IBM reverses Africa brain drain with Nairobi office hirings


A woman presents an Anatomic Symbolic Mapper Engine from IBM Healthcare at IBM exhibit in Germany. The firm has neither disclosed the total number of employees nor the terms of service for the techies and researchers . Reuters

Global tech firm IBM is seeking highly-qualified African techies in the diaspora who are willing to return to the continent and develop innovative IT solutions at its sole African research lab opened in Nairobi in August this year.

(Read: World Bank picks Kenya to host first green tech centre)
The tech firm is seeking Africans working in IT firms or teaching in western universities with doctorate degrees in computer science or engineering in a move that promises to reverse the brain drain that has hit emerging economies like Kenya.

“We need Africans with the right skill who are willing to come back to the continent and make an impact,” says IBM in a circular copied to Stanford University and seen by the Business Daily.

“We are looking for candidates who have an outstanding human/computer interaction background and research scientists who will help us to realise our smarter planet agenda in Africa.”

The American multinational seeks to recruit scientists to develop and deploy IT applications to tackle challenges such as food security, inefficiencies in public procurement systems and urban planning which have hampered economic growth in Africa.

The New York-based corporation is engaging American universities to identify doctoral degree holders in disciplines such as computer science, engineering, energy, mathematics and physics who will be employed at the IBM Research Lab in Kenya.

The Nairobi IBM innovation hub was opened in August this year and is a partnership between the Kenya ICT board and the American tech firm.
The government will invest $2 million (Sh170 million) for the next five years, while IBM will provide the hardware, software and high-end scientific expertise from its global $6.5 billion (Sh552 billion) research and development budget.

IBM laboratories have been credited for many innovations in information technology, including the invention of floppy disks, hard disk drive, magnetic stripe card, Universal Product Code (bar codes) and the SABRE airline reservation system among others.

IBM has neither disclosed the total number of employees nor the terms of service for the techies and researchers to be based at its Nairobi research lab.

“It is IBM policy not to disclose our recruitment numbers, the nature of staff contracts nor how much we pay our staff,” the firm said in a statement to the Business Daily.

Nairobi already plays host to innovation hubs such as iHub, Start Up Garage, iLab, mLab, Nailab, Pawa 254, Nokia Research Centre and the World Bank funded Climate Innovation Centre.

The firms are attracted by Kenya’s rich human resource talent that has seen Nairobi emerge as a pacesetter in apps development and m-commerce exemplified by mobile money transfer solution M-Pesa and a crisis-mapping platform Ushahidi.

The IBM Africa Lab, located at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa Langata campus in Nairobi will focus on three key research areas which include digitisation of public service through e-governance solutions; urban development and planning; and ICT skills training. The ideal candidates will be required to demonstrate a mix of academic qualifications, job experience and possess skills such as software programming, geospatial skills, data mining, and information retrieval.

“Experience in human computer interaction design and evaluation/testing, with emphasis on visualisation, and a strong publication record in top-tier HCI conferences and journals,” reads one of the required qualifications.

Candidates will also be required to have knowledge in public policy and infrastructural issues such as traffic management, water and energy which are the IBM Africa Research Lab key thematic areas. Researchers at the IT hub are expected to develop applications to improve efficiencies in traffic flow.

[email protected]