Africa and EU in Partnership website. The African Diaspora has a key role to play in the development of the continent, be it through investment in business, involvement in civil society or as a unique bridge between the peoples of Africa and Europe. In order to capitalise on this potential, the Diaspora Africa Forum (DAF) was established as a means by which the African diaspora can engage and help make the concepts behind the Joint Africa–EU Strategic Partnership a reality.
Tapping diaspora potential
DAF was created to support the African Union (AU)’s aim of involving the diaspora in Africa’s development. Dr Erieka Bennett, Convening Founder and Head of Mission of the AU Diaspora African Forum, is clear about what can be achieved.
“We encourage EU representatives to look back home, not necessarily come back home,” she says. “We’re saying: ‘Begin to do something in Africa’. We encourage them to adopt a child, and spend $200 a month to send children to school. We have some very prominent diaspora representatives who are building sport centres, etc. So these are some of the things we are encouraging them to get involved with.”
The African diaspora has a potential role to play in all eight partnerships set out in the Africa – EU Action Plan 2008 – 2010. In health for example, nurses outside of Africa came back over their holidays to help out. Another example is a programme in which DAF sends teachers from Ghana to get work experience in the US, after which they come back to apply their knowledge in Ghana. The diaspora can also have a positive impact on job creation in Africa.
“We want them to come back home and set up businesses and use their various skills and talents,” says Dr Bennett. “Africa is a new frontier which the diaspora needs to look at in a very serious way. This is your home, this is where you belong. It is your duty and responsibility to help us build Africa. Our centre is more like a resource centre, where the diaspora comes to us and we give them information on how to start their lives here. We send them to government agencies that can help and support in the things that they want to do. We are more of a bridge.”
Connecting to the diaspora
Bennett is adamant that the DAF is also about the diaspora making an emotional link with Africa. “We want them to feel a sense of connection,” she says. “Parliaments in Africa are also looking at how to give the vote to the diaspora in Europe and the US. We want them to feel a connection, not necessarily an incentive. It is more of a feeling and sense of commitment. You are an African when Africa is born in you. We want people to feel a sense of nationalism and commitment to this continent.”
Involving the diaspora
The AU and the government of Ghana have organised an International Colloquium to Commemorate the Life and Times of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah on 23 – 25 May, in which the DAF and representatives from the diaspora will be present. The colloquium represents the climax to a year-long programme to commemorate the centenary of the birth of Dr. Nkrumah, an influential 20th century advocate of Pan-Africanism and a former leader of Ghana.
The DAF also wants to see the diaspora involved in pan-African activities on European soil, and to be seen by African leaders as an effective point of contact abroad.
“The diaspora could and should be a serious lobby for various funding opportunities and encouraging serious partnerships with EU countries,” says Bennett. “One thing we do is to strongly encourage African leaders, when they go to meetings in Europe, to meet the African diaspora and to make them feel a part of Africa and let them know how important their involvement is.”
Dr. Erieka Bennett is the founder and Head-of-Mission of the Diaspora African Forum (DAF) and is an advisor to the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS). She also currently serves on the Advisory Counsel of the President of Ghana. Dr. Bennett was also instrumental in the development of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and was an advisor to the architects of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). In 2007, Dr. Bennett received the Global Leadership Award endorsed by the World Bank, IMF African society for her work promoting African Diaspora Affairs.