A Time For Africa To Rethink Diaspora Postures

By Ajong Mbapndah L

Two diaspora Nigerians meet, one Wally Adeyemo as US deputy treasury secretary and the other Kemi Badenoch as UK Trade Secretary

Trailed by the tale of drama and controversy it has been bedeviled with since the hosting rights were granted, the FIFA World Cup in Qatar is dominating headlines. With the incredible passion it generates, the global attention and the economic allure, the geo-political stakes and more, it is understandable why football as it is called in some parts of the world, and soccer as it is called in others now has stakes way beyond entertainment. For the ongoing world cup in Qatar one of the subtle takeaways is the abundant African talent excelling in other nations across the globe.

In The Game Between Senegal and The Netherlands, It Is Cody Gakpo of Togolese Origin Who Open Scores for The Dutch before a second goal from Davy Klaassen sealed the important win. In the game between the USA and Wales, it was Timothy Weah, the son of current Liberian President George who scored the lone goal in a game that ended in a one all tie. Born in the USA of a Liberian father who remains one of the all-time greats in the game, and a Jamaican mother, Timothy Weah had multiple choices at his disposal .He settled for his country of birth the USA, and his goal and performance was hailed in Liberia .In France it is common knowledge that their standout star Kilian Mbappe , already a world cup winner in his young age has father who is from Cameroon.

Talking of Cameroon, it was poetic justice of sorts that their opening game was a one nil defeat to Switzerland with the lone goal scored by Breel Embollo who was born in Yaoundé, Cameroon and relocated to Switzerland at the age of five. While his teammates celebrated boisterously, Embollo was very subdued in his own celebration-caught between two worlds. In a country where football or soccer is a religion and one of the last things seemingly trying to hold a deeply fragmented country together, Embollo’s feat became the lightning rod in renewed criticisms of the seriously flawed immigration system that Cameroon has-one that is repulsive to talents. While Timothy Weah may have freely and willingly picked the colors he will represent, the tales of rejection and frustration that pushed Embollo and Mbappe to settle for different choices are common knowledge in Cameroon and very nauseating too. As acute as the problem may be in Cameroon, in other parts of Africa, there are similar challenges when it comes to handling the diaspora.

In recognition of the role that its diaspora could play in fostering the development agenda of the continent, the African Union made out of five regions, East, West, North, South, and Central Africa, added a sixth region-The Diaspora. For reasons best known to the African Union, the idea of the sixth region has never benefitted from any serious attention. What we see is loose groups left and right trying to fill this vacuum but with no serious efforts on the part of the continental body to give solid meaning into what is considered as the sixth region, how it should function, or in what way it can concretely contribute to the development of the continent.

With the creation of the African Union Mission in Washington, DC, many thought that the continental body finally meant business in working with the diaspora in changing the fortunes of the continent. At the maiden USA -Africa’s leaders’ summit in 2014, a new flamboyant office was inaugurated by then AU Chair Dlamini Zuma in a great event that brought together key actors in the diaspora with the surprise presence of iconic Hollywood faces like Lynn Whitfield, and Louis Gossett Jr.

The excitement fizzled once the summit ended until the appointment of Dr Arikana Chimbori to head the Mission. Suddenly there was life, and engagement with the diaspora took on a new meaning. She answered present at events, spoke forcefully on the role of the diaspora, facilitated contacts and more. About three years into her mission, Ambassador Arikana was relieved of her duties in a move that left many dumbfounded. The timing was poor, the reasons were fuzzy, and it just generally did not sit well with a cross section of the diaspora in the USA. So frustrated was the diaspora that a petition to reinstate her was launched on Change.Org and it garnered over 100.000 signatures!! It took the AU over six months to name replacement, but the excitement and energy generated by Arikana has been sourly missing.

Africa toys or plays with the diaspora at its own risk. According to World Bank Statistics, remittance inflows to Sub-Saharan Africa soared 14.1 percent to $49 billion in 2021 following an 8.1 percent decline in the prior year. Recorded inflows to Nigeria, the largest recipient country in the region, gained 11.2 percent, in part due to policies intended to channel inflows through the banking system, the World Bank noted.

Beyond remittances, African stands to benefit from the input of its diaspora considered as the most progressive in some of the most developed countries in the world. The example of sports was highlighted earlier, but from Physicians, to Nurses, Engineers, University Professors, and so on, the African diaspora has excelled. Everyone may have their own reason for this, but one of the most fundamental ones is the opportunities put at their disposal to make their creative genius flourish. It is because of systems that recognize merit , and promote talents. It is the reason why we can see iconic pictures of Two diaspora Nigerians meeting, one Wally Adeyemo as US deputy treasury secretary and the other Kemi Badenoch as UK Trade Secretary. It is the reason why Kelechi Madu, KC, Deputy Premier and Minister of skilled Trades and Professions and Deputy Government House Leader, in Canada sharing photos of a meeting with his former University Professor Yemi Osinbajo, the Vice President of Nigeria.

In the global village that the world has become, that Africa is not showing stronger cognizance of the game changing potentials of its diaspora is mind boggling. In 2019, Ghana’s year of return saw an influx of tourists and the diaspora, with a boost of $1.9 billion into its economy. There are many who are eager to contribute positively to make things change in their countries of origin. From difficulties in facilitating travels, to refusing dual nationalities, to mounting roadblocks instead of building bridges to facilitate its dynamic diaspora to make valuable contributions, Africa is scoring own goals to devastating effects.

As this piece is been written, African leaders are bracing for a trip to Washington, DC to participate in the USA-Africa’s Leaders’ Summit. The USA is not only the undisputed leader of the free world, but also home to the most dynamic African diaspora. The African diaspora ranks amongst the most educated immigrant group and is found excelling and making invaluable contributions in all sectors of life-business, medicine, healthcare, engineering, transportation and more. The contribution of the African diaspora is not negligible, and it may not be for nothing we see more of them appointed to Senior Government positions by President Biden like Wally Adeyemo, US Deputy Treasury Secretary, and Dr John Nkengasong Global AIDS Coordinator and Special Representative for Health Diplomacy.

Beyond engagement with the Biden Administration, African Leaders should have the vision, dynamism and humility to engage with their diaspora. They are excelling in sports, academia, business, science, technology, engineering and all those other sectors that the continent needs to beef up to optimize its potential and meet development priorities. The perception of the African diaspora as a threat is deeply flawed and dumb and it is in Africa’s interest to embrace and not reject them. When rejected and forced out and they excel in new countries or societies that adopt them, Africa should leak its wounds in silence and not complain. The bible has ample lessons on the rejected stone becoming the corner stone.

*Cull From December Issue of PAV Magazine

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