Cameroon: Nkafu Experts Tout Huge Role Of Diaspora In Africa’s Democratic Process
By Boris Esono Nwenfor & Sonita Ngunyi Nwohtazie
BUEA, March 6 – The diaspora has very often been viewed by some regimes in Africa as a threat. This feeling of hostility dates back to the period of democratic transitions when the diaspora was known to support nationalist movements and opposition political parties.
The webinar on March 3, 2023, was organized by the Nkafu Policy Institute, a think tank of the Denis and Lenora Foretia Foundation on the theme: “Diaspora, Internet and the Renewal of Democratic Debate in Africa?” The public dialogue was to discuss the place and especially the capacity of the African diaspora to influence the construction of the democratic process in Africa.
“Thanks to technology, transnational practices, thanks to telecommunication and advanced means of communication and travelling, we can see the positive side of diaspora,” Prof. Mary Boatemaa Setrana, Director of the Centre for Migration Studies, University of Ghana (UG), Legon said.
“Diaspora is contributing through financial remittances, social remittances, they are setting up businesses in host and home countries. They are influencing thoughts, politics, and directions back home.”
In 2019, Africa received $82.7bn in personal remittances, nearly double foreign direct investment (FDI) flows of $46bn. Remittances to Nigeria alone were $23.8bn compared to $3bn in FDI. Egypt saw remittances worth $26bn. Those are just the formal, countable remittances. For war-torn Somalia, where conflict, insurgency and drought have choked growth for decades, funds sent from overseas are thought to represent more than a quarter of annual GDP, although data is hard to come by.
In countries where their numbers give them a meaningful political say, such as the US and UK, they can influence domestic politics and boost relationships between Africa and the West. In a sign of the changing times, US President Biden released an “agenda for the African diaspora” during the 2020 presidential election campaign, vowing to boost engagement in Africa and reverse Trump’s “inhumane immigration policies”.
On the other side of the ledger, African politicians are increasingly courting diaspora communities abroad come election time. Before Kenya’s hotly-contested August poll, eventual winner William Ruto praised diaspora communities during trips to the UK and the US. In April last year, West African activists in the US helped convince the Biden administration to hand work permits to thousands of Cameroonians amid worsening violence in the country.
“Diaspora see themselves as being part of the democratic process because their businesses, families and more are in their home country. They are also anticipating their coming back home, even those who think they may not come back still feel that they have a part to play in the politics of the home country,” Prof. Mary Boatemaa Setrana added.
“So, if the home country politics is good, it helps. We also notice that the diaspora is very much involved in peacebuilding. They find that if there is peace in the home country, that is when their businesses can thrive and also give out the skills they have acquired.”
With the advent of the internet, a new space for the affirmation of a reinvented citizenship, the diaspora seems to have regained vitality. Through calls for mobilization via “direct” on social networks, formal discussion forums, and more or less controversial actions against certain personalities and institutions of the country of origin abroad, this diaspora intends to instil a new dynamic and play a major role in redefining the democratic debate in their country of origin.
Analysts and economists reckon the diaspora exerts a mixed influence on African economies – but with better governance, deregulation and greater stability, the hundreds of millions of Africans toiling abroad could fuel a development boom of truly epic proportions.