Sustaining the sub-Saharan African Economy through Talent Brain Export: Nigeria Under Review



African countries depended less on foreign currency to maintain the wheels of government and society in the early days of the post-colonial era. However, in the form of modernization and dependency, the global West exported its development model to the global South and its periphery after World War II to replicate and attain identical economic transformation. Consequently, this opinion piece makes a case for the need for Africa, especially Nigeria and Ghana to adopt a new economic model leveraging on its young people to drive economic development by creating wealth and alleviating abject poverty. Thus, create jobs, ‘export brains’ as against ‘brain drain’, and speed up human capital development to curb high unemployment, insecurity, and poverty rates, to build a robust high-value chain workforce.

Keywords: Brain Export, Brain Drain, Economic Development, Skills Development, Unemployment, Ghana, Nigeria.

The Body

Although there is no universal path to development, each society must find its optimal strategy ( Friberg & Hettne, 1985:220). Nevertheless, the African continent has stagnated in the last six decades due to over-dependence on the global West strategies. Adopting these strategies without modification inhibits technology, goods, and services development. This is because the African continent remains the producer of low-cost raw materials feeding highly industrialized nations. Contrariwise, with scarce foreign reserves, the continent imports value-added goods and services from these industrialized nations. According to the Modernization Theory of Economic Development Economics Essay (2015), the continent is highly import-driven with less focus on industrialization that creates economic growth, transforms, reduces poverty, and develops human capital. For example, per the Institute of Economic Affairs and Kwakye (2012), Ghana depends on the Guggisberg economy foundation by exporting valuable raw commodities and minerals (cocoa, timber, manganese, gold, bauxite, and oil) and importing high-value-added goods (mobile phones, computers, cars, expensive interior decors, watches, designer cloths, weapons, poultry, milo, chocolate, including toothpaste). This surmises the stagnated state of the continent to date. Though the world has evolved rapidly from the practices of the first to the third industrial revolution to focus mainly on high-value chain skills, Africa is yet to seize this opportunity and develop economically. Consequently, Africa’s best brains are drained for better working conditions, good health, and family support. From the ’50s to the late ’90s, this derailed the constantly needed economic acceleration in the continent (Capuano & Marfouk, 2013).

The world economic order has evolved to a highly driven value addition. For example, In the late 80s, although India developed a robust plan to retain a manufacturing deficit, it became huge in business outsourcing and IT through its highly skilled human capital. Today India accounts for over 100 billion USD in revenue from the ICT (Sreekala G, 2022).

In support of economic development, Africa is unable to match the prowess of countries like India, Russia, and China in terms of high-value goods and services production (mobile phones, computers, cars, semiconductors, aeroplanes, etc.). Thus, to support consumption, the continent constantly demands forex to import goods and services that are not produced locally. This high demand inhibits economic development and impoverishes the people. To provide short-term solutions to this problem, governments rely and depend on the policies and prescriptions of The Bretton Woods Institution (Ekekwe, 2009). However, according to the report of PWC Nigeria, the forex problems of the country can be resolved to boost economic development through “Brain Export” a new optimal development path (Onwuegbuchi, 2022). This is because the continent has lost all the key basics that support competitive advantage. The new hope is the power of the internet and the liberalization of remote work which supports the building of a strong service sector to finance imports through forex income. This is plausible because of the over 150 million youth in the country currently.

The UN estimates that the continent will be home to 4 billion people by the end of this century. Again, in less than 6000 days from now, there will be over 1 billion young Africans wandering cities looking for jobs. Per this projection, the most concerning aspect are that Africa will have the world’s largest workforce bigger than that of either China or India by 2035 (Institute for Security Studies (ISS) South Africa, 2018). Africa remains the youngest continent with highly curious youth seeking new opportunities to contribute to the global talent supply to build technological solutions (Ajak, 2021). Currently, there is a huge global tech talent shortage that is projected to be around 8.5 trillion USD by 2030. (Kurschner, 2018). Covid-19 opened a new and major shift in the way people work. Hiring policies are fast changing to a borderless talent search with a keen focus on highly valued skills demand. However, in the late 90s and early 2000s, the preferred option for working with global tech companies was through relocation or living closer to the entity. The change in dynamics provides greater accessibility to all with the right skill irrespective of geographical location. Accordingly, Forbes predicts that remote work is here to stay and will increase into 2023 (Robinson, 2022).

In 2021, technology added more to the Nigerian economy than oil showing a clear pathway to the new phenomenon of young people creating high sort after-tech startups and learning skills that provide certainty for jobs (Dosunmu et al., 2022). In the last decades, young people from nowhere in Nigeria have founded technology startups with a combined value of more than 5 billion dollars. Notable startups like Paystack, Flutterwave, Andela, TeamApt, Bamboo, and 54Genes are perfect examples of how to transform an economy through technology with the support of the government. and global fund managers (Gabriel, 2022). This has emboldened a new appetite for entrepreneurs, investors, Innovation Hubs, and Skills development for the burgeoning tech ecosystem (Lunden, 2020). Consequently, demand for Nigerian tech talents is fast growing with young talents learning new skills to tap into global opportunities (Bailey, 2021). This requires a new playbook by governments from other parts of the continent to partner with the private sector to build a comprehensive strategy to export brain power to earn forex like Nigeria (John, 2022).

