By Mikal Woldu
Last week I attended a public lecture hosted by the Firoz Lalji Institute for Africa (LSE University of London), and the African Union (AU). At the event, titled “Diaspora and innovative finance: implementation of the African Diaspora Finance Corporation”, Professor Gibril Faal delivered a lecture on the framework that underpinned the creation of the African Diaspora Finance Corporation (ADFC), an independent, non-AU continental finance institution, operating as a social enterprise and working together with other African and global finance, development, and diaspora institutions. Developed by Professor Faal, ADFC was recently endorsed by the AU Commision as part of the legacy project on diaspora investment. The panel, chaired by Professor David Luke (LSE), included Almaz Negash, founder of the Africa Diaspora Network (ADN), Ndidi Njoku, chair of African Foundation for Development (AFFORD), Angela Naa Afoley Odai, Head of the Diaspora Division, Citizens and Diaspora Division (CIDO) of the African Union Commission, and Dr Tim Nielander, founder of the GP3 Institute.
What became quickly clear from the insightful lecture delivered by Professor Faal, and the contributions from the other panellists, is that there is a clear interest by the African Union and many African governments, to boost the financial engagement of the diaspora, beyond formal and informal remittances. While remittances have piqued the interest of international actors such as the IMF, the World Bank, and the African Development Bank, other forms of diaspora financial participation such as philanthropy, direct investment, and portfolio investment have received far less attention. The establishment of an institution such as ADFC, signals a clear agenda to boost diaspora investment, as well as a concrete, if not always simple to follow, structure for how African institutions can more effectively engage with the African diaspora globally.
As someone whose work focuses on the transnational and cross-borders engagement of the African diaspora, I am very intrigued and curious to see how successful this endeavour will be. This is likely to be a long-term undertaking, as Professor Faal carefully noted, and will require major efforts over many years from various actors. Even still, I couldn't help but wonder how different portions of the worldwide African diaspora will be able to participate in this endeavour.
Diaspora communities are not a monolith, and their composition, even when tied to the same country of heritage or origin, typically includes groups of individuals with distinct experiences of migration, access to capital (financial, social, cultural), social class standing, local and diasporic obligations, and even gendered experiences just to name a few. The different segments of the global African diaspora are likely to have distinct interests, distinct capabilities to invest, and personal or collective agendas. I am also intrigued to see how second, and subsequent generations will be able to contribute, or if they wish to engage at all. While there is undoubtedly more interest among the diaspora in investing prospects on the continent, among other things, a lack of adequate security and well-functioning infrastructure discourages direct engagement.
Nonetheless, this is a commendable initiative and an encouraging development. We will continue to follow this debate and are excited to see how these cross-national relationships between the continent and the diaspora grow.