Harnessing the Power of the African Diaspora

16 November 2004 13:00 - 14:00 GMT+00
Public event


Titi Banjoko, Director - Africarecruit
Philip Aliker, Barrister

Tony Worthington, MP


This event is based around the discussion of the various groups of diaspora, how their different skills could be harnessed and maximise the potential of the diaspora.

Boothroyd Room

1. The sixth meeting in the series on "Africa and the Developed World: Taking Responsibility for our Actions", was on the topic of "Harnessing the Power of the African Diaspora". The meeting was chaired by Tony Worthington MP. The speakers were Dr Titi Banjoko, Director of Africarecruit, and Philip Aliker, a barrister.

2. Philip Aliker spoke first, to a PowerPoint presentation. He began by emphasising that there was not one diaspora, but many. For example, the African diaspora included Africans of different racial backgrounds, African Americans, and also the greater world community of Afrophiles. There were different groupings and perspectives within each of these categories. There was also a large literature on the diaspora. He mentioned particularly the Report of the International Development Committee.

3. The various diaspora groups acted in different ways, channelling financial resources, providing a forum for the exchange of skills, knowledge and technology, and playing a role in peace-building and democratisation. Many examples of successful diaspora activity could be cited: a recent example was the mobilisation of the West Indian diaspora following the hurricanes in 2004.

4. It was necessary to note, however, that there was a complex pattern of over-lapping and sometimes divergent interests. This was true between communities (for example, the Buganda, the Buyoro and the Acholi in Uganda), within regions (for example between countries in the Nile Basin) and across national borders.

5. In order to maximise the potential of the diaspora, it would be useful to think about the who, where, what, why, and when of diaspora networks, both in home and host states. There were interventions that could be introduced on both sides - for example, tax benefits, seed money, logistic and legal support, insurance of various kinds. The overarching idea was to "establish a culture of accepted transnationalism".

6. Again, there were many good examples: the Indian diaspora creating a register, the Philippines creating a credit card to facilitate remittances, Eritrea introducing compulsory taxation, and so on.

7. Dr Titi Banjoko also spoke to a PowerPoint presentation. Her starting point was that African leaders and countries were now reaching out to the diaspora. They were emphasising not the negative aspects of capital flight, but rather the need to capture potential benefits. They were doing this by changing laws, by facilitating and enabling remittances, and also by setting up diaspora departments within governments.

8. Titi Banjoko emphasised that the diaspora was one of Africa's greatest offshore assets. There were at least 3.8 million Africans living outside Africa, mainly in Europe and North America. Over half held tertiary or postgraduate qualifications. Remittances were important, amounting to something like US$12 billion in 2002. However, there were many other benefits, particularly through opportunities to tap the creativity, innovation, knowledge and links of members of the diaspora. Titi Banjoko described the diaspora as "cost effective, passionate consultants" for Africa.

9. She then focused on two key aspects, human capital and financial capital. On the side of human capital, she again emphasised the skill sets available. Africarecruit had been effective in enabling recruitment into Africa. There were, however, many challenges, not least legal barriers like problems of dual nationality, national service and long drawn out recruitment processes.

10. On the financial side, a survey undertaken by Africarecruit showed that remittances were often used for setting up businesses. Official data probably underestimated the scale of remittances, since Africans placed high reliance on community mechanisms, not captured by official data, and also sometimes on direct barter.

11. Concluding, Titi Banjoko emphasised that increasing numbers of Africans were engaged in Africa at various levels. Much remained to be done, however, if the barriers were to be lifted with respect to both human capital and financial capital. It was necessary to work both in Africa and outside, using instruments such as road shows and information and communication technology. New partnerships were needed in both the private and public sectors. It was important to find good stories and disseminate them.

12. All this generated a lively discussion. In general, participants very much welcomed the analytical tenor of the discussion and the emphasis on the variety of benefits that could accrue from more effective links between Africa and its diaspora. It was true that there were many barriers (including issues of security, corruption and good governance, not much discussed by the speakers). At the same time, there was more that could be done by way of policy. The meeting spent some time discussing specific suggestions for the Africa Commission: for example, setting up diaspora units in every department of governments in rich countries, or strengthening disapora work within the aid agencies like DFID.

13. Representing the Secretariat of the Africa Commission, Andrew Jackson drew attention to the opportunities for consultation available on the Africa Commission website. He said there would also be consultations in Manchester and Cardiff, as well as further meetings in London. He emphasised the need for concrete suggestions to help the Africa Commission in its work.

Simon Maxwell
17 November 2004