Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

The Two West Africas: The Two Historical Phases of the West African Brain Drain

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

The Two West Africas: The Two Historical Phases of the West African Brain Drain

Article excerpt


As an entity, the 16 nations that comprise the geographic region of West Africa is among one of the poorest regions in the world in the 21st century, even though the region is among the richest in the world in its stock of natural resources and raw and underdeveloped human talent. The natural resources of Nigeria for example, include: natural gas, petroleum, tin, iron ore, coal, limestone, niobium, lead, zinc and arable land; in Liberia: iron ore, timber, diamonds, gold and hydropower; in Sierra Leone: diamonds, titanium ore, bauxite, iron ore, gold, chromite; in Cote d'Ivoire: petroleum, natural gas, diamonds, manganese, iron ore, cobalt, bauxite, copper, gold, nickel, tantalum, silica sand, clay, cocoa beans, coffee, palm oil, hydropower; and in Niger: uranium, coal, iron ore, tin, phosphates, gold, molybdenum, gypsum, salt, petroleum (Compiled from the 2005 CIA World Factbook). Liberia also has one of the largest rubber plantations in the world.

Among the five geographic regions of Africa (Eastern, Northern, Middle, Southern and Western Africa), West Africa has the lowest average per capita Gross Domestic Products, and the second highest average infant mortality rate after Middle Africa. The region also has low rates of individuals who can read and write, a high proportion of unpaved roads and a weak economy.

Moreover, since the 1990s, the region experienced civil conflicts or wars in a number of countries, including Liberia and Sierra Leone, costing hundreds of thousands of lives and the destruction of billions of dollars in infrastructure, such as schools, hospitals and businesses.

The interesting irony about West Africa's underdevelopment is that, although the people in that region are among the poorest people in the world, individuals of West African descent outside of the region and the continent tend to be in significant to substantial numbers among some of the most influential and highly-respected scientists of all sorts, world-class entertainers, professional athletes, politicians, business men and women, etc., especially concentrated in North America and the rest of the Western Hemisphere, and other parts of the world. The question then is: Why is West Africa, a region of 261 million people as of July 2006, one of the poorest and least developed regions of the world?

The answer to that question is that West Africa in the past 500 years has experienced two major historical phases of the "Brain Drain": (1) the Transatlantic or European slave trade and (2) the post World War II exodus of skilled West Africans, who left the region to seek better professional and economic opportunities in rich or developed countries across the world.

This essay examines the implications of these two historical phases of the West African "Brain Drain". The essay provides the estimates of Africans who were taken out of the continent (especially West Africa) and brought to the New World. The essay also examines the skilled exodus of West Africans to rich countries, especially North America, in the post World War II era. It provides estimates of educated West Africans residing in developed countries. The paper attempts to present an understanding of how a region that has provided the world with a significant number of the most gifted individuals still remains one of the poorest areas on earth. Let us begin by first examining the demographic, economic and social conditions of West Africa compared with the other four regions of Africa, and other developing regions of the world.

Demographic and Economic Inter-regional Comparisons of Africa

Africa's total population is growing faster than many other continents or regions in the world. In recent years, the continent's total population has been growing by 15 million to 18 million people, out of the total estimated 80 million people that are added to the world population annually. For example, Africa's total population increased by an estimated 87. …

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