Can we rely on young Africans in the Diaspora?

On a wet Monday evening after an eight-hour shift interning at the United Kingdom’s Parliament at Westminster, I board one of London’s renowned red double-decker bus heading back home to South West London.
Junior Sabena Mutabazi
Junior Sabena Mutabazi

On a wet Monday evening after an eight-hour shift interning at the United Kingdom’s Parliament at Westminster, I board one of London’s renowned red double-decker bus heading back home to South West London.

I am one of many thousands of young African Diasporas trying to accumulate enough skills, knowledge and experience in anticipation that one day they will be applied towards the development of Africa, and in my case, Rwanda in particular. We are a generation of Africans who have had invaluable opportunities to study at some of the world’s top universities and consequently gained academic qualifications that rival our European and American counterparts.

The challenge, however, is that without an active framework for young African Diaspora to engage in the development of their respective countries of origin, the talent, skills and resources amassed by this group will undoubtedly remain in possession of developed countries, which arguably may have adverse effects on development initiatives across Africa.

 

Several scholars have argued that an increasing number of young Africans born or brought up in the Diaspora, compared to previous generations of African migrants, are increasingly finding reasons to stay put and contribute to the economies of their host nations instead of their countries of origin.

One explanation put forward is that young Diaspora wherever they come from become more integrated into host countries and gradually lose connection with their countries of origin. Unlike their parents who have direct emotional connections back home, young people find that their emotional demands are within easy reach, from within their immediate environment.

 

For instance, a recent study by Kwarteng (2013) looked at the remittance intentions of young Ghanaian Diasporas in the United States and found that this group was more likely to engage with Africa through social means instead of transferring funds, citing a lack of emotional connections to the people in Ghana.

Secondly, young African Diaspora have pointed to reasonable life comforts such as employment, investment returns, and social security opportunities accessible in host countries as opposed to negative perceptions associated with Africa, including political instabilities, lack of trust, and poverty to be additional explanations for the lack of financial connection with Africa.

If we continue business as usual without proper research and appropriate policies to reverse this trend, we are in essence deciding to disregard a potentially significant source of revenue to Africa by way of remittances. Over the decades, remittances have played a major role in the development of Africa where African migrants from bakers and bankers to cleaners and clinicians alike have transferred funds to Africa to support their families and businesses.

 

In 2012, for instance, the World Bank reported that an estimated $400 billion was remitted to developing countries, of which $30 billion was remitted by the Sub-Saharan Diaspora. Remarkably, this figure only takes into account formal remittance channels such as Western Union and Money Gram and does not quantify informal methods used like cash upon travel; which, if included, would send remittance figures to Africa in excess of $60 billion per annum.

So far, the older generation of African migrants is aboard a ‘keep calm and carry on’ vessel, and has continued to send money back home. Inevitably, however, a change of guard is approaching and fast.

At this rate, the mechanisms in place to encourage young African Diaspora to carry on important development initiatives of remitting to Africa to support families, businesses, projects and charities, is inadequate and unsustainable. Yes, this young generation of African Diaspora is more inclined to give their time, skills and ideas, but equally, their financial abilities must not be ignored and instead must be harnessed and encouraged.

In response to a similar growing problem of youth disconnection to Israel, the Jewish Diaspora in the United States carried out  an analysis between 2000-2001 and found that charitable giving among young Jewish people between 18-34 years of age were 5 per cent versus 14 per cent of those aged 65 and over. This prompted a response from policymakers to reconsider the balance between focusing efforts on existing remitters and the cultivation of new sources of funds.

If the Jewish Diaspora regarded as the benchmark of Diaspora communities is anything to go by, we can be confident that with the right research and policies in place, Africa can be rest assured of a continued stream of funds from her very own sons and daughters. Without adequate and sustainable frameworks in place, however, the future of this source of funds is largely unpredictable.

The writer is a UK Parliamentary Intern and holds a Master of Science in Public Service Policy.

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