Nigeria just passed the most ambitious Startup law in Africa after Kenya, Senegal, and Tunisia to begin what I call a futuristic youth-driven agenda to position Nigeria as the next biggest hub for talent as a service to reduce unemployment, hopelessness, reduce the brain drain of top talents to substitute it with brain experts which means stay local and work globally (Bailey, 2021). Following this, global companies are opening African operations in Lagos to tap into the highly motivated Nigerian youth (Julius, 2022). To support the building of a resilient African economy, private organizations like AltSchool Africa LMS (TheALtSchool, n.d.) and Aya is building alternative learning models to equip the youth with the needed skills to enable African talents to work remotely, earn a decent income, and support families (Ayagigs, 2022). AYA has introduced a new model called PACE-problem-solving, adapting, creativity, and empathy (Aya Holding Inc. Is Changing How Startups Hire Talents with Its Launch of Ayagigs, 2022). Per the new normal of remote work culture, most companies irrespective of size hire talents globally based on character, attitude, and reliability (Taylor, 2011). Similarly, talents prefer to work in innovative, open, and supportive organizations offering greater autonomy and a great working environment. Gen Z talents desire a move away from the clock-in clock-out working environment. They prefer flexibility, time management, mental stability, and stress-free commuting (Abril, 2022).

Contextually, there are little over 28 million tech talents globally serving 7 billion plus people globally (Frick et al., 2021). However, Africa accounts for less than 1% of this number. Statistically, this is just a little over 800k tech talents across the continent with South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, and Uganda accounting for more than 85% (Aboyeji, xxx). The increasing pace of venture funding for the African tech startup ecosystem provides the perfect opportunity to develop more capacity to meet global tech demand (Venture Capital Funding in Africa Doubles in 2019, 2020). In the decade, private firms in Nigeria like CC-Hub has been the major pioneer pushing for the new frontier of innovation concerning human capital development, startup incubation, and promotion of technology (Barnett, 2013). Africa has the most competitive advantage for the new oil, the new order, and the new way to work. It has the advantage of agile, resilient, and curious young people whose ethos is to become valuable contributors to the global interconnectedness the internet offers through the 4th industrial revolution (African Talents and the Future of Work: Much More Than Just Freelan…, 2021).


From the above pieces of evidence and comparison across the world, there is no better way to reduce unemployment, create a better future, and equal opportunities, and have access to building the young people of this continent as value contributors.

There is no doubt that the content did not benefit much in the postmodern, post-colonial, dominant, and dependent arrangement that has bereft the continent of the much-needed multi-dimensional transformation in attitude, structures, and institutions and the acceleration of economic growth and reduction of absolute poverty.

There is something unique you find in the Nigerian youth that you hardly find anywhere in Africa. An average Nigerian youth is a goal-getter, ambitious, aspirational, super self-driven, and possesses an entrepreneurial spirit. This assertion is backed by a recent call by Aya (Ayagigs) to train African youth in web3 with the support of Coinbase Giving. The call generated over 3800 applicants from 33 African countries of which 3,547 came from Nigeria representing over 93%.

I want to edge the Ghanaian young people to begin to see the reality of today’s world and reset their mindset, and perception of value and open up to limitless possibilities beyond settling for government paychecks as it has been the status quo for many years.

We can ameliorate this trend by focusing on the following

  1.   A multi-purpose growth target policies to streamline technology and innovation
  2.   Set up a Special Purpose Vehicle for tech startups in Africa.
  3.   A robust Technology law to facilitate the growth, incubate and produce more entrepreneurs to become value creators.
  4.   Provide 5-10 years of free zone enclave for only tech-enabled startups
  5.   Provide training incentives for the private sector to invest in tax-free packages. The government will make money with the talents spending their hard currencies when they get employed remotely.
  6.   A master plan to make Africa generate one (1) million tech talents annually; the benefits are that we will have more skilled entrepreneurs to start their tech startups and facilitate employment for the young ambitious talents in the continent.

I am more than happy to play a critical role as far as the future of work is concerned and to cult public discussion on the way forward for the development of the continent and accelerate human capital development as a service.

Feedback, critique, opinions, and collaboration on the way forward are much appreciated.

If you wish to join us on our mission to unlock 10 million African talents to play at the global level, get in touch at [email protected] or visit our website to learn more

Eric Annan is a casual writer on Medium and Substack blogs and a mission-driven Entrepreneur. Founder. CEO Aya (

Find all the references to this Opinion Piece here: References

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