Opinion

Op-Ed

Africans in the Diaspora: Development Partnerships

President of the African Bank of Development (BAD) Donald Kaberuka (R) speaks to secretary general of BAD Bedoumra Kordje during the BAD round table assembly on May 13 in Dakar. (Photo: Seyllou/AFP/Getty Images)

In an earlier article, I indicated that President Barack Obama has an opportunity to make Africans in the Diaspora a lynchpin of United States policy in Africa. This scenario is applicable to other Western countries with Africa Diaspora populations as well. Africans in the Diaspora continue to have deep interest in Africa’s development and have directed their time, resources and expertise toward development priorities in Africa. A hallmark of this support and interest, however, is that the impact of assistance is often small-scale, incapable of reaching the vast majority of target populations in need. In this article, I discuss how best to scale up the participation of Africans in the Diaspora in Africa’s development in four key areas: targeted technical assistance, financial investments in worthy business ventures, use of existing bilateral development structures and the potential role for Africans in the Diaspora to help address the extensive infrastructure woes in Africa.

Impact of Africans in the Diaspora on Africa’s Development

Africans in the Diaspora are important stakeholders in Africa’s development. According to the World Bank, in 2008 they sent remittances of about $20 billion to Sub-Sahara Africa. Despite the current economic downturn, a recent analysis by World Bank experts estimates that remittance flows to Africa will dip only slightly to $19 billion in 2009. The African Development Bank, combining remittances sent back to North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa, estimates that Africa receives $32 billion a year from Africans in the Diaspora. These estimates represent official channel figures. It does not account for the vast flow of remittances sent back to Africa through unofficial channels. For example, the Central Bank of Nigeria, taking into consideration official and unofficial remittances, estimated that between January and June 2007, Nigerians in the Diaspora sent to Nigeria a sum of $8 billion.

The World Bank estimates that the so-called "voluntary" African Immigrant Diaspora that left Africa after the end of World War II numbers at least 4 million in the West. The population of "voluntary" African Diaspora in the United States is nearly 1.4 million, according to latest figures from the U.S. Census Bureau. In the United States and Canada, significant proportions of this community have college degrees, own their own homes and hold down professional jobs.

The "involuntary" members of the Diaspora, who live in Europe, North America, the Caribbean, Brazil and other Latin American countries, represent those whose ancestors left Africa against their will more than three centuries ago. The United States Census Bureau estimated in 2008 that 41.1 million individuals identified themselves as Blacks. Of that Black population, at least 39 million identified themselves as African Americans. African Americans represent about 13 percent of U.S. population and are projected to have a combined “purchasing power” of more than $1 trillion by 2012. Thousands of African Americans practice as physicians, lawyers, pharmacists, psychologists, nurses, journalists, engineers, public officials and accountants, and many own businesses and investment firms.

African American politicians and advocacy organizations have played important roles in galvanizing the U.S. government to address specific policy issues in Africa. The Congressional Black Caucus (C.B.C.), African American churches and civil society organizations played immeasurable roles in U.S. governmental decisions to support majority rule in South Africa. They played significant roles in the passage of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (A.G.O.A.) to improve access to U.S. markets for textile and other goods produced by African-based partners. The C.B.C. made important contributions in the U.S. government response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa, the Darfur crisis and the Congo Kinshasa conflict. Today, the C.B.C. continues to help shape U.S. policy towards Africa. This scenario applies to Africa Diaspora members of parliament in the United Kingdom and Canada.

Africa Diaspora members from the Caribbean remain proud of their African heritage and are stalwart members of South-South meetings and collaboration. Their governments work closely with African governments in the United Nations and other multilateral agencies. Brazil, the economic powerhouse of Latin America, has a sizeable African Diaspora population (more than 90 million, the largest concentration of Africans in the Diaspora in one country) and recognizes political and economic relationships with Africa as a cornerstone of its foreign policy. Africa Diaspora immigrant groups, through remittances, support relatives and communities in their native countries to pay for school fees, health care and small-scale community-based infrastructure initiatives. The African Development Bank estimates that official remittances represent between 9 and 14 percent of the G.D.P. of receiving countries. In some countries, official remittances represent between 80 and 750 percent of Official Development Assistance. Africans in the Diaspora send money to support entrepreneurial activities of relatives and friends in Africa. They also help address governance issues in their native countries and help push for political and economic reforms.

How to Scale Up the Participation of Africans in the Diaspora

The effort to scale up the participation of Africans in the Diaspora in Africa’s development requires strategic implementation to have an impact on the ground in Africa. In addition to scaling up the impact of individual Africa Diaspora assistance to relatives and personal projects in Africa, it is necessary to create platforms and implementation vehicles for large-scale intervention in Africa’s development. This can be facilitated with the following objectives:

A) Strengthening technical assistance to Africa by Africans in the Diaspora;
B) Creating structured, transparent platforms to invest financially in viable business ventures in Africa;
C) Utilizing existing bilateral operational frameworks between Africa Diaspora countries and African countries to jumpstart active participation;
D) Establishing credible infrastructure joint venture projects between Africans in the Diaspora and African partners to help address the monumental infrastructure woes in Africa.

To undertake these first two objectives, I propose the creation of the Africa Diaspora Technical and Investment Fund (A.D.T.I.) to organize, mobilize, structure and implement a combined technical assistance and investment program by Africans in the Diaspora in Africa. The A.D.T.I. would have the major task of linking technical expertise amongst Africans in the Diaspora to technical need in specific geographical locations. In addition, A.D.T.I. would link Africans with verifiable investment interests and resources to investment opportunities in African Diaspora countries and institutions.

