Di­as­pora dy­namo

Viewed to­gether, the es­ti­mated 170 mil­lion Africans that form the African Union’s ‘sixth re­gion’ rep­re­sent a pow­er­house that could solve the con­ti­nent’s prob­lems

The Africa Report - - FRONTLINE - By Oheneba Ama Nti Osei

Men­tion Lupita Ny­ong’o, Ch i ma ma nd a Ng oz i Adichie, Isha Se­say or David Ad­jaye, and most Africans will beam with pride. These movers and shak­ers form part of the African di­as­pora, peo­ple of African ori­gin liv­ing out­side the con­ti­nent who are chang­ing the nar­ra­tive about Africa around the world. Due to the num­ber of refugees and un­doc­u­mented mi­grants who are not in­cluded in of­fi­cial statis­tics, it is dif­fi­cult to de­ter­mine the pop­u­la­tion of Africans in the di­as­pora, though the African Union (AU) es­ti­mates that around 170 mil­lion Africans are liv­ing abroad. The con­ti­nen­tal body for­mally recog­nised the group as the sixth re­gion of the AU in 2012. Of the many con­tri­bu­tions the di­as­pora makes to the con­ti­nent, re­mit­tances re­main an im­por­tant pil­lar for many cash-strapped economies. Nige­ri­ans abroad re­mit­ted a to­tal of $35bn last year, the high­est amount re­ceived by an African coun­try. In Kenya, di­as­pora re­mit­tance has been the sin­gle largest source of for­eign ex­change re­ceipts in three straight years, and stood at $1.71bn in 2016, an 11% in­crease from 2015. But be­yond pro­vid­ing cap­i­tal and investment, a lot more can be gleaned from this mi­grant group. Ac­cord­ing to the World Bank’s vice pres­i­dent for the Mid­dle East and North Africa (MENA), Hafez Ghanem, the di­as­pora is a “po­ten­tial gold­mine of knowl­edge, skills and busi­ness net­works,” that, if mo­bilised, could solve many of the con­ti­nent’s cur­rent chal­lenges. With pro­files of five out­stand­ing di­as­po­rans, The Africa Re­port takes a look at how this group is us­ing its in­flu­ence at home and abroad to dis­pel com­mon myths about Africa and its peo­ple, while award-win­ning lawyer and writer Petina Gap­pah re­veals some of the para­doxes in Zim­babwe’s di­as­pora ex­pe­ri­ence.

But the tidal wave has come in the past two decades of the cri­sis. Zim­babwe is known for its ex­treme fig­ures and statis­tics, led by the world’s old­est pres­i­dent, at 93. Un­til the jet­ti­son­ing of the lo­cal cur­rency in 2009, the coun­try had an in­fla­tion rate that saw its re­serve bank print­ing bil­lion-dol­lar and tril­lion-dol­lar notes, which are now valu­able col­lec­tors’ items. Per­haps the most alarm­ing statis­tic now is the sky­rock­et­ing un­em­ploy­ment rate. On May Day this year, Zim­babwe’s largest labour or­gan­i­sa­tion, the Zim­babwe Con­gress of Trade Unions, stated that 90% of the work­ing pop­u­la­tion was job­less – that is, they can­not find jobs in the for­mal sec­tor. With its more than 15 uni­ver­si­ties churn­ing out about 30,000 grad­u­ates a ye a r i nt o a s hr i nki ng e c on­omy, Zim­bab­weans face some choices. You can ei­ther take a ca­sual job – many go into cross-bor­der trad­ing, but most go into farm­ing. Or you can leave the coun­try to find more se­cure work else­where. There is a direct link be­tween the coun­try’s ver­tig­i­nous eco­nomic de­cline and the ex­po­nen­tial growth of its di­as­pora.

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