Interview - The African Diaspora does not have to relocate to the continent in order to contribute to its development - Magaret Kilo, OFSU Head

04/06/2010
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M. Kilo 1 June 2010

“The African Diaspora does not have to relocate to the continent in order to contribute to its development”.

As part of the African Development Bank (AfDB)’s Annual Meetings’ Side-Events, the Fragile States Unit organized a seminar on “Mobilizing the African Diaspora for Capacity Building and Development: Focus on Fragile States” on 25 May 2010 in Abidjan.  

Participants were treated to presentations of Diaspora engagement strategies and lessons learned by representatives of the Governments of China, India and South Korea.

The event also saw an enthusiastic participation of professional Diaspora networks and representatives of African Governments and the private sector.  

For Margaret Kilo, Head of Fragile States Unit, the workshop was educative and enriching: “It definitely met its principal objective, which was to share global experiences and good practices with stakeholders on policies and instruments that are effective for better engaging the African Diaspora”.

On the issue of whether the experts from the diasopra should return home or  remain abroad, she says that “the issue is not whether to return home or not.  The African diaspora does not have to relocate to the continent in order to contribute to its development”.

Question:  What are the take-away messages from the workshop on the African diaspora?

Answer: The Abidjan meeting was an educative and enriching one.  One of the lessons that emerged from the workshop is the confirmation of what we already knew.  This lesson is that the African Diaspora constitutes a human and investment capital pool that can strongly contribute to the continent’s development, especially in fragile states that have experienced a massive exodus of experts due to conflicts or economic hardships. This brain drain that weakens further countries’ capacity can be slowed down if measures are taken to improve governance in all aspects of social, economic and political life.  

Another lesson is that for the Diaspora to engage in countries, it is capital that governments put in place mechanisms and regulatory bodies, so as to better channel the efforts and contributions of the Diaspora.  This includes improving the business environment and offering incentives, as was shown in the examples of the South Korea, India and China.  

Question: Should the Diaspora return home before they can contribute to the development of Africa or they could do so while remaining abroad?  

Answer: With modern technology and globalization the African Diaspora does not have to return home to contribute to the development of the continent. From abroad they can contribute their talent without necessarily relocating. What sense would it make for highly qualified doctors, engineers, researchers - working in advanced technology settings in the western world - to relocate or move to fragile states where they can only apply a tiny percent of the knowledge they have acquired?  

I think that the issue is to put in place mechanisms that would allow them to help the continent, even from afar.  The return of the Diaspora should not or cannot be artificially orchestrated; it will come with the improvement of social, economic and political situation in countries.  Brain Drain is good for Africa because it should force us to train and train.  Eventually, as in other countries, this brain will return, if we actively engage it. As the Indian Government’s representative on the panel put it rightly, “Brain Drain is better than Brain in the Drain”.

Question: It seems that members from the Diaspora are not always welcomed in their countries by local experts who think that they are offered certain privileges or much better incentives meant to attract them.  How do you think African governments should handle this issue?

Answer: This is a delicate question that takes us back to the previous question that needs work on both the part of Governments as well as on the part of the Diaspora.  

We should be frank and honest with ourselves.  Experts that have left the continent for the reason I mentioned earlier will not come back unless a much more favorable environment is in place, a situation that is different from what they left.  Since countries need capacity to face their development challenges they should be work on incentives to attract experts from the Diaspora.  I do not see incentive as privileges, since these measures are taken in the interest of countries.  

On the part of the Diaspora, as I said in our discussions in Abidjan, those contributing to development at home should show humility in their behavior.  A superiority complex and disrespect would rather harm their integration and working relationships with their brothers and sisters who could not afford to leave the country during times of crisis or economic hardships.  Once government and the Diaspora are agreed they need each other, then the work should begin to make the ensuing relationship a constructive and a win/win one.

Question: Governance or, more specifically, the issue of business environment was discussed at the workshop and in your interaction with the media.  There seems to be some skepticism with that regard.  What is your message to governments on improving the business environment?

Answer: I do understand the concerns of the Diaspora and the media regarding what you call skepticism about the poor business climate in most countries.  This feeling simply shows the Diaspora’s eagerness to contribute to the progress of the continent by sharing their experiences, passing to the continent what they have learnt abroad and deepening their business interests.  

As you know some government ministers participated in our workshop and we put the issue on the table.  Our advice to them is that they should take appropriate steps to improve the judiciary for businesses, establish regulatory frameworks for diasporas, and provide incentives where necessary, not only for the diaspora, but also for any potential investors.  Africa should learn from the experiences of Korea, India and China in facilitating Diaspora-led investments and entrepreneurship.

The Diaspora themselves should form legalized professional entities to gain the trust and confidence of the Governments.  And we said that every sector is welcome except Crime.  The needs are great on the continent, but if the Diaspora wants to share in the gains, they should be above board and very clean. That is the only way they will win the trust of our fragile states.