Africa: Post-2015 - It's Time to Harness Diaspora Power

26 July 2013

Growth alone is not enough. The MDGs alone are not enough. Africa needs sustainable, inclusive development and in this, the diaspora could be key.

In 2000, the UN established eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to be achieved by 2015. These targets helped create a co-ordinated effort to reduce poverty across the globe, and impressive progress has been made in a number of areas.

But even if all of the eight goals and targets are met, many countries would still remain poor and underdeveloped. This is because the MDGs - as valuable as they may be - do not deal with the underlying reasons why people remain poor.

Furthermore, they fail to take into account the ways in which the diaspora, who remit nearly half a trillion dollars to developing countries annually, can be harnessed to help facilitate the structural and economic transformation so crucial to sustainable development.

Nowhere are these trends more evident than in Africa. The World Bank reports that the continent is growing at an average of 5-6% annually, yet poverty levels and unemployment remain high. Meanwhile, diaspora remittances are thought to significantly outweigh Western aid.

Following China's example

As Yaw Ansu, Chief Economist at the African Centre for Economic Transformation (ACET), has pointed out, growth alone is not enough. That is why over 50 UK-based African diaspora organisations, under the Africa-UK umbrella, are pushing for a different focus for the post-2015 MDG architecture.

These groups take the view that international development must not focus solely on poverty reduction in line with the MDGs, but also foster wealth, drive structural reform and create employment opportunities.

Africa only has to look to the example set by countries such as China which has made one of the most impressive contributions in reducing poverty over the past 30 years but not through the MDGs.

China used foreign investment and diaspora remittances to help accelerate a competitive industrial and agricultural policy, focussing on the development of infrastructure, education and skills. With the benefits of low labour costs and healthcare improvements, China was able to enjoy a dramatic economic take-off.

Whilst growth induced by commodity price rises, discoveries of natural resources or increases in foreign assistance can be significant, it is simply not sustainable without the infrastructure to support it.

For Africa, this means relying less on aid and primary commodities, and more on industry, manufacturing, and knowledge-based services. It also means modernising agriculture along with upgrading skills and technological capabilities to compete in the global marketplace.

African diaspora is key

In this drive towards inclusive economic and structural transformation, the African diaspora can have an important role to play.

Take, for example, the diaspora-led social enterprise Sacoma UK which works in Kenya and Uganda to provide structural support to small-scale rural farmers. Through a combination of training, financial and technical services, this organisation works closely with communities to help prepare produce for export to a UK market.

This not only helps certain rural populations earn sustainable incomes but contributes to the development of African small-holder agriculture and helps increase investment in African agribusiness.

As well as being uniquely placed to foster these kinds of partnerships, members of the diaspora can also be critical in providing additional foreign direct investment along with educated and skilled manpower.

Africa's mobile technology boom, for example, began in part thanks to the contributions of better-known members of the diaspora such as Mo Ibrahim, who founded the telecommunications company Celtel.

The growth of this sector has helped connect businesses to each other as well as rural dwellers to those in the city, providing unprecedented access to information and financial systems.

It has been singled out as one of the most important tools for facilitating economic and development activity in Africa since the turn of the century. Studies on the use of mobile money services such as M-PESA, for example, suggest that rural Kenyan households using the technology have seen a rise in their incomes of 5-30%.

It is only through these kinds of transformations that Africa will be able to create enough productive jobs and impart the right skills for a modern economy, improving people's living standards in economically balanced societies.

And that calls for looking beyond short-term growth and taking a long-term perspective in setting an agenda for a sustainable economic future, something in which the diaspora can be central.

A Diaspora Ministerial Conference held in Geneva on 18 June urged the High Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda to include global diaspora alongside national governments in 'Forging a New Global Partnership'.

If Africa is to see genuine and inclusive growth, a post-2015 framework will need to incorporate these critical enablers of structural transformation as well as harness the resources of the diaspora, who must now be recognised as a global partner for development.

Onyekachi Wambu is the Director of Policy and Engagement at the African Foundation for Development (AFFORD). He studied at the Universities of Essex and Cambridge, has worked as a journalist since 1983 and was Editor of leading Black newspaper The Voice in the late 1980s.

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