DOUALA, CAMEROON – Dr. Basile Njei hails from the Northwest region of Cameroon. But he says he had to leave Cameroon to pursue a career in medicine.
Njei is now a resident physician at the University of Connecticut Health Center in the United States. He specializes in internal medicine and researches co-infections of HIV and hepatitis B and C.
But in spite of his success abroad, Njei says he is frustrated that he had to leave Cameroon to find these opportunities.
Njei earned his bachelor’s degree and doctorate from the University of Yaoundé I to become a medical doctor. He then left Cameroon to obtain a Master of Public Health from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland before moving to the United States in 2010.
During a phone interview from the United States, Njei says he needed to move abroad to learn cutting-edge medical techniques and treatment approaches, which are limited in Cameroon. Without leaving his country, he would not have been able to gain the crucial support and recognition needed to advance his career.
“Sometimes you also need exposure,” he says. “You learn from people around the world.”
The conditions young physicians face after graduation in Cameroon are tough, he says. Some new doctors may practice for two years before earning a salary from a government hospital.
“Having been among the best five in the Advanced levels certificate examinations, it amazes me that I have to be in the United States,” he says.
Njei says he is saddened by the “brain drain” in Cameroon, a trend in which high-performing students and professionals must leave the country for better opportunities abroad.
Access to higher education, dynamic job markets and the perception of a better life abroad lure young, skilled Cameroonians out of the country. This emigration stymies Cameroon’s growth by depleting the country of educated minds and skilled manpower. Government officials encourage young entrepreneurs to take advantage of state loans and trainings to expand their businesses and create job opportunities for others. Expatriates say that difficulties abroad create another reason to stay in Cameroon and to contribute to its development.
There were nearly 280,000 Cameroonians living abroad as of 2010, which constitutes 1.4 percent of the population, according to the World Bank’s Migration and Remittances Factbook 2011. More than 17 percent of the people who receive higher education in Cameroon emigrate, according to the latest available data.
Diffang Funge, a lecturer in the University of Buea Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, says during a phone interview that reasons for why ambitious, young Cameroonians emigrate vary. But a dearth of jobs often tops the list.
“There is a lot of job scarcity in Cameroon,” he says, “which compels people to look for greener pastures elsewhere.”
More than 70 percent of Cameroon’s population is underemployed, according to a 2012 World Bank report. This percentage includes people who work fewer than 40 hours per week and those who earn less than the minimum wage.
Some Cameroonians may move to neighboring