The African diaspora and migrants have for years been instrumental in helping family and friends at home get by, as huge annual remittance flows illustrate, but their contributions beyond remittances could have a significant impact on development, if tapped into.
According to the World Bank, African diaspora savings, at $53 billion every year, exceed annual remittances to the continent and are mostly invested abroad.
“If one in every 10 members of the diaspora could be persuaded to invest $1,000 in his or her country of origin, Africa could raise $3 billion a year for development financing,” Dilip Ratha and Sonia Plaza write in the World Bank’s 2011 report, Diaspora for Development in Africa.
Many Africans living abroad feel a strong sense of connection and want to contribute to development at home. Dr Girma Tefera, chair of the US-based Ethiopian-American Doctors Group (EADG), says among professionals in the diaspora there is a real desire to use their expertise and skills to make a difference in home countries.
“A lot of my colleagues’ primary motivation is to give back to the society at large back home,” Tefera says of the 171 Ethiopian physicians in the US who have pledged money and time to the EADG’s project to build a state-of-the-art hospital in Addis Ababa.
Gaetan Gatete, president of the Rwandan Diaspora network USA, says they are looking at what they can give, but also at what they can get in return. “We are thinking about how we can invest our money, how we can be the business link between here and our homeland,” Gatete told IRIN.
Through entrepreneurship, skills and technology exchange, increased trade links, philanthropic foundations, investment, and heritage and tourism links, diaspora groups, individuals and networks are giving back in various ways.
GOVERNMENTS NOT DOING ENOUGH
Even so, few African governments have managed to engage expatriates successfully in poverty reduction efforts and development. A recent policy brief from the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), a US-based think-tank studying the movement of people globally, says governments need to be much more proactive if they are to reap concrete benefits from their diaspora.
Kathleen Newland, MPI’s migration and development specialist, says African governments need to find out more about their diaspora populations, and to build solid relationships with them to implement coherent engagement policies, rather than treating them as either foreigners or locals.
“Social marketing is not something that many countries have done well, and few have developed good communications with [their] diaspora on a regular basis,” Newland says.
At least 32 African countries have now set up specialised units or ministries to engage with the diaspora, but these are often understaffed and underfinanced. As a result, “There is not a wide knowledge among diaspora [members] of government initiatives,” Newland said.
Chukwu-Emeka Chikezie, Director of Up!-Africa Limited, a consultancy firm working with diaspora members in the private sector, says home-country governments cannot rely solely on emotional bonds to get people in the diaspora involved in homeland development.
“The Office of Diaspora Affairs is there, but have they been able to really integrate it within their development agenda? That’s where there has been a failing,” said Chikezie.-nation.co.ke