Bridge builders

Development Policy,Inclusive Economy30 May 2009Ellen Lammers

Africa’s diaspora is the continent’s greatest offshore asset. An estimated 3.3 million Africans, of whom 1 million come from sub-Sahara Africa, live in EU countries alone. They occupy a strategic position linking the developed North with their home countries. But compared with Asia, Africa has not taken full advantage of its vast overseas human and financial capital.

The ‘Engaging African Diaspora in Europe as Strategic Agents for Development in Africa’ seminar was held in Brussels in June 2008. The seminar, which brought together 50 leading African diaspora organizations from 10 EU countries, was the first of its kind. The goal was to get a dialogue going between African diaspora organizations and policy makers in the field of migration and development from the EU, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the African Union (AU) and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development NEPAD. The timing of the seminar made it possible to share its outcomes at the Africa Diaspora Summit (South Africa), the conference on EU-Africa relations (Paris) and the Global Forum on Migration and Development (Manila), all held in October 2008.

The AU considers the African diaspora a ‘sixth region’ of Africa. But the full potential for Africans abroad to help achieve sustainable development in Africa is yet to be harnessed. Best practices from across the continent were shared at the seminar, including improvements in community health care, commercial poultry farming and ICT projects to empower youth and women. But more is possible. Apart from remittances (which governments can tax), knowledge, skills and business acumen, the diaspora also has insights and ideas that may well change the political climate in their home countries. With these insights, the diaspora can help build transparent and accountable institutions back home.

Yet more research is needed on how African academics abroad can contribute to policy making. The absence of these researchers in their host countries’ universities and research institutes must be addressed. The field of migration and development is dominated by non-diaspora scholars. That this nevertheless makes for interesting academic reading is evident from the latest issue of the journal Global Networks, which is fully devoted to case studies of and theoretical reflections on African transnationalisms and diaspora networks. Still, participants of the seminar stressed that knowledge developed from the diaspora perspectives on what their continent and their fellow Africans want and need will enrich policy insights.

It was strongly recommended at the seminar that the EU and African nations facilitate ‘circular migration’. Freedom of movement is vital for business and other initiatives. An Congolese engineer living and working in France, for example, who wants to help train engineers back home and then return to Europe –and to do this, say, twice every year –should not be obstructed by red tape or short-sighted immigration policies. The easing of migration qualifications and the management of pensions are policy areas that need special attention in this respect.

The seminar participants concluded that the most valuable and viable thing anyone, diaspora or otherwise, can contribute to Africa is to help create jobs. This includes more support for the skilled and committed Africans living overseas but seeking employment in Africa. A UK-based organization, AfricaRecruit, launched, a website that helps recruiters find suitable candidates from a large pool of African talent around the globe. The seminar participants suggested creating an African Diaspora Business Round Table, a think tank that can join existing networks within the European Union.

It has often been an uphill battle to get experts from the African diaspora hired as consultants, staff and advisors for the established development bureaucracies. Yet these experts in Europe can play a strategic role in strengthening the new Africa-EU Strategic Partnership endorsed in Lisbon in December 2007.

The seminar was organized by the African Diaspora Policy Centre (ADPC) and supported by UNDP and the European Commission. The report can be downloaded from:


Unfortunately, due to the age of this contribution and several migrations to online content management systems, the footnotes in the text may have been lost. The footnotes below are listed in its original order of appearance in text.
    1. This does not include the numbers living in other European countries.
    3. See the article ‘Circular migration. Creating a virtuous circle’, The Broker, issue 1.