Africa and its Diaspora: Partnership Issues
By Chinua Akukwe and Sidi Jammeh
January 15, 2004
Africa and its people living outside the continent are united through blood ties, cultural affinity and shared history, and to some extent, a common destiny. Since the forced migration of millions of young and able bodied men, women and children of Africa to work in plantations and other early economic activities of the emerging Western frontier in the Western Hemisphere, the quest to establish strong partnerships and linkages between the same people separated by hundreds of years, oceans or environmental circumstances, have remained unabated, although with minimal degrees of success.
Today, the quest to renew durable partnerships between Africa and its people in North America, South America, the Caribbean, Europe and other parts of the world is receiving renewed attention for five principal reasons. First, African leaders are now taking specific steps to tackle the economic and social problems of the continent through the reconfiguration of the Organization of African Unity as the African Union (AU) and the implementation of the economic platform known as New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). Second, after winning legal civil rights protection and experiencing a growing proportion of middle class households in their adopted countries, the African Diaspora is now moving to position themselves as influential political and economic powerbrokers in their adopted countries. Third, the phenomenon of globalization, with its gradual erosion of national or regional economic boundaries and the instant capacity to connect people living thousands of miles apart, is accelerating the quest for connectivity among people of shared lineage and history. Fourth, the decision of African leaders at the African Union meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in February 2003 to eventually recognize the Diaspora as the sixth region of the AU has put a sense of urgency in organized efforts to develop a durable partnership between Africa and its Diaspora. Fifth, the menace of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa and the high rates of infection among African Diasporas are creating an urgent sense of shared mission to tackle a common, though, elusive enemy.
In this article, we attempt to provide an overview on critical issues that should serve as the foundation for a durable partnership between Africa and its Diaspora. In a subsequent article, we will discuss how to build a durable and sustainable partnership between Africa and its Diaspora.
CONTEXTAUL ISSUES IN AFRICA-DIASPORA PARTNERSHIP
Before discussing the critical Africa-Diaspora partnership issues, it is important to put these issues in their proper context. We briefly review the profile of the African Diaspora and the three distinct stages of the evolving relationships between Africa and its people in the Diaspora.
PROFILE OF THE AFRICAN DIASPORA
According to the 2000 United States census, there are 34,658,190 African-Americans in the United States. Of the 35 million people that claimed Hispanic heritage in the 2000 US census, at least one third are likely to have African ancestry. Nearly 1.8 million people from the Caribbean lived in the United States in 2000. About 0.6% of all people living in United States (1,781,877) identified themselves as Sub-Saharan Africans. Conservatively, in the United States alone, at least 50 million individuals have African ancestry. Most people in the Caribbean and significant proportions of individuals in Latin America have African ancestry. The International Office of Migration (IOM), a United Nations agency, estimates that the African Diaspora population in France is 1,633,142 and another 1.5 million African Diasporas live in other European countries.
The IOM also provides a picture of an affluent African Diaspora. About 22% of African Diasporas are in the teaching, education and research professions; 20% in finance, investments and economics; 20% in public health; 15% in engineering; 9% in agriculture; 5% in information technology; 5% in legal sciences; 3% in administration, and; 1% in natural sciences. The 2000 US census indicates that foreign-born Sub-Saharan Africans (recent immigrants) have the highest proportion of foreign-born individuals 25 years and over who have bachelors degrees (49.3%)compared to Europe (32.9%) and Asia (44.9%). At least 38.2% of Sub-Saharan householders in the US own their own homes. The average median household income of foreign-born households headed by Sub-Saharan Africans was $36,371, according to the 2000 US census. For the period 2000 through 2002, the median household income for African Americans was $29,483 according to the US Census. Home-ownership for African Americans was 48% in 2003. Black-owned business in 1997, the latest period for which data is available, employed 718,300 persons and generated US$71 billion in revenues, according to the US Census.
Remittances by Africans in the Diaspora to their countries of origin are substantial. According to the IOM, Nigerians in the Diaspora remitted US$1.3 billion in 1999, equivalent to 3.71% of the country’s GDP and 55% of overseas development assistance. Remittances from Diasporas that identify Eritrea as their country of origin, accounted for 19.68% of the country’s GDP and a staggering 85.8% of the overseas development assistance. It is important to note that these remittances do not include informal transactions that may be higher than data in official records.
Stages in the Africa-Diaspora Relationship
Another crucial contextual element in Africa-Diaspora relationships is a clear understanding of the phases of this intriguing partnership. According to Howard Jeter, the former US Ambassador to Nigeria, there are three distinct stages of the Africa-Diaspora partnership. The first stage, the survival and freedom stage, chronicles the individual struggle by slaves to win personal and institutional freedom to live a life of respect and dignity while engaging in back-breaking labor in the West. The second stage is the civil rights struggle in the Diaspora and the struggle for political independence from colonial rulers in Africa. The second stage heralded a new era of legal protection for Africans in the Diaspora and the right for indigenous political aspirations of Africans after hundreds of years of colonial rule. The third stage, and the current stage of the Africa-Diaspora relationship, is the era of organized and institutional cooperation and collaboration.Any attempt to give primacy to the first or second stages of Africa-Diaspora relationships in today’s efforts to develop a durable partnership is bound to fail. The first and second stages of the Africa-Diaspora relationship should serve as an inspiration to focus on the hard work needed to organize and institutionalize the mechanics of a durable partnership. This discussion of a durable partnership between Africa and its Diaspora in this article is almost exclusively focused on the current era of organized and institutional cooperation and collaboration.
