Congo-Kinshasa: 10 Ways the Diaspora Can Help Bring Peace & Prosperity to #DRCongo

Amini Chakupewa Kajunju
18 October 2019
guest column

Atlanta — Based on remarks as closing speaker at the Congolese Diaspora Impact Summit in New York in September 2019.

1. Dispel myths and stereotypes to breathe life into a new narrative about the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) : Yes, the DRC has many problems, but there is more to our country than instability, corruption, and a lack of infrastructure. All Congolese have the power to serve as 'brand ambassadors' to bring a new and inspired vision for DRC. We can ensure that negative stories full of stereotypes are balanced with more positive accounts of progress. We are a new generation of DRC leaders - action-oriented, accountable, optimistic, and actively working to transform DRC for the better.

2. Help shape U.S. and international policy priorities: Those of us who live elsewhere but maintain strong connections to DRC are in a uniquely influential position: we can help shape policy priorities in the United States and elsewhere by not only offering informed analysis of on-the-ground realities and challenges but also shedding light on underreported stories.We have an incredible opportunity to expand and strengthen a DRC constituency wherever we may live. There are so many of us; we can constitute a critical mass of informed and active Congolese nationals working with others for the betterment of DRC.

3. Work with partners at home to help bring reforms: We need to come together as Congolese no matter where we live. Location is no proxy for who cares the most. Some who live in the DRC take our beloved country for granted and destroy it every chance they get, while others work diligently from afar to build the nation in their own way.

We are in the vanguard of fostering positive changes and reforms in DRC through our deep connections especially personal relationships with individuals, business leaders, and officials. The modern era of technology and social networking means that it is easier than ever to share knowledge and bring like-minded people together.  In many ways, we expatriate Congolese benefit from a 'transnational identity,' moving easily back and forth, culturally and physically, between our country of residence and our country of origin. We can share, interpret, and understand multiple points of view, and provide insight and expertise on a broad range of issues relevant to our country.

4. Bravely embrace politics: Whether we like it or not, politics is the critical vein that runs through every aspect of society. Yes, politics can be dangerous, corrupt, and unproductive. But this is precisely why Congo's strongest minds and purest hearts must enter politics - to change things from the inside.  Reforming the government may seem daunting but there exist real opportunities for each of us to make a difference. You don't have to be a politician to transform the political sector.

We all have a role to play. The writers among us can tell compelling stories. Those who are good at raising money can do so for causes that strengthen DRC. And all of us can be watchdogs, demanding better transparency, accountability, and service delivery to create an environment in which all citizens can flourish.  Frankly, it will be impossible for our country to prosper without a functioning and productive government and well-run institutions. The first step is to look politics squarely in the eye, unafraid to hold our leaders accountable. They work for us; we do not work for them.

5. Mentor our young compatriots: We can empower young DRC professionals living both at home and abroad by generously sharing our expertise, offering guidance, and opening doors. We can foster professional growth in young Congolese professionals wherever they live and work and narrow the existing "skills gap" by exposing them to new careers and fields of study and expanding their horizons to wider opportunities within their chosen professions. This mentorship will not only benefit our young people, but invigorate an inter-generational conversation about our country's past, present and future.

6. Apply talent, energy and skills to furthering economic progress in DRC through employment, entrepreneurship or volunteerism: Diasporans can spark innovation and technological know-how in DRC. In fact, skilled professionals are recognizing the tremendous opportunities that exist in DRC and are returning home in greater numbers, bringing new technologies and fueling innovation in their home country. Certainly, a robustly educated and skilled workforce will help ensure that the country can effectively compete in a global economy. But it is not always easy for returning Congolese to secure suitable employment or other sources of revenue.

Here again, the diaspora create shape our country's future, creating well-needed jobs and spurring economic growth, by investing in DRC's emerging sectors and launching successful businesses in DRC. Our country offers some of the highest returns on direct foreign investment in the world, and more investment is critically needed to expand local capacity and bolster economic growth.

7. Remember that you don't have to live in DRC to make an impact in our beloved country: Even if now is not a good time to move to Congo, for personal or professional reasons, you can still have a strong impact. Whether by sending money to family or friends, volunteering on the board of a local organization, or visiting regularly for vacations and business opportunities, there are many ways to bring knowledge, empowerment, and resources home.

Remittances, for example, are a powerful tool. While remittances alone will not promote sustainable development, they can help to provide for the immediate needs of individual households and greatly improve the quality of life for families. However, all diaspora groups must find ways to use remittances not just for consumption but also for investments and widespread wealth creation.

8. Mobilize following humanitarian disasters: When a humanitarian disaster strikes or conflict breaks out, an organized diaspora can quickly raise funds for the relief effort. We can also assist in channeling updates on what's happening in-country and share personal stories about the impacts on people's real lives.

9. Reconsider dual citizenship: The Congolese diaspora must push for dual citizenship. Yes, this is a thorny issue that hearkens back to a time when our open borders caused us pain, sorrow, and death. But it is time to revisit and codify dual citizenships in our laws. Two decades ago, we prevailed over others' attempts to divide and conquer us. Enough time has passed. We can no longer allow the Congolese diaspora to be undermined and underutilized. We must fight for full citizenship for those who were born in Congo and want to be a part of its success. The recent law allowing Congolese to receive a visa at the border is a promising start, but it is too costly and does not go far enough.

10. Find inspiration to stay engaged: The worst thing we can do is disengage. DRC needs us! It can be discouraging to feel like things are not moving forward. But we must stay the course, if only through small individual actions. Countries are not built overnight. Transformational change can and will take place in Congo as a result of the passionate commitment, steadfast courage, and faithful action of the many people who love it.

 Amini Kajunju, a Congolese national, is executive director of the IUGB Foundation and was formerly President and CEO of Africa-America Institute. Follow her on Twitter - @AminiKajunju

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