Mbeki calls on the African diaspora to come home

17 August 2015

Former South African president Thabo Mbeki said what made the African diaspora unique was that the continent exports brains, while the rest of the world only exports brawn. While this may be remarkable, Mbeki said it is now time to bring those brains back to Africa.

Mbeki was guest speaker at the Homecoming Revolution’s Speed Meet Jozi, a networking event for some of the most influential businesspeople and professionals in Africa. Homecoming Revolution works to bring top global African talent home to South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, Uganda and other sub-Saharan African countries.

Speaking at the Hilton Sandton on Friday 14 August, Mbeki called on talented Africans living abroad to return to the continent, reversing the brain drain to a brain gain.

Mbeki said many who have left Africa were willing to return to make their skills available for the benefit of the continent. To encourage more to return, he offered a solution. “We must put the necessary incentives in place to encourage homecoming,” he said.

This was after he read out some startling figures that put Africa’s brain drain into context. “The World Bank says 23 000 qualified staff are emigrating from Africa. More African scientists work in US than in Africa. And around 20 000 Africans trained in Europe stay there.”

CEO Angel Jones

CEO of Homecoming Revolution Angel Jones says more than half of Africans living abroad wish to return home. (Image: Mary Alexander)

Homecoming Revolution chief executive, Angel Jones, provided some optimism for her company’s cause. According to a recent Homecoming survey, Jones said, a whopping 53% of Africans want to come home, most of whom return for family and friends. Other reasons include a better quality of life, sense of belonging, jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities.

Some even return to use their skills to benefit society. “A homecomer said he returned to South Africa because of the problems, so he could make a difference,” said Jones.

Speed meet

Influential businesspeople and professionals from Africa at Homecoming Revolution’s Speed Meet Jozi on 14 August 2015 discuss turning Africa’s brain drain into a brain gain. (Image: Mary Alexander)

One of these homecomers was Hazel Ojany from Kenya who lived in the US and UK for 10 years. She returned to Kenya because she believes the continent “allows you to maximise your full potential”.

Ojany also said that to turn Africa around, we all need to surround ourselves with the right people. “You have to get people who want to see Africa be a place of production, not of consumption.”

Thebe Ikalafeng

Brand South Africa’s director Thebe Ikalafeng says Africans have to look inward to regain their identity. (Image: Mary Alexander)

Director for Brand South Africa, Thebe Ikalafeng, said Africans have to look inward to reclaim their identity. “We need to identify with Africa so we can have an identity.”

He said there are a number of talented Africans who have captured the global imagination and put the continent in the spotlight. “When we see Elon Musk doing great work he is telling the world Africa is capable.”