Africans in the Diaspora and Africa: Scaling Up Technical, Investment, Bilateral and Infrastructure Development Partnerships

By Chinua Akukwe

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
December 31, 2009


One of the most intriguing issues in Africa’s development is the role of Africans in the Diaspora. Despite credible and significant efforts to create or carve out a role for Africans in the Diaspora to play a major, formal role in Africa’s development, the impact on the ground has been largely small-scale, focused on family and neighborhood interests, and largely outside the purview of government structures and operations. In this article, I briefly discuss how to scale up the role of Africans in the Diaspora in Africa’s development in three specific areas: (1) technical assistance and financial investments (2) bilateral relationships between Western countries with African Diaspora populations and African countries and (3) infrastructure development in Africa.

I begin my article by asking an obvious question: Are Africans in the Diaspora actively involved in Africa’s development?

Current Role of Africans in the Diaspora in Africa
Various organizations have documented the role of Africans in Diaspora in Africa’s development. These organizations include the African Development Bank, the World Bank, the United Nations Economic Community for Africa (ECA) and the International Office of Migration. Africans in the Diaspora are on pace to remit US $32 billion in 2009 to Africa, according to the African Development Bank. These remittances are so important in some African countries, according to the African Development Bank, representing between 9% and 14% of the GDP of these countries, and accounting for between 80% and 750% of Official Development Assistance in some countries.

These remittances through official channels do not account for unofficial remittances through friends, family members and other informal channels. In Europe and North America, Africans in the Diaspora are the prime movers and supporters of Africa-focused advocacy organizations, Africa-focused public policy and Africa-related studies. In the United States, the Congressional Black Caucus, representing Africans in the Diaspora serving in the US Congress is a formidable group that champions African development issues. The Constituency for Africa, Washington, DC, where the author of this article has served as a member of the board of directors since 2000, is well known for its advocacy and grassroots organization skills. Hundreds of similar organizations are active in various development issues facing Africa. Africans in the Diaspora national professional groups are known for their concern for Africa and their support for development issues in Africa. Recently, the National Medical Association, the organization of Black physicians in American launched a global health initiative with a principal focus on Africa.

Despite these impressive roles of Africans in the Diaspora, it is widely believed that these efforts could be scaled up to significantly impact Africa’s development. I briefly discuss how to scale up the participation of Africans in the Diaspora in Africa’s development.

Scaling Up the Role of Africans in the Diaspora

Africans in the Diaspora need to scale up their involvement in Africa’s development in three distinct ways:

1) Scaling Up Technical and Investment Assistance

2) Scaling Up Participation in Existing Bilateral Partnership Arrangements

3) Scaling Up Support for Infrastructure Projects in Africa

1. Scaling Up Technical and Investment Assistance

Thousands of skilled Africans in the Diaspora can play a very important catalytic role in Africa’s development. Africa will benefit from a pooled skill set of Africans in the Diaspora ready to work on identified problems in designated geographical areas of Africa. The mobilization of Africans in the Diaspora professionals should be of a sufficient scale as to make a difference on the ground in Africa and to help train local experts.

I propose the creation of the Africa Diaspora Technical and Investment Fund (ADTI) to manage the process of deploying professionals from African Diaspora communities in the West to work on specific issues in designated locations in Africa. The ADTI in the mold of the Global Fund against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (the Global Fund) will raise money, run a lean secretariat and work with partners around the world to ensure the deployment of experts to Africa. ADTI should have a dual, simultaneous focus. The first focus should be on technical assistance by Africa Diaspora professionals. The second focus should be on creating verifiable financial and business investment opportunities for Africans in the Diaspora in Africa.

The key to the success of ADTI is that technical and investment assistance should focus on identified needs in host African countries, the creation of enabling environments in host countries, and the logistics of identifying and deploying members of the African Diaspora willing to participate. A transparently managed ADTI should be an equal partnership between African institutions, multilateral agencies, the private sector and professional organizations on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. A focus on the creation of ADTI should become a priority of policy makers in Africa and in Western countries with Africa Diaspora populations. The successful establishment of the Global Fund and experiences gained since it began operation should provide a useful guide in the establishment of ADTI. A successfully launched ADTI could become a launching pad for sustained return to Africa of thousands of African Diaspora professionals that left Africa in search of career fulfillment and greener pastures. A strong ADTI could also become a powerful platform for channeling back the creative energies of the African Diaspora community that involuntarily left the shores of Africa more than 300 years ago.

