The shortage of skilled professionals has been identified as one of the principal constraints on the rapid development of many African countries. It affects the efficient performance of government agencies, retards the expansion of private companies and is a major deterrence to foreign investment. Ironically however, some countries have an abundance of the sort of skilled labour that is in short supply in neighbouring states but cumbersome bureaucratic procedures are preventing the free flow of such people within the ECOWAS region.
Yesterday, (Wednesday) this critical issue, dubbed ‘Intra-African Talent Mobility: A Catalyst for Regional Integration’, was brought into sharp focus during a workshop in Accra organized by the Ministry of Labour and Employment Relations and the African Center for Economic Transformation (ACET). Participants, including representatives of the immigration services, employers’ associations, donor organizations and the ECOWAS Commission discussed ways to enable Ghanaian professionals to travel and work freely in other African countries and for Ghanaian employers to bring in talent from all over Africa.
In a speech read on his behalf, Hon. Haruna Iddrisu, Minister for Employment and Labour Relations said: “Intra-regional migration should not be seen as part of the problem, but rather as part of the solution to our economic needs.“ Evidence from the European Union’s Schengen scheme and other regional initiatives around the world, he added, “suggests that, when managed well, migration can yield significant benefits to both destination and source countries.”
Earlier, Dr. Edward Brown from ACET explained that the workshop was part of a continent-wide programme, funded by the World Bank, to look for ways and means to ease the movement of skilled personnel across borders in order to counter the shortage of such skills in individual African countries. Four nations—Ghana, Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone and Cote d’Ivoire—had voluntarily come together to tackle this issue for the West Africa region with ACET acting as the secretariat. There were similar groupings in the SADC and COMESA sub regions.
This workshop, he said, was one of three specific to Ghana and is led by the Ministry of Employment and Labour Relations (MELR); the other three West African countries have scheduled similar workshops under various themes. The aim is to eventually derive practical policy recommendations on regional and continental levels and encourage governments to sign the necessary Memoranda of Understanding on talent mobility.
Workshop participants included senior officials from the Ministry for Employment & Labour Relations, Ghana Immigration Services, and other government ministries, departments, and agencies. From the private sector, Mr. Alex K. Frimpong, CEO of Ghana Employers Association, chaired the discussion. Other participants came from civil society organizations, development partners, academia, and the media.
Ms Mary-Ann Addo from MELR explained that talent mobility included not only the physical movement of people from one country to another, but also within professions. She recalled that on one occasion, it had not been possible to fill a local-content quota using indigenes and that companies constantly complained about their inability to fill vital vacancies locally. Thus talent mobility not only allowed such skills gaps to be filled, they often involved skills transference and contributed positively to economic growth.
To achieve true talent mobility, Dr. Tony Luka Elumelu, Head of Division for Free Movement and Migration at the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) called for countries to domesticate ECOWAS protocols which already encouraged the free movement of people, including the right to residence and establishment within member states. “Build capacity to manage migration. Train immigration officials to implement what you have signed,” Elumelu emphasized.
A study conducted by ACET in 2014 on Benin, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Sierra Leone found that barriers that keep skilled professionals from moving to Ghana include immigration quotas, bureaucratic processes, extortion by middle men, and annual renewals of permits at an exorbitant fee. For instance, a doctor from la Cote d’Ivoire or any ECOWAS country who wishes to practice in Ghana would have to pay $500 each year for a residence permit, which is a discount on the $1,000 that other nationals would have to pay.
“Inasmuch as this provides a source of revenue for government, it also deters some professionals from moving to Ghana for the country to benefit from their expertise and tax revenue,” said Dr. William Baah-Boateng, a senior lecturer at the University of Ghana. “Given the shortage of doctors in Ghana, this is a self-inflicted wound. If you look at the short term, you may not get the long-term benefits,” he added.
In summary, the workshop concluded that the movement of professionals across borders enables countries with shortage of skills the opportunity to fill the gaps with talent from other countries. Against this background, the Intra-African Talent Mobility Partnership (TMP) Program aims to facilitate talent mobility and skills development to boost economic integration.
The next two workshops, scheduled for September and October, will focus on the impact of talent mobility on the private sector and on issues of labour market statistics, respectively.
Event pictures available at https://www.facebook.com/acetforafrica/photos_stream