JOHANNESBURG - The number of skilled professionals leaving the continent to live and work abroad every year is “frightening,” said former South African president Thabo Mbeki on Friday.
"The number of skilled people and professionals our continent has lost over the decades is truly frightening. Since 1990, Africa lost 20,000 academic professionals who left their countries [and] 10 percent of highly skilled information technology and finance professionals have also left the continent in recent years," Mbeki said in an address to an interactive gathering held by the Homecoming Revolution in Sandton, Johannesburg.
"It is estimated that more African scientists and engineers live and work in the USA and the UK than anywhere else in the world," he added.
Homecoming Revolution is a recruitment organisation that encourages Africans living abroad, especially professionals, to return home.
Mbeki added that to replace the number of skilled professional leaving the continent, multi-national companies hire expatatriates. He noted that the exodus of millions of Zimbabweans from their country meant that some 20 percent of its graduates now live and work in other countries.
Concerned about the long-term cost of the continent’s brain drain, Mbeki said it was crucial to turn the tide.
"Africa recruits and hire expats and pay them more than USD 4 billion a year…the USD 3.6 billion we spend training professionals [who] we lose every year, is almost equal to the USD 4 billion that we pay150,000 expats that we import."
Mbeki said with regard to the health profession, especially the public health sector, research had also shown that out of 57 worldwide with poor health systems, 36 of them were in Sub-Saharan Africa, yet southern African countries export nurses and other health professionals to Europe.
This loss of qualified health professionals indicated the need for skilled medical professionals trained in these countries to remain and make a contribution to strengthening their local’ health systems.
He added that it was impossible to realise the African dream of a continent with skilled professionals, thriving economies and no war and poverty, without skilled people. He also said that there was a will among Africans abroad to come back home, he said.
"Many among those who have left the continent are ready and willing either to return, or otherwise to make their skills available to promote development. There are many examples of the successful return to Africa which the Homecoming Revolution had been promoting for many years," said Mbeki.
He called on Africans to join hands and help bring back professionals to the continent. He said: ”Regardless of our particular occupations, all of us, we need to join hands with the Homecoming Revolution to bring back the intellectual capital that is important in the achievement of the African Renaissance to which all of us aspire.
"I must say this includes our governments, who need to put in place necessary incentives to encourage the homecoming, and instituting appropriate regimes concerning visas and work permits. I am certain that such measures will not fail us…every African should feel at home in Africa."