2. Scaling up the Participation of Africans in the Diaspora in Existing Bilateral Partnerships with African countries

Africans in the Diaspora can become more active in African development issues by utilizing opportunities available through existing bilateral partnerships between their home countries and African countries. In the United States, for example, Africans in the Diaspora need to become actively involved in the policy making and operational management functions of development agencies such as the United States Aid in Development Agency (USAID), US Millennium Challenge Corporation, US Export and Import Bank, the President’s Emergency Relief for HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (PEPFAR), US Trade Representative Office and other key agencies in various departments. To facilitate this process, political leaders in the West may need to create enabling environment and incentives to attract members of the African Diaspora community to work in these agencies. In particular, qualified members of the Africa Diaspora community should be appointed by the Executive Branch of Government to work in key policy and operational roles in these agencies.

The strengthened participation of Africans in the Diaspora in bilateral partnership agencies and platforms in the West will likely require a comprehensive review of current policy on Africa and the crafting of specific roles for members of the Diaspora community. In an earlier article (, I had outlined how in the case of United States, President Barrack Obama can take specific steps to scale up the participation of Africans in the Diaspora in the design and implementation of US policy towards Africa. The process for strengthening the role of Africans in the Diaspora should be both short-and-long term. In the short term, the emphasis should be on appoint qualified members of the African Diaspora community to key leadership roles in bilateral partnership arrangements with African countries. In the long term, young members of the Africa Diaspora community in undergraduate and graduate schools should be encouraged to begin careers in international development, with a special focus on Africa.

In parallel to the review of Africa bilateral partnership policies in the West, African countries should conduct their own reviews. African country reviews should include the nurturing of special relationships with African Diaspora communities around the world, the creation of enabling and regulatory environment that will smoothen bilateral partnerships, the introduction of incentives to encourage members of the African Diaspora community to pursue long term careers in Africa (public and private sectors), and the strengthening of cultural ties between Africa and Africa Diaspora communities.

3. Scaling Up Infrastructure Support and Assistance
The state of infrastructure in Africa is troubling. The Africa Development Bank recently indicated that the continent lags behind other developing regions of the world in four key areas: sanitation, energy, transport and telecommunications. In the area of sanitation, only 65% of Africans have access to basic sanitation compared to 82% in the rest of the developing world. Only 24% of Africans have access to regular electricity supply compared to 58% in the rest of the developing world. Only 34% of rural access roads in Africa are in decent condition compared to 90% in the rest of the developing world, with major implications for the overwhelmingly agrarian based economy in Africa. The state of infrastructure in the health, education and agriculture sector is in bad shape. Only public utilities are in far worse shape.

To achieve the Millennium Development Goal on poverty reduction in Africa, the Africa Development Bank estimates a yearly investment of US$22 billion in infrastructure. At least 40% of this expenditure will be needed in the transportation sector; 25% in the energy sector; 20% in water and sanitation infrastructure; and, 15% in telecommunication facilities and support. Africa needs to spend between US$32 and US$40 per person per year to make a dent on the infrastructure woes in Africa. No African country is close to spending as much per person on infrastructure needs.

Africa needs to address urgently its “hard” infrastructure needs in the area of transportation, energy, telecommunications and basic sanitation. The continent also needs to address its “soft” infrastructure woes in the financial sector where poor regulatory and enforcement practices have stifled local entrepreneurship and job creation. The World Bank and the Africa Development Bank estimate that Africa needs US$18 billion to complete financial sector reforms, operate and maintain long term friendly investment facilities in the continent.

It is important to note that African countries, African institutions and external development partners continue to address infrastructure needs in the continent. However, these interventions are hardly enough. There is no shortage of continental and international initiatives on infrastructure support in Africa. Current infrastructure initiatives in Africa include the Africa Development Bank infrastructure support portfolio; the NEPAD Special Fund for Infrastructure Project Preparation; the Infrastructure Consortium for Africa created post Gleneagles G8 Summit with a major focus on regional integration and regional infrastructure project; the European Union (EU)-Africa Partnership on Infrastructure focused on achievement of Millennium Development Goals by 2015; and, regional economic community initiatives such as the North-South Corridor Program of the regional economic communities in Southern Africa, Eastern Africa and Central Africa to reduce the cost of cross-border trade within affected countries, the Central Corridor Program focusing on seamless transportation connection between the port of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and landlocked Rwanda and Burundi, and the Lamu-Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Corridor focusing free movement of goods and services between the two countries. Western countries, according to the African Development Bank, provided US$5.7 billion in 2006 as direct support for infrastructure in Africa. The World Bank reportedly spent US$15 billion in infrastructure “support” in poor countries three years ago, and, is pledging to increase expenditure in poor countries around the world to US$45 billion over the next three years.

Despite the plethora of continental and internationally supported infrastructure needs, Africa remains infrastructure challenged. It is now necessary to consolidate infrastructure initiatives in Africa into three basic operational strategies:

(A) Jumpstart community-based philanthropic support for infrastructure projects in Africa;

(B) Streamline public sector support for infrastructure development with focus on regionally operated programs; and,

(C) Create incentives for large scale private sector funded investment in continent wide or multi-regional infrastructure projects.

