One of the really worrying issues South Africa has faced since the dawn of democracy, is what we term ‘the brain drain’.

This, if you haven’t heard of it before, is the phenomenon of skilled, educated and experienced South Africans leaving the country to seek better employment / business opportunities abroad.

It was a critical problem in the 90’s and is still an ongoing concern today – even though the efforts of organisations like the Homecoming Revolution have largely stemmed the tide of people immigrating to greener pastures.

But besides the emotional appeal to skilled citizens to seriously consider staying to help build a better South Africa for all – recent global developments could also be helping to convince the well-heeled to stay.

For example, in research done by economist Branko Milanovic – the middle class in emerging economies are financially catching up to and in some cases surpassing the levels income growth of their counterparts in more developed regions.

This graphic clearly illustrates who, in real terms, have been the winners and losers in economic terms from 1998 through to 2008.


The 2008 global financial crisis has been like a fork in the road for economic growth in developed countries.

Now fuelled by massive levels of public debt – developed economies haven’t as yet fundamentally recovered from the mess, and the prospect for this to change (considering also their ageing populations and reluctance to welcome immigrants) is not too positive. It looks like stagnant, sluggish and over-debted societies will be the order of the day for North America and Europe for some time to come.

The 2016 ‘Brexit and Trump’ choices further confirm an isolationist / populist stance for Western countries that are more intent on locking in the existing wealth that they have, rather than pushing forward with an open door policy for new growth. With flat economic growth and declining levels of productivity, it’s going to be interesting to see how these populist governments are going to fund the medical and social needs to their older populations. As a working member of society in these regions, the onus is going pretty much on you to help fund everyone else’s ageing lifestyle.

In contrast to this gloomy picture, even though there are lots of hurdles to overcome and in the short-term and things are feeling a little rocky at times – the overall outlook for economic opportunity in Sub-Saharan Africa looks very good.

According to the National Intelligence Council (a US-based government think tank), which released their latest trend report just last week, the five year outlook for the Sub-Saharan region is as follows:

– During the next five years, growing African populations will become more youthful, urban, mobile, and networked, and better educated—and more demanding of a voice.
– Rapid urbanization will stress infrastructure and increase visibility of elite corruption— fuelling public frustration with services or opportunities.
– Some 75 to 250 million Africans [1/4 of the entire population] will experience severe water stress, likely leading to mass migration.
– Nonetheless, Africa will remain a zone
 of experimentation by governments, corporations, NGOs and individuals seeking to advance development.
– The progress of the past two decades—including an expanded middle class, increasingly vibrant civil society, and the spread of democratic institutions—suggests upside potential.

So – when you compare the business / employment opportunities that exist in the developed world to the upside potential over the next decade or so in South Africa, the traditionally rosy overseas picture is not as clearcut as it was just a few years ago.

Brexit and Trump are really just a news headline manifestation of the fact that global power is shifting East and South.

The opportunities that Africa presents for energetic, skilled and ballsy entrepreneurs who are keen to get involved and help solve problems is noteworthy. That’s not to say that this opportunity is assured for everyone, it will require some frontier-thinking and a genuine willingness to make a positive contribution to society as a whole.

In conclusion then – the signs for South Africa, once again, appear positive; and could well result in more South Africans electing to stay, or come back home in greater numbers – and who knows – maybe even some highly skilled foreigners could start to consider emigrating here in search of a new frontier of hope?

Brexit and Trump will ensure that the UK and US keep their focus at home for the next couple of years, but in the mean time it’s time for us, collectively as South Africans, to take ownership of our destiny and thread a neat, methodical path towards ‘what should be‘.