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Africa's ambitious go overseas

Many of Africa's most talented go to US, Europe to further educations and pursue careers.

However, Arthur is not convinced that there will be an overwhelming flight of highly educated Africans back home just yet. “I predict the migration of Africans to the West is actually going to be intensified. African countries still can’t absorb graduates of higher learning. The private sector is not expanding as rapidly as it ought to, neither is the public sector.”

The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa estimates that at least 20,000 skilled Africans leave the continent for industrialized countries every year.

But those that do return, Arthur says, bring with them experience that could do more than just bolster economies.

“I see African immigrants as agents of change,” said Arthur, who immigrated to the U.S. from Ghana in 1981. Arthur hopes that Africans returning home bring with them ideas about social processes, good or bad, which they learned in the West.

Rhama Hersi, originally from Kenya, recently finished her law degree at Indiana University. Law firms in Kenya constantly call her asking if she will practice at home. With a law degree, she knows she would be a valuable part of the middle class and might even be able to help stem corruption in Kenya but she wants to advance her career in the U.S., a decision she describes as “selfish.”

“When I left home eight years ago, I thought I was going to achieve my goals so I could do something for myself and my country,” said Hersi. “But as you go and see things, you realize there is a system that is put in place. Corruption has been there; these aren’t problems that happened over night.”

For Paul Filson the need to stay in the U.S. is more practical than ideological. He recently finished his doctorate in nanotechnology at West Virginia University. Filson is looking for work yet he rejected three job offers at home in Ghana, hoping he can get better pay and learn more abroad.

“There are many ways I would like to contribute to my family and my country in Ghana,” said Filson. But he knows his degree is more practical in the U.S. and that means he can help his ailing mother financially. It’s a trade off.

“I can’t give her guidance while I am in the U.S., but I can’t help her financially much if I am in Ghana,” said Filson. Filson describes being caught between. “It’s a double-edged sword.”

Africa's middle class is a GlobalPost series to highlight the continent's key but under-reported population including South Africa's growing class of "black diamonds," education opportunities in Ghana, the challenge to Kenya's middle class, the struggles to rebuild a middle class after years of civil war in Sierra Leone and Liberia, and the diaspora of thousands of Africa's ambitious in the U.S. and Europe.