These three basic operational approaches will then form the basis of a scaled up participation of Africans in the Diaspora on infrastructure projects in the continent. The key is to avoid duplication of ongoing programs, to indicate priority needs in each of the operational areas of support and to mobilize the support of Africans in the Diaspora for each area. I briefly review these operational approaches.

The Africa Community-based Infrastructure Support Program should focus on broad-based support activities that address basic infrastructure needs in rural communities and urban slums throughout Africa. The Program will focus on “hard” and “soft” infrastructure needs in rural areas and urban slums with a major emphasis on community-based health and education services and facilities; telecommunication, electricity, water supply and basic sanitation provision programs; and, improving access to micro-credit services and community banking programs to rural and urban slum entrepreneurs. This Program will emphasize rehabilitation of existing infrastructure through individual and corporate support, local, national and international philanthropic support, and through targeted support from bilateral and multilateral agencies. Africans in the Diaspora through remittances sent back to Africa can become important supporters of the Africa Community-based Infrastructure Support Program in specific rural and urban slum communities.

The Public Sector Supported, Regionally Operated Infrastructure Program should focus on consolidating all national, regional and internationally public sector supported projects is needed in Africa to sharpen focus on cross-border initiatives and to continue the gradual process toward regional economic integration in the continent. The operational focus on public sector supported projects should be around countries that make up regional economic communities in Africa. The recently launched North-South Corridor is a promising example that unifies the effort of African countries within three regional economic communities and links support from bilateral donors and multilateral agencies. The North-South Corridor program will focus upgrades of roads, rail and energy infrastructure as well as facilitate trade between affected African countries.

Africans in the Diaspora through the Africa Diaspora Technical and Investment Fund and the enhanced bilateral relationships between Africa Diaspora countries and African countries can participate in the regionally focused infrastructure initiatives and programs.

The Private Sector led Large Scale Joint Venture Infrastructure Program should focus on multi-regional or continent-wide initiatives and projects. Africa-based entrepreneurs and investors, Africa-Diaspora entrepreneurs and investors, and entrepreneurs/investors from other parts of the world should have the opportunity to establish joint venture partnerships to tackle large scale infrastructure development projects in Africa. The Africa Development Bank and the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank have important financing and catalytic role to play in this effort in view of their extensive policy, program and logistics experience with infrastructure projects. Major investment and financial institutions around the world, especially the so called sovereign investment funds from China, India, Brazil and Middle East countries have a unique opportunity to play leading roles in infrastructure joint ventures in Africa.

Multinational corporations, Africa-based and managed business conglomerates and wealthy investors can invest in infrastructure projects that span across economic regions in Africa. Supported projects can link North and South of Africa, East and West Africa, creating opportunities for seamless movement of people, goods and services across Africa. Africans in the Diaspora entrepreneurs and investors can independently or jointly with other partners invest in large scale infrastructure investment opportunities.

Potential infrastructure investment opportunities include large scale regional electricity projects such as the proposed Great Lakes Region Electricity Project; North/South, East/West regional highways and airways; continent-wide and regional focused interconnectivity information technology projects, to mention a few promising examples. Other important continent-wide projects include uniform customs and immigration controls to facilitate the free movement of Africans across Africa.

The participation of Africa Diaspora entrepreneurs and investors in large-scale infrastructure projects requires important incentives. African countries should complete reforms of their financial systems with transparent regulatory frameworks, rule of law and legality of contracts. Political leaders in Africa Diaspora countries need to provide investment incentives, policy and operational support to spur large-scale investments. Finally, investment in large scale infrastructure projects in any part of the world requires a long term perspective regarding investment returns. African Diaspora investors will have to keep this perspective in mind and arrange financing accordingly. Tax breaks by governments will be helpful.

Africans in the Diaspora have been designated the “sixth region” of the African Union. There is hope for the significant role of Africans in the Diaspora in the anticipated Africa’s renaissance in the 21st Century. Africans in the Diaspora appear poised to answer the call from Africa. To effectively participate in Africa’s future development, Africans in the Diaspora will need a transparent platform to be mobilized and deployed, need to take advantage of existing bilateral partnership arrangements with African countries and to pay close attention to the infrastructure woes in Africa. In this article, I call for the creation of a transparent Africa Diaspora Technical and Investment Fund to manage a scaled-up response of Africans in the Diaspora to the clarion call for assistance from Africa.

Chinua Akukwe is the Chair of the Technical Board, Africa Center for Health and Human Security, George Washington University, Washington, DC. He is also the Executive Chairman of the Africa Union Africa Diaspora Health Initiative. Dr. Akukwe has written extensively on health and development issues, including four books. He can be reached at


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