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African citizenship for the 21st century

Discussion in 'Habari na Hoja mchanganyiko' started by BAK, Mar 20, 2011.

  1. BAK

    BAK JF-Expert Member

    Mar 20, 2011
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    African citizenship for the 21st century Saturday, 19 March 2011 13:17 Aida Diarra

    The tie between the African migrants and their home countries has long been a valuable asset to those on both sides of the divide. In Africa’s kaleidoscopic past, movement and separation, whilst a strain or pressure in some regards, have also been a source of vitality in others.

    Today, there are 30 million Africans living abroad, whose remittances account for billions of dollars of financial flows into sub-Saharan Africa every year, and as economic growth and innovations in Information Communication Technologies sweep across the continent in the 21st century, new opportunities are emerging to transform these links.

    Financial systems are tapping and channelling these connections, delivering new resources for development and the means to reverse the brain drain of earlier generations.Migrants have delivered benefits to their home countries as diverse as trade, human capital, leadership and cultural change, but the fastest growing contribution of emigrants has been remittances.

    In 1970, formal remittances to sub-Saharan Africa totalled $23 million and by 2010 reached $22 billion per year. This increase has been driven in part by growing Diaspora wealth, but also by innovations in financial systems.

    These include services provided by Western Union, who now have more than 22,000 agent locations across Africa, as well as developments in online and mobile transfer services, which complement existing infrastructure by extending accessibility to previously underserved populations.

    These flows of capital to businesses and families across Africa supply otherwise inaccessible credit, help smooth irregular income flows, provide insurance against income-shocks and shore up foreign-currency reserves. As such, they are a vital lubricant in the engines of economic development.

    However, the landscape of migrant finance is in a phase of development itself, with Diaspora Bonds poised to become a key driver in its evolution. As government bonds purchasable by citizens living abroad, Diaspora Bonds are a key source of capital and foreign currency for the state.

    The World Bank estimates that $5-$10 billion could be raised by Diaspora bonds in sub-Saharan Africa. Ethiopia led the way by issuing its first bond in 2008, whilst in several other African countries the possibility is being eagerly discussed – for example in Kenya and in Ghana, where Diaspora inflows exceeded $1.8 billion and $119 million, respectively in 2010.

    Diaspora Bonds not only supply a source of capital, but blaze a trail by galvanising relationships between citizens abroad and their homeland. Buying government bonds allow citizens to reaffirm their national identity, and as a means for the Diaspora to invest and contribute to development, they carve out a new role for citizens who emigrate.

    The growing number of Diaspora investment groups and forums is indicative of an increasing willingness to invest in the continent’s emerging economies. As platforms for the exchange of ideas, knowledge, experience and information, these forums are a means for the Diaspora to explore business and investment opportunities in their countries of origin, and growing numbers of entrepreneurs are returning to the continent, bringing innovative business ideas with them.

    The African Diaspora Marketplace (ADM) initiative, which is jointly funded by USAid and Western Union, aims to facilitate this entrepreneurial flow by matching business talent and ideas with the necessary funding to bring them to life on the continent. Last year, the 14 winners from seven African countries each received grants of $100,000 to launch businesses across a range of sectors, including manufacturing, agribusiness, transportation, ICT and renewable energy.

    More Africans than ever before are returning home after working or studying abroad, encouraged by initiatives like ADM, Nepad’s ‘Africa Recruit’ or Afford-UK, and enticed by the flourishing business and investment landscape.

    Return flows of skilled and educated migrants will help reverse the ‘brain drain’ that has adversely affected Africa for so long. Diaspora investment, whether via bonds, remittances, or other means such as tourism, may stimulate ‘brain gain’ by promoting tangible links between the immigrants and their countries of origin that may boost the likelihood of return-migration. More concretely, Diaspora investments may help fund the physical infrastructure and capacity growth that attract further investment and thus create a virtuous circle of growth.

    Nonetheless, if African migrants are to truly turn themselves into investors and drivers of the continent’s development in the 21st century, a much more collaborative approach is required on both sides. Research by the Economist Intelligence Unit for Western Union concluded that while many migrant associations would like to invest back home, they lacked the capacity to organise funding or establish investment projects.

    Capacity is equally a problem in the receiving communities, with governments often lacking the means to implement projects funded by collective remittances. A public policy landscape that encourages investment and participation in collective remittance projects is critical. The inclusion of key stakeholders – from migrant workers, their families, all levels of government and academia to the corporate sector and NGOs throughout the process is important to sustain success in the long-term.

    Whether collective remittances or bonds, recruitment campaigns or business funding initiatives, there is clearly a case for collaborative and multidisciplinary approaches to supporting and implementing Diaspora investment on the continent, with governments playing an important role in capacity building, civil society facilitating information sharing, academia influencing public policy, and the private sector doing what it does best – providing innovative solutions to enable both financial flows and income-generating, employment-creating projects.

    With the proper inclusion of all stakeholders the scene is set for a newfound and sustained African citizenship in the Diaspora that will help propel the continent’s economic development in the coming years.
    Ms Diarra is Western Union regional vice-president, Ecowas