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Halting Africa’s brain drain: Academy prepares new generation of leaders 0

A consultant and a former fighter pilot want to provide the world’s poorest continent with a better future. At a school in Johannesburg, they are training some of the continent’s most talented children to become a new African elite.

Every morning, when the others are still sleeping, Joseph Munyambanza opens his eyes and thanks his God that he can be here in this beautiful, megalomaniacal place. He thinks about home, about the refugee camp and how far he had come to make it to this school in Johannesburg.

A few hours later, Joseph enters the courtyard propped up on crutches. He’s 19 years old, dark-skinned and thin. While playing soccer he twisted his right knee and tore his cruciate ligament. “It popped,” says Joseph, “but not like a gunshot.” Coming from the Congo as he does, that is not a sound he will ever mistake.

Joseph limps into the breakfast room, sits down at a table near the wall and tells his story with a gentle voice. He used to live near the Rwandan border. Rebels would roam through his village as they moved across into the Congo. If they came across a group of men, they would kill them quickly. If they came across a group of women, they would kill them slowly, sometimes with a dozen rebels after the other. Joseph’s family fled to Uganda when he was six years old.

Joseph, his parents and his five siblings received a tent in a United Nations camp. “I learned that I was now a refugee, not a human,” says Joseph.

Aid workers gave his family dried corn and oil, but they had no firewood to enable them to cook, so Joseph ate the raw kernels and drank the oil. Stomach pains were better than hunger. “There was no hope in the camp,” he says. “I never would have dreamt of a place like here.”

A worker with an aid organisation then told Joseph about the African Leadership Academy. Joseph filled out an application form. On one page he was supposed to write how much his parents earn in a year, and Joseph wrote “0” in this field. On the next page stood a table in which he is supposed to record what his family owns. Joseph thought for a moment, and then he wrote: a hoe.

Joseph sent his application to Johannesburg and addressed it to Christopher Khaemba, the headmaster. Joseph didn’t think that he would ever stand a chance. But as soon as Mr Khaemba was just a few lines into Joseph’s application, he knew that he had to get this boy for his school in South Africa.

A school for fixing Africa’s ills

Joseph has been living with 200 classmates at the boarding school on the outskirts of Johannesburg ever since. His classmates are aged 15 to 20 and come from 40 countries all over Africa, and every one of them is gifted, just like Joseph. They were chosen from 5,000 applicants: boys, girls, Muslims, Christians, blacks and whites. They were the best. When they are older, the hope is that they can help to solve the problems that have plagued the world in which they have grown up.

The work ahead of them is no less than to free the continent of corruption, combat crime, establish universities, conquer HIV and bring about peace. “They are to save Africa,” says Khaemba.

A former fighter pilot for the Kenyan air force, the African Leadership Academy’s 55-year-old headmaster is an amicable man. Mr Khaemba reaches for a book on his desk. “Daily Motivation for African-American Success” reads the title. He was reading through the book this morning.

“This is how my students should turn out, boys like Joseph,” he says, “just like General Colin Powell.”

The same Colin Powell who led the United States into the Iraq war?

“Well, maybe not like that exactly,” Khaemba says. “Maybe more like a black Bill Gates.”

Stemming the brain drain

Student Joseph has even thought at times about how much simpler his life would be if he just left Africa. Those who are well-educated, he knows, can always find their way to the United States or Britain. Mr Khaemba explained to Joseph that 20,000 qualified Africans leave the continent each year. Engineers, lawyers and doctors move to countries where the food is strange, the winters are cold and the people as well.

Joseph understands why many Africans prefer to live abroad rather than with the HIV infection rate of 40 per cent seen in Swaziland, the rape that occurs every 30 seconds in South Africa or the genocide that left 800,000 dead in Rwanda.

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By Takis Würger –   Source: The East African

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Direttore Responsabile Giuseppe Frangi