Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Time is of the Essence: A Message to the African Diaspora

Last week, The World Bank Africa Region hosted the African Diaspora Open House. The conference made me think about the 20 million Nigerians living outside of Nigeria, the 3 million Ghanaians living outside of Ghana and the millions of other Africans living outside of the African continent as a whole. Unfortunately, too often, these Africans insist they lack the time it takes to be substantially involved in the advancement of Africa. However, Africans in the Diaspora must carve out expertise, funds, and, most importantly, time, in order to join the efforts in mobilizing the continent.

Foreign-based Africans must use their expertise in their home countries in Africa. In the United States, Africans have the highest educational attainment rates of any immigrant group. A significant amount of black students at top universities are African or the children of African immigrants. At Harvard University, reports estimate that two-thirds of their black population are first or second generation Africans, with similar estimates at other universities such as Brown, Yale, Princeton, Penn, Columbia, Duke and Berkeley. These students study engineering, medicine, law, business, yet countries in Africa are lagging behind other countries in these same areas. With such education, Africans can tap into such expertise and add value to the development efforts of their countries of origin.

Africans abroad should monetarily invest in the African continent. The African consumer segment in the United States is estimated to have a purchasing power of $50 billion dollars and continues to grow. Yet, according to the United Nations, African countries spend an estimated $4 billion annually to employ about 100,000 non-African expatriates. However, as evident by their purchasing power in the U.S., that same purchasing power could be of substantial value to their home countries; their investment power could be even greater. The African Diaspora has been applauded for their remittances totaling billions of dollars, and these remittances are very important. However, these remittances cannot just be used to sustain Africa, rather they must be used to strategically grow the continent.

The biggest road block that prevents Africans abroad from tapping into their expertise and finances for the benefit of their home countries is one thing: time. Many Africans never find the time to be changemakers in their home countries because of the daily routines they now feel committed to in foreign countries. But, Africans abroad must make the time; a continent needs it. Visiting or is just one way to find that perfect job to tap into their critical expertise back at home. Visiting is just one way to find that strategic investment. Researching various Diaspora Funds offered by various African countries and development institutions is another way to play a significant role in Africa’s future.

According to Newsweek (, there are signs that an entrepreneurial African Diaspora is on the rise, adding value with their expertise, funds, and time to the continent. Countries like Ghana, Botswana, and South Africa, are seeing their Diaspora return home, dedicating their time to mobilizing the continent. Last year alone, 10,000 skilled professionals returned to Nigeria and the number of skilled Angolans seeking employment in the motherland has grown 10-fold. Such waves are causing Africa to be seen as the new China and India, where economic growth could be correlated to the amount of skilled returnees. For the rest of us Africans, will we be part of this movement?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A Look into President Obama's Historical Speech in Africa - The Good & The Bad

Last week’s speech by U.S. President Barack Obama is one I will forever use as a guide for my role in Ghana’s development and my stance on US-Africa relations. I will remember that Africa’s future is up to Africans. I will remember that development depends on good governance. I will remember the call to Africa’s youth. I will remember that Africa does not need strongmen, but strong institutions; institutions that serve the people. However, as I think about President Obama's speech, I question his mention on corruption in Africa.

President Obama condemned corrupt African officials, yet some of the financial institutions that host corrupt monies are based in the United States. He condemned African officials for skimming 20% off the top of foreign investments, yet it is that foreign entity that pays that 20%. And, why did President Obama discuss corruption when he was in Africa, but not when he was in Russia just days earlier? INDEM, a think tank that researches corruption, reports that 80% of all Russian businesses pay bribes and its corruption market amounts to $300 billion dollars, 20% of Russia's GDP. Corruption, indeed, is not just an African problem, it's a global problem - it's a human problem.

It will be sad that whenever I think of President Obama’s return to Africa I will think of his ridicule of corrupt African governments with no mention of other country's role in that same corruption. It begs the question of true partnership. If Africa is called not to be corrupt, the west should be called not to be a part of this very corruption. If Africa is called not to be corrupt, foreign investors should also be called not to be corrupt. For every call President Obama made to Africa, a call needed to be made to countries around the world. If Africa and a partnering foreign country are to live up to a true partnership, both must take responsibility – both need some of what the western media has termed as Obama’s “tough love.”