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

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.

Tapping 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.

Growing 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.

Culture 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 launching 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.

Unlocking 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

Related Content

Exploring the economic potential of Nigerians in diaspora

Nigerian’s in Diaspora is the biggest concentration of talent, financial resources and the global network needed for Nigeria to transit from an oil to a non-oil based economy – that's according to Charles Soludo, Member of Nigeria’s Economic Advisory Council and a Former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). He joins CNBC Africa’s Christy Cole, on the side-lines of Nigeria’s Diaspora Investment Summit to discuss the economic potential of Nigerians in diaspora.

Ecobank’s outlook for West African currencies

There have been concerns over the convertibility of the Central African Franc in recent weeks. The currency is used by six countries in the CEMAC region. Arnold Dublin-Green, Senior Portfolio Manager at Ecobank joins CNBC Africa for more.

Zimbabwe Ambassador lauds diaspora’s contribution to SA’s economy, urges them to invest back home

Zimbabwe's Ambassador in South Africa David Hamadziripi has applauded the diaspora business community for their role in contributing to the development of South Africa’s economy, and also urged them to consider investing back in their home country. For more CNBC Africa’s Daniel Sango caught up with the Ambassador at the Zimbabwe Achievers Awards ceremony held in Johannesburg.

Assessing Ghana’s revenue collection strategies

Ghana Revenue Authority has set a tax revenue target of 58.9 billion Ghana Cedi in its 2019 budget, which is about 25.9 per cent higher than the 46.8 billion cedis targeted in 2018. Meanwhile, the GRA says contracting the services of consulting firm Mckinsey accounted for the improved revenue collection for the year 2018. William Demitia, Senior Associate Consultant at Ali-Nakyea and Associates joins CNBC Africa from Ghana to assess Ghana’s tax strategies.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Sign up for free newsletters and get more CNBC AFRICA delivered to your inbox

More from CNBC Africa

Rwanda, USAID sign over $643.8 mn deal to support trans-formative development

Rwanda has signed a financing agreement with the USAID worth about $643.8 million to support Rwanda’s development efforts in the next five years. Moreover, Rwanda Convention Bureau announced the reopening of meetings and conferences. Edwin Ashimwe, Journalist with The New times joins CNBC Africa for more.

How COVID-19 is reshaping Kenya’s education system

On the continent, there has been an increased awareness of the impact of cultural practices on educational achievement that has challenged the education systems. In Kenya, the government is investing in all forms of education; however, experts have noted that for the rise of automation and technological advancements to be effective, an updated skill set is required. Ayub Odida, Researcher at ACAL Consulting joins CNBC Africa for more.

Old Mutual appoints new CEO

“We are delighted at Iain’s appointment. Over the last year, Iain has worked to steer Old Mutual through some significant leadership and operational challenges, demonstrating resilience and an acute sense of business acumen aligned to the Group’s values, purpose, and strategy. On behalf of the Board, we wish to thank him for his contribution during this time. We are confident that he will continue to galvanise the organisation around the delivery of its strategy and purpose and we look forward to working with him in this regard,” says Old Mutual Chairperson, Trevor Manuel.

The African entrepreneur who made it by streaming sweet music to the locked down.

LUANDA (Reuters) - When the Angolan government imposed its coronavirus lockdown in late March, local entrepreneur and innovator Claudio Kiala saw a...

Partner Content

Sanlam launches urgent job-preservation initiative in response to COVID-19

Sanlam Investments is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic through large-scale support of the recovery of South African companies, from small enterprises to...

Is Market Volatility Here For The Foreseeable Future?

Content provided by CompareForexBrokers Prior to understanding why market volatility might be here to stay for the foreseeable future,...

Trending Now

Zimbabwe’s Landela agrees to buy state-owned gold mines, seeks more assets

HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe’s Landela Mining Venture has reached agreements to take over and revive four idle state-owned gold mines and is...

How Zimbabwe farmers will be trained how to farm with a scheme from Belarus with love

When the farm invasions were unleashed by the people in power in 2000, it led to bloodshed and random confiscation that reaped a bitter harvest of lost production and exports that persists until this day. That year with all of its fumbling fury fuelled with the idea that to get rich you merely had to own a farm, is always seen as a turning point for the industry. It created a large slice of the country’s GDP and as it fell, so did the fortunes of Zimbabwe.

South Africa’s National Treasury says “no further action” to bailout SAA airline

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - South Africa’s National Treasury said on Friday there was “no further action” planned to bailout struggling national airline...

Fitch expresses doubt over SA’s debt consolidation plans

Just last week finance minister Tito Mboweni outlined the emergency budget to nurse South Africa through the Covid-19 crisis. A big part of this budget was a plan for South Africa to get its debt under control within four years. Fitch Ratings, the agency that downgraded South Africa in April doubts whether South Africa can do this. CNBC Africa’s Chris Bishop spoke to Jan Friederich, Senior Director of Fitch Ratings for more.
- Advertisement -