…. There was a complete rethinking and change of strategy…. As conditions in Africa kept deteriorating, we realized [there was a] mismatch between demand and supply in our programs. And that’s when we came up with “Migration for Development” program (MIDA).”

Sethi says the MIDA concept focuses on “mobility, temporary return; you could make sequential returns, and we also encourage virtual transfer of skills….” She explained that through the “virtual transfer of skills” component, 700 students received on-line training through a partnership between a Belgian university and the University of Lubumbashi: “The idea is to build human resource capacities, create the necessary skills, and then the toppings that we bring in (the money contributed by the program).”

And in the Great Lakes project, which targets Burundi and Rwanda among countries emerging from conflict, Sethi says there is a need-based recruitment plan, put together by IOM and the national governments.

But she says African governments need to show more commitment with policies to foster investment. “You look at Sierra Leone, for example, which last month brought in members of the Diaspora to invest in their country. I consider that a positive on the part of the government. But do the governments have policies to encourage private sector investments? We do not have corresponding change, that’s where the gap comes in.”