Brain drain weakens SADC

The 35th SADC Summit held earlier this week in Gaborone offered a reminder of the intellectual largesse our region has been privileged to groom, nurture and house.

Within the conference hall as the Heads of State and their representatives sat at the top table, were at least two former presidents, former ministers and dozens of other luminaries our region has been blessed with over the years.

At the tail end of its three-phase 48-year industrialisation plan, SADC plans to have shifted from the current factor-driven economy, to an innovation-led economy. That aspiration’s fulfilment will fall flat should the region fail to tap into the considerable intellectual ability vested in past political, economic and private sector, a microcosm of whom were amply represented in the Summit Hall this week.

Four new Heads of State were welcomed at the Summit, being the leaders of Namibia, Lesotho, Mozambique and Zambia, while the leader of Tanzania gave a valedictory address as he prepares to step down from office in November.

It is certain that the intellectual experience represented by these five leaders will be lost to the wind, as SADC does not yet have mechanisms tapping into the knowledge of former heads of state.

Outgoing chair, Robert Mugabe, glanced on this issue when he spoke about the need to honour SADC founding members and to this end, the Summit resolved to develop a mechanism in this regard to be presented by next August. However, tapping into and collating the region’s collective intellectual pool goes far deeper than simply honouring those who founded SADC.

The invaluable knowledge and expertise the former leaders of Namibia, Lesotho, Mozambique, Zambia and Tanzania will evaporate into the air, while SADC’s current crop of leaders grapples with building an innovation-led regional economy.

Here in Botswana, it is difficult to say where the decades of irreplaceable minerals knowledge is, as government and private sector pioneers who trail blazed years ago have not been systematically approached for their expertise.

Our collective expertise is seeping out of the region, into the continent and further afield to lucrative knowledge-markets in Europe, Australia and the United States. It is clear that a think-tank tapping minds such as Mogae, Masire, Mbeki, Kikwete and many others urgently needs to be set up. That organisation could then identify other luminaries in the private and civic sector and address itself to the same development agenda SADC is presently pursuing.

A brain trust of this nature could provide the flexibility and dynamism needed to engage with the fast evolving challenges of our region. Youths could also be incorporated into the institution’s structures and ensure that those worst affected by the challenges in our region have a say in resolving them. We urge the new chairman of SADC, President Ian Khama, to reflect on this proposal and perhaps bounce it around the regional bodies’ structures as he begins what is sure to be a memorable 12 months at the helm of the structure.

Today’s thought

“Where smart people go, robust economic (growth) tends to follow, so we want to keep talent here.”

 - Mike Boulus

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