What role can the young African Diaspora play?
By Dabi Olu-Odugbemi
I came to the stark realisation that I was part of the African Diaspora in 2017. Prior to that, although I had been living in the UK for over three years I always strongly identified as wholly Nigerian. Don’t misunderstand me – I definitely still identify as Nigerian. It’s what my parents are, what my grand-parents are, my great-grandparents, my great-great… you get the picture.
However, in 2017 I was offered a job at a firm in the UK that I’m really excited about. And I accepted it, thus committing myself to living in the UK until at least 2022… But in reality, probably longer if everything goes to plan. That’s when I realised that I was part of the African diaspora. Because I wasn’t just abroad getting an education anymore, I was now living (like living living) in the UK.
I think this realisation has been so world-altering to me because I had always imagined that I would help Nigeria and show my patriotism by just being there. My plan at 16 was to finish my education in the UK and then move back to Nigeria. I would probably enrol in law school, then hopefully get a job at a good law firm and work there for a few years before eventually setting up my own practice. My service to my country would be carried out simply by physically being there, passively moving along with my life and I guess hoping that along the way I could help other people in the ways that I could as much as I could.
However, living outside of Nigeria has meant that I’ve had to reassess what I want to do for my country and what I even can do from a distance. My impression is that this is the same for a lot of my friends in the same position as me. We want to contribute to our origin countries, and we want to retain the values that we’ve been raised with as Africans, but we’re struggling with how to do this.
So, this post is a compilation a few methods that I think the young African diaspora can use to contribute to our origin countries. Some are quite easy and common-sense ways while others are a bit less known but still interesting to consider.
Sending money back home
Unknowingly, many Africans in the Diaspora actually provide financial support to their origin countries. By sending money back to family members still living on the continent, you put money into the economy that would not otherwise be there. The World Bank reported that in 2010, remittances to Africa exceeded US$ 40 billion. This can be contrasted with the World Bank’s recent report, which found that in 2018 remittances to Sub-Saharan Africa alone amounted to US$46 million. So, by simply sending money to family or friends in your origin countries, you are contributing to the economy in a potentially huge way. In 2018, remittances made up 15.3% of The Gambia’s total GDP. To put that in context, Government spending in The Gambia in 2017 made up only 12.01% of the country’s GDP!
There is also a point to be made here about the strength of foreign currencies in comparison with many African currencies. Speaking as a Nigerian, I have watched the Naira be devalued from ₦250: £1 to around ₦500: £1. I don’t personally send money home (more like my parents send me money), but for Africans who earn in pounds and send some of this money back home, you insulate the recipient from the exchange rate fluctuations that have become so typical.
Buy Africa to grow Africa
I adore plantain chips and chin chin. I think they’re great study snacks, so I end up going to the closest market near me that sells these snacks, which happens to be an African market at Deptford Bridge (London,UK). Or I ask my parents to bring me some when they come to visit. All of this seems really simple, and quite frankly, inconsequential. But the World Bank has highlighted that this act, which to me is minor, is one of the ways that the African Diaspora can contribute to their origin countries’ economies. When you buy products from actual African vendors, you put money in their pockets. Me spending £2 on some chin chin isn’t a huge deal. But if thousands of us carry out that same act, we’ve unknowingly put thousands into chin chin vendors’ pockets, and injected this money into the economy. Additionally, when we share these products with friends, we help widen the market for these sellers, who now have access to clients that might have otherwise overlooked their products.
I have recently discovered the Diaspora Bond and I think it’s quite a cool concept. In simple terms, these are bonds issued by countries, which are aimed at expatriates. When expatriates buy these bonds, they provide countries with an influx of cash that can be used for a multitude of tasks. For example, governments can use the money they have raised from issuing these bonds to carry out infrastructural projects that they didn’t have the funds to undertake before. All things being equal, these projects will provide jobs for citizens within that country. Diaspora bonds are good for the very patriotic amongst us because they provide a means of contributing to our origin countries. However, due to their low yields they are definitely not an investment for people looking to get rich quick. Countries such as India and Israel have made use of diaspora bonds and have found them relatively successful. If you’d like to learn more about diaspora bonds, read this.
Transfer of skills and knowledge
Finally, the transfer of skills and knowledge is typically seen as the most important contribution that the African Diaspora can make. The idea is that, having been abroad we can return home and change things. I think we need to be careful with this particular suggestion, because while it is important to share the knowledge we have gained from our exposure, we should not seek the impose Western ideals on our home countries. Crucially, we cannot go home thinking that we are better simply because we were privileged enough to leave home and be educated in another country. We cannot become the new colonialists.
I decided to ask a few of my friends what they thought their contribution as members of the young African Diaspora should be to their origin countries. I thought their suggestions were really interesting, so I’m going to leave you with a few of their thoughts.
To improve the economy and reduce corruption: Seye Akinboyewa, Senior Associate at Deloitte
My skills and money – Priscilla Alao, Undergraduate at UCL
I can’t continue complaining if I’m not willing to work and produce solutions to help improve the myriad of problems we’re facing in public health, financial inclusion, internal displacement, gender equality, etc. – Mofope Olarinmoye, Undergraduate at Princeton University
A venture delivering something I’ve benefitted from in the UK that isn’t available back home – Tofunmi Odusolu, Tech Consultant at KPMG UK
[The role of the African Diaspora] is whatever role they can without trying to speak over those that live in the country and bear the brunt of its systems. [The] best way of doing that is having conversations with the people living there, not the rich, about practical ways the diaspora can help financially, using foreign structures to hold our government accountable or raising awareness about things like the displacement of the poor in Lagos – Wura Oyedeji, Masters student at LSE
The transfer of knowledge and capital – Cedrick Ofori, Analyst at Goldman Sachs
To help development – Nabilah Kesington, undergraduate at Bath University.
Funding the radical and systematic change (revolution) that is much needed – Toni Adejuyigbe, incoming Trainee at Latham & Watkins
Taking back skills in general and using our expose to better Nigeria – Subuola Oyeleye, Undergraduate at Leicester University
Respect – Maryam Gbajabiamala, Student at the University of Law.