The A.D.T.I. would operate two separate continental initiatives, namely The Africa Diaspora Technical Assistance Initiative and the Africa Diaspora Africa Investment Initiative.

The Africa Diaspora Technical Assistance Initiative (A.D.T.A.) would have an emphasis on major development needs in the continent, focusing on mobilizing Africa Diaspora expertise to work in Africa. This mobilization would assist African countries as they attempt to meet the 2015 Millennium Development Goals (M.D.G.). The eight MDG include the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger; achieving universal primary education; promoting gender equality and empowering women; reducing child mortality; improving maternal health; combating HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability; and developing a global partnership for development. A recent report by the African Development Bank indicates that none of the Sub-Saharan African countries is on track to meet all the MDGs by 2015. To make progress on the MDGs, multi-sectoral teams of African Diaspora experts will be needed on a regular basis to work in Africa, singly or in teams. For Africans in the Diaspora thinking of moving permanently to Africa, the A.D.T.A. should be positioned to provide assistance. It should also assist Diaspora experts wishing to contribute through "virtual" technical assistance by using Internet, video conferencing and other information technology media. A.D.T.A. can organize for experts to train African based professionals that can in turn serve as trainers to hundreds and thousands of other Africa-based professionals.

In addition to the M.D.G., A.D.T.A. can link expertise to conflict resolution initiatives, agricultural green revolution projects, public administration reforms, expansion of micro credit facilities and can assist the African Union and African countries to meet their technical obligations regarding the implementation of the Africa Health Strategy 2007-2015. Whatever African partners identify as priorities, the A.D.T.A. should be in a position to respond.

The Africa Diaspora Africa Investment Initiative (A.D.A.I.), the second prong of the A.D.T.I., would focus on individual and group investment in Africa. Remittances, already a powerful source of capital in many African countries, can become even more pivotal through the potential catalytic role of A.D.A.I., which would convert individual remittances into powerful instruments of development. It would address the following issues related to remittances:

1) Reducing the cost of individual remittances to Africa. World Bank and African Development Bank experts estimate that reducing the cost of sending money back to Africa can make available an additional $1-3 billion a year to relatives in the continent;
2) Creating an environment through regulatory and banking reforms in Africa to channel more of individual remittances toward investment and self-sustaining purposes;
3) Working with African governments and institutions to issue Africa Diaspora Investment Bonds. World Bank experts estimate that African countries can raise $5-10 billion through this process. Similar programs in Latin America provide instruction.
4) Exploring and implementing transparent, verifiable ways of leveraging and securitizing anticipated future remittances to finance private sector investments. Experts prior to the global meltdown in October 2008 predicted that African countries could have access to $17 billion a year through this process. With the part that derivatives played in the current global meltdown, this strategy will attract close scrutiny.

To spur significant financial investments by Africans in the Diaspora in viable business ventures in Africa, the A.D.A.I. would additionally focus on implementation of Information, Education and Communication (I.E.C.) programs, which should be a serious effort to inform Africans in the Diaspora on available investment portfolios and attendant risks. In this way the I.E.C. would showcase investment opportunities in Diaspora countries, promoting viable business networks on both sides of the Atlantic and in Europe. Significant levels of coordinated activities would be needed on banking, credit and lending frameworks. Additional work would be needed to expand opportunities for African producers of raw and semi-processed goods to have enhanced access to Diaspora country markets. The U.S. Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (A.G.O.A.) is a case in point. As noted by Jonnie Carson, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Africa during his recent Senate confirmation hearing, the reform of A.G.O.A. is necessary to permit the importation of high-value agricultural goods into the United States from Africa.

Operational and Implementation Issues

To become a reality, the proposed A.D.T.I. would need to obtain credible, action-oriented political support at the executive and legislative branches of government in Diaspora countries and in Africa. Support from the African Union, G-8 nations, G-20 nations and multilateral agencies would also be essential to the Fund becoming operational. The African Union and G-8 nations would have the opportunity to support the A.D.T.I. at their annual meetings in July. The 2009 meetings of the G-20 nations, the European Union, the U.N. General Assembly and the World Bank would all provide forums for stakeholders to hold meetings and consultations on A.D.T.I.

With political support in place, the next step would be to put together a small task force of experts and key stakeholders to plan the launch and operations of A.D.T.I. The small task force with commensurate financial support would bring together experts to address critical issues, including how to overcome potential legal and political obstacles; structure the Fund’s governance and operations; finance its activities; ensure transparency and oversight; and establish a timeline for commencement of operations. With necessary commitment and political support, the A.D.T.I. could become operational by the later part of 2010.

The readily available model for moving forward is the public/private/civil society process that led to the creation of the Geneva-based Global Fund against AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (The Global Fund). The organizational model and operations of the Global Fund provide guidance on collaborative relationships between governments, the organized private sector, multilateral agencies, professional bodies, civil society organizations and target populations.

In the forthcoming second part of this article, I will discuss how to utilize existing bilateral relationships between Africa Diaspora countries, especially in the West, and African countries to jumpstart the active participation in Africa’s development. I will also discuss how Africans in the Diaspora in partnership with African policymakers can play a significant role in addressing, in the short and long term, the extensive infrastructure woes of African countries.

View the Worldpress Desk’s profile for Chinua Akukwe.

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