By Kasirim Nwuke
If you are an African of means, of moderate wealth, please stop accepting the fancy but illusive idea that educating your children in the West, namely Europe and North America, is a good idea, enhances for your sense of achievement, of self-worth and/or is good for the inter-generational transfer of the fruits of your labour. Experience strongly suggests otherwise.
Many businesses in Africa do not outlive their founders.
Many families of wealth in Africa soon descend into poverty or average living following the death of the patriarch. There are too many shuttered big mansions in disrepair across the continent because said patriarch has died, and his sons and daughters are somewhere in Europe and North America enjoying the easy life, while in dead-end jobs, for the most part.
‘These children are unlikely to return to Africa’
After more than half-a-century of moderately wealthy Africans sending their children to the West to study, the evidence is now becoming clear that most of these children are unlikely to return to Africa to take their parents’ business and wealth to another level.
These children are more likely to use your money to create a life for themselves in the US and the UK and leave you still struggling at your business well into the moment you are practically at Heaven’s Gate (or Hell’s Gate, who knows).
Your life’s work, all that you struggled to create, will either be inherited by relatives – some very distasteful ones too – or just ‘evaporate’. Imagine worrying from your grave about that abominable cousin now living in your mansion! Assuming of course that your doors are not shuttered forever, and everything lost.
Keep your eyes open
Look around you and you will see what I am talking about.
Do not think that your children will not be like “Okon’s children”: your neighbour who died not too long ago and whose business has since been closed, whose big agricultural plantation is dying, while the paint his house has begun to peel away and the once beautiful compound has gradually been overtaken by weeds.
Clearly, you did not build your beautiful mansion for roaches, rodents, bats, and perhaps, a lone security guard. There are way too many estates, many businesses, many offshoots of dynasties of wealth across Africa that have died because children were sent overseas by their parents to study with the hope that they would return before to inherit the estate and assets.
Instead, your children fly in for your funeral, sell off what they can, and zoom off on the next flight. Is that all that your life was for?
Go local, go continental, but stay in Africa
If you are a person of wealth in Africa, have your children attend local universities. Or some university in another African country, a country perhaps poorer than yours so that they must return. You can even send them to India or the Philippines. But not to Europe, the USA or Australia.
Do not subsidise your children to kill your life’s work. If your child wants to go the UK and USA, he/she should pay for it alone. You daughter/son does not have to have an MBA to manage your business, you can always hire one. Your son/daughter does not have to be a lawyer to handle the legal affairs of your business, you can always hire one. With money, you can buy all the skills you want.
Let civil servants, international civil servants and NGO employees, teachers and soldiers educate their children in the West. If they do not come back, society would not lose much; most of the children of this group will come back to become, like their parents, civil servants and teachers and soldiers, not entrepreneurs, not wealth creators and not asset creators and builders.
Allowing them to remain in the West could be actually welfare-improving: they will send remittances back home to their retired parents on government pensions and to help siblings and relatives.
THE RACE TO TRANSFORM
Their remittances could even seed dynasties of wealth if properly invested. And the children of politicians and the rentier class? Most will return to continue the political dynasty. Unless their parents used their overseas studies as a conduit to siphon off their loot to safety in corrupt western banks and financial institutions or to launder money in real estate.
No Kagame or Kenyatta or Mandela will want to live abroad indefinitely where their names and pedigree may not travel far in social and business circles.
The real loss
Our societies lose when the children of the entrepreneur, the businessman/woman, the wealth and job creator, stay behind in the West after their studies, where their social worth is less than it would be were they to return to Africa to grow their parents’ firms and businesses.
Do not get me wrong! Society still loses when the children of civil servants, university professors, NGO workers, customs officials choose to remain in the West after completing their studies. But, it is easier for Africa to replace Cheikh Anta Diop and Kofi Anan than it is to replace Strive Masiyiwa and Aliko Dangote. It’s easier to replace Sir Louis Mbanefo than to replace Sir Louis Odumegwu Ojukwu.
Words of advice
No wealth painfully created should needlessly “evaporate” into the ether. Africa’s entrepreneurs and wealth creators, if they must, should send their children to study in countries where they can easily “recover” them and bring them home to carry on with the task of building dynasties of wealth.
Kasirim Nwuke (Economist with more than 25 years of experience at the national and international levels. He works and writes on economics, science, technology and innovation, and society with special focus on the digital economy.)