The issue of strengthening local research capacity in Africa is again high on the health and development agenda. The latest initiative comes from the Wellcome Trust. But when it comes to capacity development, one of the chief obstacles that health sectors in the region must confront is the migration of health professionals to countries that offer more lucrative opportunities, like those in western Europe. To combat this ''brain drain'', already back in 1984, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) created a training programme in which healthcare professionals from Africa conducted the bulk of their research in their own countries. However, the model was only partly successful. Several years ago, we assessed the preconditions for the renewal of Sida support for research and research training activities in the region. Based on our work to develop a critical mass of beneficial research capacity in the countries of sub-Saharan Africa, this article suggests several recommendations to both donors and governments that have broad application for general health research issues in the region.