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Op-Ed: The Future of Africa’s diaspora is in Africa

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By Akinyi Ochieng and Gregory Thwaites*

With over 30 million Africans living outside of their home countries,
migration will play a big role in shaping Africa’s future. While the vibrant
and growing diaspora communities in countries such as the United States, United
Kingdom and France are gaining in visibility, it is communities of Africans within Africa that will have the most
transformative impact on the region’s future. In 2012, the African Union
proclaimed the African diaspora as the continent’s sixth region. This
population, often presumed to be in the West, is likely to grow quickly as more
Africans put down roots in countries beyond their own.  The social, economic, and cultural capital
they bring will be vital to ensuring Africa’s demographic boom yields dividends
as the continent’s share of the global population doubles by 2050.

Today, 34 million
Africans live outside the country of their birth, with over 55% staying within
the region. By 2050, we forecast that the African diaspora will have tripled to
100m people. If African countries achieve the good governance necessary for
strong economic growth, around 70m of this diaspora will live elsewhere in
Africa. The early signs are already there: in Ghana, for example, a thriving
Nigerian diaspora has emerged. In Kenya, you’ll find a growing number of Ugandans.
Countries like Ivory Coast and South Africa, home to some of the largest numbers of migrants from other parts of Africa, are
set to have their populations expand even further.

into the Skills of Regional Diaspora Communities

Although traders and
temporary workers tend to draw the most attention in Africa’s inter-regional
migration story, growing numbers of skilled professionals now seek professional
opportunities in other regions of the continent. The “brain gain” is not always
to the Western world — these migrants sometimes move to neighboring nations.
Zimbabwe’s brain drain, for example, skews more towards South Africa rather
than the United Kingdom.

If governments are to
effectively harness the  valuable
knowledge and skills these communities offer, it is critical that they
recognise these phenomenon and cultivate ties with these “regional diasporas”.
In some ways, these  “regional” re-pats
have an advantage over diaspora returnees from North America and Europe — by
living in Africa, they might benefit from increased proximity to the cultural
contexts of their countries of origin. Networks like CDC-backed Africa List
and TheBoardroom Africa,
for example, highlight the vast pool of talent that lies within the continent
if governments and companies are willing to tap the countryman who might be
just a country-or-two away. Some companies are already seizing these
opportunities. Ade Ayeyemi, CEO of Togo-based Ecobank, for example, is from
Nigeria. Similarly, Acha Leke, a Senior Partner at McKinsey often touted as Africa’s most
“well-connected man” hails from Cameroon.

Immigration has been
fundamental to economic success in the Western world, but for Africa nations to
tap into the talent pools just a few borders away, countries must be more
accepting of migrants. Although Rwanda ranks 8.16 out of 10 on the Gallup Migrant Acceptance Index,
South Africa hovers at 4.98. If immigrants are not sufficiently integrated into
the labour market and everyday life, the next new wave of African migration
could generate significant friction.

Inter-African Remittances and Investments

The most obvious impact
of the regional diaspora communities is perhaps most visible in remittances and
investments. Remittances to Sub-Saharan Africa grew almost 10 percent to $46 billion
in 2018, with significant inflows coming from within the continent. Benin, for
example, receives over $133 million each year from Nigeria. Nearly $60 million
flows from Congo to Rwanda, eclipsing remittances from North America and
Europe. It isn’t just person-to-person flows we are
seeing—these intra-Africa exchanges are happening at the business level as well.
Earlier this year, mPharma, a digital health startup that manages prescription
drug inventory for pharmacies and their suppliers, purchased Kenya’s
second-largest pharmacy chain, Haltons. Ethiopia-based Apposit is the chief
technical partner of Nigeria’s leading mobile payment systems Paga, with its
former company’s founder Eric Chijioke also acting as the Chief Technical
Officer of the latter. The growth of these inter-regional remittance flows and
investments underscores the growing importance of inter-African trade and the
economic opportunities that exist if Africa trades more with itself. To take
full advantage of the benefits of remittances, governments must work closely
will money transfer organisations to introduce progressive monetary policies if
technology is to bring down the cost of cross-border payments and investments.

as Connective Tissue

Migration within Africa
has re-shaped the cultural fabric of many sub-regions as more and more people
become exposed to culinary, artistic, and linguistic influences that previously
might not have spread beyond geographical borders. Improvements in Internet
connectivity and regional transportation infrastructure means that more
Africans are exposed to cultures across the region than ever before. In North
Africa, Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania and Tunisia have launched a joint bid for
UNESCO heritage status for couscous. In West Africa, pidgin has emerged as the lingua franca from The Gambia to
Cameroon — with the BBC even
a Pidgin-language service in 2017. One of the
most visible examples of the influence of diaspora communities can be seen in
the musical crossovers of Ghanaian highlife and Nigerian afrobeats which has
produced a unique blend of contemporary Afropop that Nigerian musician Mr. Eazi
has described as “banku music” in
homage to one of the Ghana’s most famous dishes.

the Potential of Inter-regional diaspora communities

From Ghana’s “Year of
Return” to Ethiopia’s recent Diaspora Trust Fund, more governments across the
continent are initiating new efforts to effectively engage their diaspora  in the development agenda. These efforts have
traditionally concentrated in Western-based diaspora communities; however, the
rapid growth of regional diaspora communities calls for more engagement within
Africa as well. To maintain ties with inter-African migrants with valuable
social, economic, and cultural capital to share with their home countries,
countries should undertake mapping exercises within the African continent to
better identify these regional diaspora communities, their ideas, capacities
and relationship with their countries of heritage. To reduce the costs of
sending and receiving remittances, governments should likewise adopt a progressive
approach to licensing of money transfer options. Finally, to encourage cultural
exchange fuelling creativity, transportation and Internet infrastructure must
be improved to facilitate the free flow of ideas.

Akinyi Ochieng is Communications Manager at WorldRemit and Gregory Thwaites, Research Director

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