Why Diasporans are Best Positioned to Lead Political and Economic Change in Sub-Saharan Africa
About three weeks ago, I met up with an Ivorian-American activist for lunch. We discussed African feminism, politics, cuisine, and most importantly governance across the continent. Upon sharing our woes, we started scheming various ways
About three weeks ago, I met up with an Ivorian-American activist for lunch. We discussed African feminism, politics, cuisine, and most importantly governance across the continent. Upon sharing our woes, we started scheming various ways to create new models of economic empowerment and development for our fellow brothers and sisters. The meeting was all too short, but we left energized, full of zeal and passion for this new quest of African ownership and increased stakes in the development of respective nations. On my train ride back to Baltimore, I was confronted with the following headline in the Guardian newspaper,
“No African citizens granted visas for African trade summit in California”.
I took a deep breath and in my Naija accent, I squawked “Can you imagine?” It is no coincidence that in 2017, 60 or more Africans would be denied both visas to attend The African Global Economic and Development Summit and the opportunity to foster partnerships between delegations from across Africa and leaders in the US. This is a huge wake up call for government leaders across the continent to take deliberate action by working more closely with African Diasporans that are able to maneuver more frequently between the African Continent and the US.
Let’s take a look at the current state of affairs for political regimes in Sub-Saharan Africa. Efforts to improve democratic governance and bring forth constitutional order have resulted in a series of multi-party elections in just about all countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Unfortunately, the convoluted process of mass elections in about 20 countries has resulted in futile votes that fail to consolidate political power in a manner conducive to institutional reform, thus creating an ambiguous façade of stability in these countries. Interestingly, this has encouraged civilians, change agents, and some political parties to reach a consensus of creating a platform and space for hybrid regimes that combine elements of both democracy and authoritarianism. In 2006 for instance, The Economist Intelligence Unit ranked Ghana 95th in the list of the most democratic states, placing it squarely in the “hybrid regime” category. Despite the fact that Ghana had an established democracy, the government was still willing to manipulate elections to benefit the ruling party. Consequently, willing partners and professional election officials in countries like Nigeria and Ivory Coast have been inspired to take leadership and spearhead a fairer competitive process of elections. Further, as actors from the EU and US continue to express verbal allegiance from afar while engaging in minimal action, regional organizations within Sub-Saharan Africa are seeking to play a pivotal role in regime transformation. Concurrently, local politicians are working to revive business sentiment in order to minimize reliance on foreign aid and imports. When foreign donors impose strict policies and conditions, failure to comply with requests usually results in threats of reduced levels of foreign aid, targeted sanctions, and/or visa bans for top officials. As a result, African governments have resolved to reclaim ownership of its political and economic development. Thus, this paradigm shift in emerging Sub-Saharan Africa economies is being developed in such a way that these countries can eliminate the need for repressive economic and institutional measures from foreign donors.
According to a report by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), Dueling with Lions: Playing the New Game of Business Success in Africa, Africa’s fast-changing landscape has increased competition for multinationals vying for market share. This is a result of the high proportion of working-age Africans currently residing on the continent who have increasingly been able to tap into their potential; by optimizing educational attainment and becoming well versed with technological advancements, local African companies are investing more in their own host-country nationals. Despite hard hits such as the Ebola outbreak, sharply declining oil revenues, and high-profile terrorist attacks, local African companies have devised strategies to maintain fiscal prudence and a solid economic footing.
With the recent shift in US politics and the economic setbacks in countries like Nigeria and South Africa, the aforementioned visa denials will result in a dearth of new opportunities for partnerships between the US entrepreneurs and African businesses. As a proud dual citizen, I see this as an opportunity for every Afropolitan with access and mobility to step in and fill the gap between US entrepreneurs and African nations. One way to plug in is to attend one of the many African Business Conferences that have been popping up all over the US, Europe, and Canada. These platforms offer participants the chance to connect with like-minded innovators, identify business opportunities, learn more about the political and economic landscapes of different African countries, network, and discover ways of building a new brand or idea. In 2012, two Nigerian brothers Ngozi and Chijioke- Wharton and Harvard Business School grads, respectively- returned to Nigeria with the intent to fill a void in the countries coffee-loving expat community. Since launching Café Neo, these brothers have invested $400,000 and launched the chain in several African countries, with over 10 in Nigeria alone. This is one of many viable business opportunities for Diasporans to proactively take advantage of and explore.
Ultimately, we are faced with the opportunity to hold African governments accountable for seeking innovative ways to spur economic transformation and development. The time is now to contribute to this emerging African Renaissance. To all my fellow Africans, don’t sleep on this opportunity! Arise!
Chinonye Donna Egbulem is a Nigerian-American activist and social entrepreneur with over five years of experience in global health and development policy research. In her spare time, she works to connect African Diasporans together as an Event Producer for Afropolitan Bmore. She holds a BA in International Studies from Chapel Hill and is a dual-degree MPH/MSW candidate at University of Maryland. You can follow her on Twitter at @nonyespeaks