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
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.