Remarks of Mr. Cheick Sidi Diarra, United Nations Under-Secretary-General, Special Adviser on Africa and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and SmallIsland Developing States at the Diplomatic Corporate Dialogue, hosted by the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Liberia, New York, 3 April 2008

Your Excellencies,
Distinguished participants,
Ladies and gentlemen,

1. The African Diaspora is a very important part of Africa, not only in economic terms, but also in political, social and cultural terms. The importance of the financial and intellectual wealth of the African Diaspora to Africa’s overall prosperity needs to be recognized and harnessed. This requires establishing formal links with the Diaspora at the governmental level.

2. People of the Diaspora present special advantages for African countries over foreign investors. They often understand the local situation better, they are willing to take more risks, and they have an emotional and cultural attachment to their countries of descent.  

3. The importance of the Diaspora is illustrated by the remittances they send to their countries of origin. In a number of African countries, remittances are the single largest source of hard currency.

4. By one estimate, remittances by Africans abroad averaged US$17 billion between 2000 and 2003, outstripping foreign aid which averaged US$15 million per annum.

5. Initial steps have been taken towards recognizing and encouraging the role of the Diaspora in the development of Africa, especially by the African Union which has recognized the Diaspora as one of the integral regions of Africa and declared that it shall “invite and encourage the full participation of the African Diaspora as an important part of our continent, in the building of the African Union” (Article 3q of the Constitutive Act of the Africa Union as amended). Indeed, the African Union Constitutive Act  creates an Economic, Social and Cultural Council which includes representatives of “ the 6th Region”, namely the African Diaspora. For that matter, the AU has chosen the most inclusive definition of the concept of African Diaspora.

6. This political declaration needs to be translated into tangible actions, both at regional and national levels. In particular, national governments and intergovernmental bodies need to take certain actions to harness the potential that the African Diaspora presents, including: 

  • Establishing a comprehensive database on the Diaspora to provide the necessary information for appropriate policy actions.

  • Profiling the Diaspora in a positive way.

  • Providing support to Diaspora in all fields, regardless of where they reside, including easy access to administrative and consular services and diplomatic protection.

  • Keeping the Diaspora abreast of national priorities and developments.

  • Involving the Diaspora in national decision making.

7. Governments should create conducive environments locally to attract the intellectual and economic assets of the Diaspora. The constitutional and legal framework must be conducive to the Diaspora. For example, citizenship should not be denied to persons from the Diaspora just because they hold another citizenship. The principle of multiple citizenships should be embraced.

8. Similarly, the financial rules should be favourable to the Diaspora. For example:

  • Even in countries where hard currency restrictions exist, persons for the Diaspora should be allowed to maintain hard currency accounts.

  • They should have the freedom to expatriate returns on their investment, if they wish to do so. While this may appear as a loss to the country, it is not because, a) The money wouldn’t be there if the investment had not been made in the first place, b) Taxes would have been paid on the investment, c) Other businesses and individuals would have earned income from the investment and, d) There are certain things that cannot be expatriated, such as the skills that would have been passed on to the local people.
  • They should be given tax and other investment incentives, especially when they invest in risky or strategic sectors.

9. Governments, in collaboration with the Diaspora and other private sector players, should develop special financial instruments that enable the Diaspora to easily play a role in the economic activities of the country.

10. African countries should conclude agreements with the countries of residence of their Diaspora for the protection of the investments of persons from the Diaspora and their foreign partners.

11. The cumbersome procedures for investment and financial transactions should be simplified to promote investments by the Diaspora. In some African countries, it can take as long as six months to complete the procedures required to start a business. The establishment of “One Stop Centers” may help in overcoming some of these procedural delays, provided such centers don’t become “One Stop Roadblocks.”

12. There should be institutional structures for formal interaction between the Diaspora and their countries of descent. There must be a point of entry to receive and deal with their ideas and concerns. Some African countries, such as Ghana and Mali, which have a ministry for Diaspora relations, provide good examples.

13. Finally, African governments should support and, where possible facilitate the efforts of the Diaspora to promote the interests of the countries of origin in the host countries. For example, members of the Diaspora can undertake advocacy work and lobbying in their countries of residence that benefits their countries of origin.