The Growing Momentum for Africa, Africa-Diaspora Partnership

By Chinua Akukwe

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
July 25, 2006


At the invitation of the Africa Union and the Government of Brazil, I had the privilege to attend the recent Second International Conference of Africa and Africans in the Diaspora in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil. In this conference, I also had the honor of moderating the only health session in the conference, an eight-hour, morning and afternoon marathon session. President Lula of the host country, six African heads of state, the new charismatic prime minister of Jamaica and the Chairperson of the African Union Commission attended the conference. Senior government officials from Africa and the Diaspora, and, leading intellectuals from Africa and the Diaspora also participated. In addition, hundreds of Brazilians, especially Afro-Brazilians also participated in this international conference.

The conference afforded the participants, from high ranking government officials to intellectuals from all over the world the opportunity to interact, share views and debate various issues inside and outside of the normal plenary sessions. In my interaction with many participants, it became evident that most participants were now focusing on how best to harness the limitless potential of a strong partnership between Africa and its Diaspora. It also became clear to me that most participants were now focusing on what I and my colleagues a few years ago had postulated in an article to be “the third stage of the Africa-Diaspora partnership” with emphasis on institutionalizing the partnership through discussions, debates and negotiations between Africa and its Diaspora.

This conference represented a showcase of the incredible promise of a strong Africa-Diaspora partnership. It also demonstrated the extraordinary, looming obstacles. I elaborate briefly on these incredible promises and challenges.

Incredible Promises of Africa-Diaspora Partnership

The first major promise is the increasing wave of information, education and communication (IEC) about the African Diaspora. Historians in universities, think tanks and other entities are now at work documenting the earliest lives of the Diaspora, their contributions to the political, economic, social and scientific development of their adopted countries, and their ongoing, unresolved political and economic issues. In particular, the history and contribution of the Diaspora in Latin America is largely unknown and is now the subject of numerous scholarly inquiries.

Second, political leaders of countries with African Diaspora populations are now focusing on the limitless potentials of these communities. It was clear to many of us that attended the conference that President Lula of Brazil, the country with the largest concentration of Africans outside of Nigeria, recognizes the critical role of the country’s African population, and, is taking steps to make them a potent political force. Governments of the Caribbean are also keenly aware of their historic role as independent Africa Diaspora countries and the need to play a leadership role in the emerging Africa-Diaspora partnerships, a role they had played admirably in the early 20th Century when some of their nationals like Marcus Garvey and Dudley Thompson were instrumental to the earliest decolonization efforts in Africa. The role of Nigeria in sending thousands of its professionals to work in various African and Diaspora countries through the Technical Aid Corps was also recognized as a good example of verifiable partnership strategies.

Third, the plight of Africans in the Diaspora is now increasingly better known. One of the most remarkable outcomes of this conference is the education of many participants on the political and economic plight of Africans in the Diaspora in countries where they are in the minority. Despite the effort of President Lula’s government in nearly four years of running the central government, panel presentations, articles and discussions show that Afro-Brazilians still face hurdles in accessing political and economic power. Black intellectuals from Brazil presented data that showed black-white disparities in health, economic and social outcomes. During the last day of the Conference, a group of mostly young Brazilian students staged a demonstration and temporarily disrupted proceedings demanding an end to racial discrimination in Brazil and the need to enforce quotas in education and health training institutions so that minority populations will have adequate representation in health and economic professions.

Fourth, it appears that there is a growing recognition that the future of Africa-Diaspora partnership lies in creating and sustaining specific collaborative ventures. Various speakers, from presidents to intellectuals made it clear that it is now crucial to develop and implement credible and verifiable programs that link Africa with its brethren in the Diaspora. These programs should be specific and focused on verifiable outcomes. For instance, Africa countries with high HIV/AIDS burden can benefit from the expertise of Brazil in the manufacture of cheap anti-retroviral drugs. Caribbean countries can send their nursing staff to African countries with acute shortages. Business men and women from the Diaspora can go into profitable business ventures with their African counterparts. African countries and countries with Diaspora populations can implement joint undergraduate and graduate exchange and scholarship programs. Think tanks in Africa and the Diaspora can collaborate on issues of mutual interest.

Finally, there is a growing realization that a united Africa government, perhaps in the mode of the European Union, will help move forward the institutionalization of Africa-Diaspora partnership. The issue of a union of African states from my observations in this conference appears to be gaining momentum. However, what is not evident is how to go about creating such a union in Africa.

Looming Obstacles

A fundamental looming obstacle is how best to develop a shared vision between Africa and its Diaspora. As noted by many participants in this conference, it is an illusion to believe that there is at the moment a shared vision of progress between two peoples who have being separated for centuries. Developing a shared vision is a major undertaking that will require frank debates and discussions, and, concerted political action on both sides. It is likely that the need for a shared vision between Africa and its Diaspora will dominate, at least, the next two bi-annual conferences.

Second, germane to the need for a shared vision is the definition of the Africa Diaspora. Defining who is an African Diaspora is not as easy as one would believe. Conference participants heard about the so called New Diaspora, which according to Ibrahim Fall, a Gambian-UK national and one of the participants in this conference, represent individuals from Africa who came to the West recently, first or second generation; came to the West mostly on their own free will; continue to retain economic and social contact with their native lands, and; are now mostly professionals in their adopted countries. Are the goals and objectives of the new African Diaspora similar to their brethren whose ancestors left Africa unwillingly and in chains centuries ago and are now completely assimilated in their adopted countries? Should the discussion of Africa Diaspora not extend to India with its large Black population?

Third, another obstacle is how best to develop structures and institutions that will move the Africa-Diaspora partnership, forward. What should be the next steps? Canvassed ideas include:
a) Africans in the Diaspora should create a common organization to deal with Africa through the Africa Union commission?
b) The designation of the Africa Diaspora as the sixth region of the Africa Union should lead to the creation of an African Diaspora economic community, joining the existing regional economic communities in Africa as the focus for regional development?;
c) Africa and Africans in the Diaspora should create a distinct Africa-Diaspora Organization independent or horizontally related to the Africa Union? And,
d) Countries with Africa Diaspora populations should jumpstart the envisaged partnership be establishing relationships with their African counterparts? For example, Ghana now has a ministry of tourism and the Diaspora, which allows its national government to channel its strategic efforts on Diaspora issues.

Interestingly at the conference, the political leaders present, indicated that the best way forward is for intellectuals from Africa and the Diaspora to come up with ideas on how to institutionalize the emerging partnership.

Fourth, the problem of language barrier remains critical. The Diaspora of Latin America speak mostly Spanish and Portuguese in Brazil. An Africa-Diaspora partnership will have to navigate through the major European languages, English, French, Spanish and Portuguese spoken in Africa and the Diaspora, and, other major African spoken languages.

Finally, a strong Africa-Diaspora partnership will require resources. Africa-Diaspora partnership will require financial, technical and logistic resources. How these resources will be sourced, harnessed and utilized is yet to receive serious discussion. In addition, discussion on how to manage joint resources for an enduring partnership is yet to begin.


The need for strong, durable partnership between Africa and its millions of brethren who live outside of Africa is now widely accepted. There is a momentum to institutionalize the partnership with special goals and objectives. Despite looming obstacles, the course for an Africa-Diaspora partnership appears irreversible.

Chinua Akukwe is the Chairman of the Technical Advisory Board of the Africa Center for Health and Human Security, George Washington University Medical Center, Washington, DC. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Constituency for Africa, Washington, DC. He previously served as a Vice Chairman of the National Council for International Health, now known as the Global Health Council, Washington, DC.

© 2006 by The Perspective

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