WASHINGTON, April 5, 2010—At a Washington D.C. gathering of some 400 members of the African Diaspora, representatives from 19 countries and 137 associations discussed ways to mobilize resources in order to further development in Africa. Participants focused on four specific areas: Governance and Capacity Development; Private Sector Development and Women’s Empowerment; Diaspora Engagement with Hometown Associations, and Brain Gain and Information Technology.
The gathering was part of the Feb. 25 Second African Diaspora Open House hosted by the World Bank.
During the event, participants emphasized the need to devote sustained and additional resources to improving governance. This included facilitating the Diaspora’s participation in policy making and investment by encouraging African governments to take advantage of the Diaspora’s intellectual and financial resources as well as members’ patriotic motivation. Participants also raised the need to improve channels for remittances. Remittances should be linked to financial products and services such as pensions and micro insurance, they said. Capacity building for women on business development activities was also recommended.
As part of the discussions, strategies to improve health services based on the MDGs were debated, including strengthening health systems, and Diaspora engagement through human resources for health, including training of doctors and nurses.
On education, the group noted that Diaspora engagement can be catalytic in the transfer of knowledge. Participants encouraged the Bank to facilitate the process. They also encouraged the contribution of African Diaspora professional networks and organizations to brain gain in home countries.
Harnessing the Economic Power of Remittances and Knowledge
The World Bank estimates that African immigrants living abroad—mostly in North America and Europe—send home between US$32 and US$40 billion annually. This figure far exceeds the money that is given to Africa through formalized development aid channels. In 2007, in response to recognition by the international community of the African Diaspora as a major development partner, the World Bank launched the African Diaspora Program (ADP) to support the African Union in its Diaspora global program and projects.
“Beyond wealth, the skills and knowledge that would need to be mobilized, there is a keen sense of commitment within the Diaspora, that comes from being of the continent and being of a specific country,” World Bank Vice President for Africa Obiageli Ezekwesili told participants at the February open house. “It is therefore important to look strategically at the Diaspora’s role in Africa’s development, which will certainly be driven by Africans.” Ezekwesili emphasized the important nexus of the power that the Diaspora community possesses through their expertise and the capital that they amass, both of which are of critical importance to Africa’s economic development.
The World Bank’s Managing Director, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, called on African nations to tap in to the Diaspora. “Country after country on the continent is looking for one skill or the other that I know is available outside, even on a part time basis,” she said. Okonjo-Iweala encouraged, but also cautioned, members of the Diaspora heading home. “If given a job back home, be prepared for struggle, for challenges, for people even asking why you are here? If you know why you are there, then you persist in spite of everything.” Referring to the food, fuel and financial crisis which the continent faced recently, she urged the Diaspora to work with the Bank in thinking through country specific social safety net programs. “There is a need for African countries to develop and implement social safety net programs to cushion the impact of these shocks on the populations, especially the poor”.
The managing director also recommended the creation of a library of data bases to help locate expertise to be matched with skills needs in Africa.
Defining a Role for Diasporans in Africa
Dr. Jimni Adisa, speaking for the African Union (AU), gave the definition of an African Diaspora. Diasporans “must have a bloodline; must be dispersed outside the continent; and must commit to the building of the African Union.” He said the African Union has been engaged in the process of intensive global consultations with the African Diaspora in London, Paris, Caribbean, and everywhere, over the last three years.
“To enable Diaspora participation in the African Union structure, the AU introduced 20 seats in the Economic, Social and Cultural Council for the Diaspora,” Adisa said. “The next steps would be to explore how the Diaspora participates in all the other institutions—Pan African Parliament, the Executive Council and the Assembly.” Initiatives aimed at drawing Diasporans back home also was a topic of discussion.
Ambassador Bockari Kortu Stevens of Sierra Leone decried the lack of competitive pay in African countries, which, he said, makes it impossible for the best qualified Africans to work in Africa and earn a descent enough pay to enable them keep the standard of living they are used to in the western world.
The World Bank’s ADP helps address this problem. In addition to policy and financial initiatives, the ADP is working with its partners, including Diaspora Professional Networks and Hometown Associations, to increase knowledge sharing and transfer (brain gain) between the Diaspora and their home countries, and to establish programs for encouraging Diasporans to return to professions at home.
At least seven countries are actively engaged with ADP in strengthening enabling environment for the Diaspora, mobilizing and engaging the Diaspora, strengthening transfer of knowledge through expatriate national programs, and creation of professional networks. These countries include Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Mali, Ghana, Uganda and Kenya.
“Topping-up salaries to attract highly skilled Diasporans back to home countries is one part of a broader strategy,” said Richard Cambridge, Advisor and Manager of the African Diaspora Program (ADP). “Civil service pay reform, for instance, is a long-term process and can provide some incentive to the return of Diaspora.”
However, according to Cambridge, while this process is underway, countries can and have found ways to encourage brain-gain by using virtual means, which is particularly effective in universities and educational institutions.