Aug 17

Thabo Mbeki’s Speed Meet Jozi Speech


Programme director,

Leaders of the Homecoming Revolution,

Distinguished participants:

Our country and Continent owe Angel Jones and her colleagues a great debt of gratitude for the initiative they took to form and sustain our host this afternoon, the Homecoming Revolution.

I say this because as they know better than I do, the numbers of skilled people and professionals our Continent has lost over the decades are truly frightening.

Let me mention some of these figures not because you do not know them but merely to underline the fact of the scary extent of the ‘brain drain’ phenomenon.

In a paper entitled “Tertiary Education and Development in Sub-Saharan Africa at the Dawn of the Twenty First Century: A Lost Hope, Or Present Opportunity?”, Professor Raphael O. Ogom said:

“The World Bank estimates that some 23,000 qualified academic staff are emigrating from Africa annually…; more than 30 percent of the continent’s skilled professionals live abroad; about 70,000 Africans trained in Europe remain in Europe, while over 10,000 Nigerian experts trained in the United States have chosen to remain there…It is estimated that there are more African scientists and engineers working in the US than there are in the entire continent”.

In an article published only last month, entitled Understanding the Brain-Drain (of) African Citizens, focusing on Sub Saharan Africa” Dr Essa Jama says:

“An estimated 300,000 African professionals live and work outside the continent.  Since 1990, Africa has lost some 20,000 professionals each year.  About 30,000 Sub-Saharan Africans holding PhDs now live outside Africa…3,000 highly trained Kenyans leave every year… About 10 percent of South Africa’s IT and finance executives have departed in recent years…Between 70 and 90 percent of Zimbabwe’s university graduates are now working outside the country.  To fill the gap caused by this brain drain, Africa employs up to 150,000 expatriate professionals at a cost of $4 billion annually…

“Approximately 65,000 African-born physicians and 70,000 African-born professional nurses were working overseas in a developed country by 2000… The World Health Organization reported in 2006 that out of fifty-seven countries worldwide suffering from a severe shortage of health workers, thirty-six were in Sub-Saharan Africa…”

A  decade ago it was said that: “The number of highly skilled emigrants from Africa increased from 1,800 a year on average during 1960–75 to 4,400 during 1975–84 and 23,000 during 1984–87…Since 1990, Africa has been losing an average of at least 20,000 professionals (doctors, nurses, university lecturers, engineers, etc.) annually. The IOM estimates that as many as 23,000 African health professionals leave home every year. Skilled workers comprise more than 40 percent of all migrants from Africa.”

I would like to say this with no fear of contradiction that every day and everywhere on our Continent the millions of Africans speak of their dream for an Africa that is free of poverty and underdevelopment and therefore has a thriving economy, an Africa which offers good and relevant education and excellent health services, an Africa with good and well maintained social and economic infrastructure, and an Africa assured of good governance.

The stark reality is that it is impossible to realise this African dream without the trained and skilled thousands we lose every year.

It is for this reason that research has shown that the $3.68 billion we spend training the skilled personnel we lose every year is almost equal to the $4 billion we spend annually to pay the 150,000 expatriates we import.

In terms of simple arithmetic this means that in fact the posts occupied by these expatriates cost the Continent $7.6 billion.

There are two encounters relevant to what we are discussing which I had during two of my visits to the United States that have remained in my memory for some years.

The first was when I met a group of about 8-10 Africans all of whom had obtained their PhD degrees at the so-called Ivy League Universities in the US, graduating in many and varied disciplines, including mathematics, computer sciences, engineering and medicine, and the social sciences.

This group was the Executive Committee of an Association of Africans with PhDs who had similarly graduated at the Ivy League universities. Another requirement for membership of the Association was that no member should be older than 40 years.

The important thing about my meeting with the Executive Committee of the Association of Africans in the US with PhDs was that they informed me that their Association had decided that all its members were ready and willing to use their abilities to assist our Continent to implement the development programmes contained in NEPAD.

Accordingly they wanted to establish an institutional relationship with the NEPAD Secretariat which they thought would know best how to utilise their knowledge and skills.

These highly qualified Africans in the Diaspora were therefore not lost to the Continent as they were determined to ensure that Africa had access to their professional skills to achieve its development goals.

The second instance to which I have referred was a meeting I had with post-graduate African students who were studying for MBAs and related qualifications at the Kellogg School of Management of the North Western University in Chicago.

These students belonged to the Africa Business Club at the School, among whose objectives are to “engage in socially responsible initiatives and positively impact Africa…and encourage business development in Africa”.

In this case, the African students assured me that as they had agreed through the Africa Business Club, all of them would return to Africa on completion of their studies, deliberately refusing to take the option of remaining in the US.

The two instances I have cited demonstrate that the will exists among many of the highly qualified and skilled Africans in the Diaspora indeed to join the Homecoming Revolution.

I am certain that Angel Jones and her colleagues will be able to cite many instances where this will to come home has been translated into reality.

One example is that, according to a minor dissertation by Ms Katrin Hülsekopf headed “The Migration of Africa’s Intellectual Capital…”, in 2011 62% of the international academics employed in the South African universities held a nationality of another African country.

Even for the UCT which historically draws an above average number of European academics, still 31% came from the rest of Africa.

Currently 30% of the senior teaching staff at the University of Venda are non-South African, with many of these coming from the rest of Africa.

A 2008 report published during the construction of the Gautrain Rapid Rail Link said:

“In a further drive to attract scarce skills, Gautrain has started the Woza Ekhaya initiative with other business members of the Homecoming Revolution, a non-profit organisation that aims to change the perceptions of South Africa abroad and recruit skills that were lost back to the country…” So far, Gautrain has been successful to convince 37 local construction professionals who left South Africa to work in the United Kingdom to return to South Africa,” Gautrain said.

The reality I have been discussing communicates the messages that:

  • Africa, including South Africa, has lost and is losing large numbers of highly educated intellectual capital which our Continent needs desperately to achieve its development goals;
  • nevertheless many among those who have left Africa are ready and willing either to return to the Continent or otherwise to make their skills available to promote the development the billion Africans seek; and,
  • there are many examples of the successful return to Africa which the Homecoming Revolution has been promoted for many years now.

I believe that this total picture communicates the message to all of us as Africans that it is in our collective interest, regardless of our particular occupations, to join hands with the Homecoming Revolution to help bring back to Africa the intellectual and professional capital that is fundamental to the achievement of the African renaissance towards which all of us aspire.

This includes our Governments which, among other things, need to put in place the necessary incentives to encourage the homecoming. Necessarily this must include such matters as instituting the appropriate regime concerning visas and work permits, as well as address such issues as dual citizenship.

In this context I believe that our host, the Homecoming Revolution, has an important task to continue to educate as many of us as possible about what we should do to contribute to the homecoming, having been sensitised to its absolute importance.

Having followed from afar the activities of the Homecoming Revolution for some time, I am certain that it will not fail us.

I am honoured to wish our important gathering this afternoon the success it truly deserves, convinced that indeed, “Every African should feel at home in Africa.”

Thank you.