How the African diaspora can help the continent achieve the SDGs

Tom-Chris Emewulu January 09, 2019

There has been a growing interest in the dialogue around the need to include African diaspora in the tapestry of development dynamics of the continent. For the purpose of this article, we shall define African diaspora as “worldwide collection of communities descended from Africa’s peoples.”

With more than 30 million Africans spread across various countries around the world, African diaspora can play a huge part in helping to craft new pathways to socio-economic development on the continent. But that’s not all, the World Bank records that remittances to Sub-Saharan Africa reached $466 billion in 2017, and is expected to keep increasing at 4.1% – dwarfing other forms of official development assistance inflows by several margins. Clearly, diaspora investment could be a way to close the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) financing gap of $3 trillion dollars.

But while the debate continues to evolve, many African countries are still daunted with the task of creating mainstream systems and tools for integrating the diaspora as participators in fostering socio-economic and political development in their countries.

With a progressive awareness of the need for a sustainable African development agenda driven by Africans, African diaspora could provide the other half of the equation needed to turn the SDGs from aspiration to concrete reality. Here’s how:

Create Infrastructures for Knowledge Exchange

These are uncertain times for many African countries – the confluence of rapid demographic growth, digital transformation, and weak human resource base in recent years presents fresh and critical challenges to Africa’s development dynamics and global competitiveness.

How the African diaspora can help the continent achieve the SDGs
African American celebs in Ghana during the Full Circle Festival in December 2018 — Photo: Jidenna/ Twitter

As the continent’s labor force dramatically expands, so does the need for purposeful investments of human, political, and financial capital. By 2050, Africa’s youth population is expected to reach 840 million. Despite the growth of the GDP of many African countries in recent years, there has been a continuous sharp disparity between the number of active job seekers and available jobs. According to the African Union/OECD report Africa’s Development Dynamics 2018, if the underemployment trend continues, Africa’s young people will feel the adverse effect the most.

Yet, research shows that African diaspora can be a valuable asset for exchanging knowledge, ideas, and technology that could be useful in achieving the continent’s development agenda. And, according to a recent World Bank survey, they are ready and willing to do so.

An immediate example is the recent visit of German-Ghanaian Hollywood actor, Boris Kodjoe and several other A-listers, to Ghana in commemoration of the FullCircle Festival – a year designated to commemorate 400 years since the beginning of the transatlantic slave trade.

Another brilliant example is found in Sierra Leone. The country’s diaspora health workers in the UK created an association to provide annual medical support (in the form of skills, knowledge, and equipment) for the schools and hospitals where they trained or had their initial deployments.

Such forms of exchange, if properly harnessed, could be pivotal in providing pipelines of skills and knowledge transfer, tourism, conflict transformation, and humanitarian support – aspects necessary to fuel Africa’s economic prosperity and global competitiveness.

Enhance Easy Cross-Border Flow of Money

Experts and analysts have made several cases about how remittances have proven to be a critical resource for many developing countries in terms of balance payments. According to a review by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW), “despite the recent growth slump (in the global south); all regions in Africa are projected to report a positive economic outlook, with remittance income expected to be a key economic booster in the coming months.” Remittances have become a critical factor in reducing poverty in developing countries.

How the African diaspora can help the continent achieve the SDGs

A similar report by International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) clearly shows that remittances from the Rwandan Diaspora contributed at least 2 percent to Gross Domestic Product in 2016 and grew by 34 percent over the last decade. Last year, diaspora remittances accounted for 5.6% of Nigeria’s GDP and were Kenya’s highest foreign exchange earner. Overall, remittances make up 2.5% of Africa’s GDP.

Nevertheless, despite these quanta of remittance inflows, the cost of sending money to Africa continues to be a huge obstacle.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals says that, by 2030, the global average price for remittances should not exceed 3 percent of face value, with even the most expensive countries not being more than 5 percent. But as it stands, sending money to Africa is more expensive than anywhere else in the world. On average, it costs more than 10% to send $200 to and from a country in the region which is more than 20% higher than the charge send money to any other region. Although informal channels and fintech companies provide cheaper options than official channels, remittance charges often eat into what beneficiaries would receive.

How the African diaspora can help the continent achieve the SDGs

There is a need for African governments to create systems that,  inter alia, allow for an easy flow of money by removing transaction costs and lowering cross-border taxation on remittances.

Include African Diaspora in Advocacy & Policy Programs

The understanding that African governments need to facilitate cooperation, trust, and mutual understanding by helping to bridge the two worlds of diasporans and their home country can be actualized by including African diaspora in advocacy and policy programs. For far too long, diasporas often feel their governments only consider them as easy routes for financial capital but do not consider them as development partners.

For example, at the 2017 Ghana Diaspora Homecoming summit held in Accra, one gentleman argued vehemently that diasporans are often treated like white trash or crybabies when it comes to issues pertaining to policy.

Many African countries are progressively engaging with diaspora-led organizations and the private sector to create these linkages but more needs to be done.

Mindful of this shortcoming, organizations like the African Foundation for Development (AFFORD) was established to expand and enhance the contributions of the African diaspora to African development. At the core of their work is actively raising awareness of the role the diaspora can and should play in driving Africa’s development, by mobilizing the financial, intellectual, and political assets of the African diaspora and channeling them to drive economic growth and social development in Africa.

To further strengthen the greater goal of shared vision and socio-economic linkages, many African governments have established diaspora engagement offices to facilitate diaspora related issues.

In conclusion, a statement by an AFFORD representative at the Diaspora Homecoming Summit holds true: Even though African diaspora has and continues to contribute to job creation and accounts for huge investments on the continent, these efforts can be amplified by providing the right framework and support. Africa’s diaspora is indeed the other half in providing human and financial resources needed to create economic transformation, eradicate deadly diseases, protect the environment, provide accessible health-care systems and quality education to Africa’s children. Surely, these recommendations may require progressive evaluation and fine-tune with continued cooperation between the two worlds – but they provide a clear-cut roadmap for African governments on how to leverage the huge potentials of its skilled diasporans.

Last Edited by:Ismail Akwei Updated: January 9, 2019


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