The diaspora-funded project will boost investments in eight African countries / Photo: Reuters

By Firmain Eric Mbadinga

The role of the African diaspora in the continent's economic development is becoming increasingly crucial as the volume of money remitted home grows exponentially, helping expand the pool of finance for projects that significantly impact people's lives.

"The African diaspora has become Africa's biggest donor. This isn't debt. We are talking gifts or 100% donations, a new form of concessional financing that is the key to securing livelihoods for millions of Africans," Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank (AfDB), said at an event in Côte d’Ivoire's city of Abidjan in December last year.

The AfDB and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) have since launched a US $3.9 million project to boost investments by diaspora members in eight African countries.

The project, which the IOM will coordinate on the ground, aims to strengthen the fight against irregular immigration.

In 2022, Africans living abroad, estimated at 160 million, transferred $95.6 billion dollars to Africa.

Egypt was among the countries that benefited immensely from this inflow, with nearly $28 billion received from its diaspora.

Nigeria leads the sub-Saharan countries with at least $20 billion in funds from its diaspora.

These money transfers, which have been acknowledged as crucial by governments and NGOs alike, have been making a significant contribution towards checking the flight of thousands of Africans to foreign lands at considerable risk to their safety and without any assurance of a better life there.

Pioneering project

The project launched by the AfDB on December 3, in partnership with the African Union (AU) and the IOM, hinges on giving the diaspora more opportunities to increase its capacity to help local development and, in turn, combat irregular immigration out of Africa.

The project seeks to boost local development and, in turn, combat irregular immigration out of Africa. Photo: Reuters 

The IOM is convinced that this project could create jobs and wealth on the continent, giving those looking for greener pastures a choice other than taking to the sea on the first dinghy to a life fraught with danger and uncertainty.

Diaspora engagement is one of IOM's primary areas of work in Africa, with programmes and projects piloted in several countries since the 1980s.

"Through its expertise, IOM aims to streamline diaspora investment, boost private investment and reduce vulnerability by promoting entrepreneurship and business linkages in eight African countries," Eric Mazango, communications officer at the organisation's office in Ethiopia's Addis Ababa, tells TRT Afrika.

The primary beneficiaries of the project, which is receiving technical support from the AU Commission, are nationals of Gambia, Liberia, Madagascar, Mali, Somalia, South Sudan, Zimbabwe and Togo.

In Togo, the native country of roving conflict management professional Kag Sanoussi, the sum allocated by the ADB and the IOM translates into almost two billion CFA francs.

"How the diaspora is positively impacting the continent is a subject I know well. I, too, regularly send money home," he says.

"The immediate challenge is to see how the money sent makes a tangible contribution to development. Like many others, it's a good project that needs to be accompanied by a good 'mindset'. We need to support the players and their projects so that they can deliver practical development to keep these populations within a framework of opportunities."

Nigeria leads the sub-Saharan countries with at least $20 billion in funds from its diaspora. Photo: AP  

Safeguards in place

The concerns raised by Sanoussi have been taken into account. The IOM, which will implement the project, intends to draw on experience to ensure the plan stays on track.

"The eight targeted beneficiary countries will build on previous and ongoing initiatives, besides the lessons learned in their respective regions. The examples include the IOM-UNDP Development Fund project that began in 2008 with over 700 Somali diaspora experts deployed in their home countries," explains Mazango.

An IOM-funded study on "remittances and diaspora engagement in Southern Sudan" and the organisation's collaboration with the AfDB for a pilot project in Burundi to reduce youth unemployment through the involvement of the diaspora are other instances.

Mazango also recounts IOM's support in Togo towards establishing a diaspora platform designed to facilitate dialogue, collaboration, skills transfer and activities involving the government and the diaspora to benefit local populations.

The beneficiaries

The IOM intends to use the $3.9 million in funding to reach out primarily to communities affected by conflict, climate change and other humanitarian and environmental disasters.

"This will benefit at least 50,000 people in the target countries, including direct beneficiaries (50% women and 40% young people) and indirect ones (based on the fact that the nuclear family structure is made up of 5 to 10 people)," explains Mazango.

Through direct or indirect contributions, these funds will also finance the return of diaspora members to the continent for training in sectors such as agriculture, fishing or animal husbandry before facilitating their professional integration.

Sanoussi believes that investing in raising awareness among target populations, particularly young people, should also be a priority in the fight against irregular migration.

"For me, there are two essential levers, which are complementary. One is to make young people aware of the dangers of illegal immigration. Raising awareness of the risks involved, the number of deaths, and the myth of El Dorado. This needs to be stepped up," he tells TRT Afrika.

He also suggests financing income-generating activities that are "sustainable".

"If we limit our actions to raising awareness, people will always take risks. For current and future projects, these must be sustainable and provide high added value so they don't just last a few months before disappearing," says Sanoussi.

The indirect beneficiaries of the project, which runs from 2023 to 2026, are national private-sector players (companies, business incubators and other organisations supporting small and medium-sized enterprises) and financial institutions. NGOs and civil society in various countries are also on the radar.

After the initial eight target countries are covered, the project will likely be extended to other AU member states.

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TRT Afrika