PARTNERSHIP ISSUES IN AFRICA-DIASPORA RELATIONSHIPS
The foundation of this partnership is the need to ultimately organize and institutionalize the relationship between Africa and its people in the Diaspora. This effort requires careful planning, diligent review of partnership issues, and concerted efforts to develop structures and mechanisms for implementing joint strategies in Africa and the Diaspora. . We briefly present an overview of the partnership issues in Africa-Diaspora relationships.
1) The African Union should adopt the Africans in the Diaspora as the sixth region of the continental body. This process will legitimize the role of the Diaspora both in their adopted countries and in regards to their potential relationships with other Western nations and African countries.
2) Establish clear goals, objectives, and action steps for the Africa-Diaspora partnership. The AU as the political organ of the continent should develop a partnership with Diasporas that focuses on verifiable objectives and deliverables for Africa’s development and also provide value-added for Diasporas in their adopted countries. These deliverables should focus on political, economic, legal, social, and cultural issues.
3) The partnership should create multiple avenues for harnessing the technical skills of Africans in the Diaspora for the development of the continent. Thousands of African-Americans are doctors, dentists, lawyers, and economists, business executives, politicians, and could play decisive role in both short-and-long term measures to accelerate Africa’s development.
4) The Africa-Diaspora partnership should address the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the continent. Since HIV/AIDS is without question, the most formidable development challenge in Africa today, it is important to mobilize the technical, political and financial resources of Africans in the Diaspora to fight the epidemic. The US Congressional Black Caucus has been a huge ally in organized advocacy efforts to increase US technical and financial assistance to Africa for AIDS remedial efforts.
5) The partnership should embrace the tripartite (government, employers and employees) strategic approach to human resources development adopted by the International Labor Organization (ILO). To overcome the challenges of adequate, qualified labor critical in jumpstarting Africa into the 21st century, African governments, employers and employees must reach consensus on how to address the growing shortage of qualified middle and high level workers that are crucial for a nation’s political and economic development. The issue of brain drain should also be tackled under this tripartite approach to ensure that all direct and remote causes of intellectual migration out of Africa are addressed comprehensively. A fact-based needs assessment is a critical component of understanding the human resources situation in Africa, and also crucial to serious attempts to organize and institutionalize Africa-Diaspora partnerships. A major target of the human resources development agenda for Africa should be the strengthening of public institutions in the continent, from public safety to legal, healthcare, and economic policy making.
6) The partnership should focus on wealth creation in Africa rather than poverty reduction. In wealth creation, African governments have the critical responsibility of providing enabling macroeconomic environment for small and medium scale business to prosper, create new jobs, and spawn satellite businesses. The role of the private sector in Africa’s development both in the continent and in the Diaspora should be recognized and integrated into the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of a durable Africa-Diaspora partnership.
7) The partnership should strengthen civil society in Africa. To accelerate the process of enthroning strong democratic traditions and ensure community-based development in Africa, the partnership should strengthen the role of civil society as sentinels of democracy and as vocal representatives of the disenfranchised. Civil society should be strengthened in the areas of policy advocacy, community mobilization, microeconomic activities, and gender equity issues.
8) Peace and security in Africa is crucial for Africa’s development and should be a major focus of the partnership. The partnership should focus on proactive efforts to prevent the deadly conflicts of Africa. These proactive efforts should include promoting good governance, ensuring participation by all stakeholders in the political process of a country, and ensuring peaceful transfer of political power.
9) The partnership should ensure the rule of law in all facets of life in Africa. The perceived lack of equity in the judicial system is a major cause of political unrest and upheavals in Africa. The lack of consistent adjudication procedures in enforcing contracts is a major obstacle to sustained private sector investment in Africa. The Africa-Diaspora partnership should ensure that all African countries within the shortest possible time have a functional judicial system that inspires confidence in their citizens, among friendly external countries, and among potential business partners.
10) The partnership should pursue joint advocacy strategy in Africa’s relationship with the rich countries of the world and multilateral agencies,especially in the areas of debt relief, agricultural subsidies, other trade protectionist policies, access to lifesaving medicines for infectious diseases, increased development assistance, development of manufacturing capacities, and increased trading opportunities for African entrepreneurs.
The Africa-Diaspora partnership is crucial for accelerating Africa’s development and also as an avenue for channeling the creative public and private sector energies of Africans in the Diaspora. It requires diligent efforts by both sides. There will be no quick fixes. It will require organized and institutionalized efforts to make the partnership a reality. In the next article, we discuss possible ways of organizing and institutionalizing an Africa-Diaspora partnership.
Chinua Akukwe (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a member of the Board of Directors of the Constituency for Africa (CFA), Washington, DC and a former Vice Chairman of the National Council for International Health (NCIH) now known as the Global Health Council, Washington, DC. Sidi Jammeh is the Chair-Emeritus (having served as chair for seven years) of the World Bank-IMF Africa Society and is a senior economist with the World Bank.
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2. Jeter Howard (2002). Reaching Out to the African Diaspora: The Need for Vision. Remarks as US Ambassador to Nigeria. The Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Lagos, Nigeria, November.
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