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Q&A – The World Bank and the African Diaspora

Available in: Français

Washington, D.C., October 9, 2008 -- In the following interview, Kofi Anani, an operations officer working on Diaspora issues in the World Bank’s Africa Region, discusses a new partnership between the Bank and African Union to mobilize the African Diaspora in an effort to aid development on the continent.

What is the African Diaspora?

KA: The African Diaspora is made up of migrants of African descent residing outside the continent. Broadly speaking, there are two categories of the African Diaspora based on involuntary and voluntary migrations. The involuntary Diaspora members have been forged out of the transatlantic slave trade. This phenomenon has ensured that members can be found in such diverse locations as the United States, Canada, Brazil, Peru, Columbia, Mexico, the Caribbean, Western and Central Europe including the Balkans, and to an extent in India, Papua New Guinea and beyond. The voluntary Diaspora members are the result of recent migrations largely from the 70s and beyond to Europe, North America, Middle East etc, and notwithstanding the fact that during this period some migrants from Africa were forced out of the continent because of civil wars, famine and other human calamities.

Where are the largest African communities outside of Africa?

KA: The largest African communities outside of Africa are in Brazil, the United States, Canada, Western Europe, the Caribbean/West Indies and to a certain extent Papua New Guinea.

Why is the World Bank involved with the African Diaspora?

KA: With the increasing realization of the real and potential contributions of the African Diaspora to the development of the continent, the African Union and African governments have called on the Bank as the major development partner of Africa to help harness the expertise and resources of the Diaspora for improving development outcomes in the various countries. The Bank has just signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the African Union for a period of five years, and one of the areas for mutual collaboration is improving relations with the Diaspora.

What is "brain drain" and how does it affect African economies?

KA: Brain drain is essentially the exodus of qualified and skilled human resources out of a given country, region or continent. The phrase refers to the shortage of skilled professionals in critical sectors of African economies required to produce and maintain a level of productivity that would generate the kind of growth and global economic competitiveness necessary for improving development outcomes and human lives on the continent. The sectors in Africa hardest hit by brain drain are the science and technology, education and health sectors. For example, of the 120 to 150 doctors Ghana trains each year, the country loses an equal number to migration. The health care industry is particularly hard hit; 1,227 health care professionals left Ghana in 2003 to work abroad.

How can African countries counter the effects of brain drain?

KA: Despite the grim picture presented by the exodus of skilled professionals, African countries should now concentrate on transforming brain drain into “brain gain” by building and nurturing networks and developing strategies to harness the scientific and technical expertise of their Diaspora members. A realistic agenda for reversing the brain drain is to concentrate on utilizing Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), virtual networks and partnerships, online mentoring programs, short-term visitations and professional exchange programs. Physical repatriation is not a pre-requisite for Diaspora contributions to home of origin development.

What are remittances and do they have an impact on African economies?

KA: Remittances are money sent by migrants to their home countries for various purposes. Recent estimates of the total remittances by African migrants into the region range from $10-40 billion (in fact there is no accurate figure). In 2007 for example, Bank of Ghana announced that Ghanaians living abroad contributed about US$2 billion to the economy through remittances. These remittances have sustained families, stimulated new home construction and artisanal enterprise development, helped to extend and maintain public infrastructure such as schools and hospitals through efforts of hometown and student associations. It is projected that sub-Saharan African countries can potentially raise $1-3 billion by reducing the cost of international migrant remittances, $5-10 billion by issuing Diaspora bonds, and $17 billion by securitizing future remittances and other future receivables.

Are African countries making an effort to engage Africans living abroad?

KA: Although African governments have begun to recognize the potential contributions of the Diaspora to home country development, serious effort in terms of strategies and instruments to harness this potential is lacking. Some governments have created national offices to handle Diaspora affairs. The Ghanaian government for example has, among other efforts, passed citizenship legislation granting eligible overseas-resident Ghanaians the right to vote. T he government also has introduced a permanent Diaspora visa that allows descendants of the historical Diaspora to visit Ghana without visas after their first visit.

How is the World Bank helping?

KA: Several African governments have requested World Bank financial and technical support in developing and implementing national Diaspora engagement policy frameworks. These requests are a result of the highly successful High-Level Seminar on Promoting Diaspora-led investments, and leveraging remittances as sources of financing for enhanced growth and development in Africa organized February 6-8, 2008, in Cape Town, South Africa by the Joint Africa Institute (JAI). The JAI comprises the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank Group, and the African Development Bank (AfDB). Diaspora engagement policy frameworks would allow the respective countries to undertake concrete actions and measures for harnessing the expertise and related resources of their Diaspora in a more coherent and comprehensive manner.

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