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Opinions of Thursday, 6 July 2017

Columnist: Arthur K

Africa disapora

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A "homecoming" for Ghana's Diaspora community started today in Accra. Africa has a rather strange relationship with its diaspora. Many are not allowed to vote or to hold top positions in government. When we happen to be dual citizens, our loyalty is questioned at every turn. We are reminded repeatedly that others have, "paid their dues by being here".

The African Union states that "African Diaspora consists of peoples of African origin living outside the continent, irrespective of their citizenship and nationality and who are willing to contribute to the development of their continent and the building of the Africa Union".

And the Diaspora is worth its weight in gold. In 2012, according to the World Bank, Africa's Diaspora sent home 60 billion USD, more than overseas development assistance for that year. In 2010, the ODA had been 43 billion USD, against remittances of 51.8 billion! And there were no conditionalities attached to the remittances !

According to experts like Prof. Adams Bodomo of Vienna University, the figures may be higher since some remittances are informal. Despite this undoubted financial muscle, I believe that is the least of the assets of Africa's 140 million diaspora community.

The community has technical expertise and experience in many areas sorely lacking in Africa. And it has integrity and connections to state of the art processes and technology.

For instance, the New York Times reported a few years ago that one-in-five doctors born in Africa practice outside Africa, together with ten percent of nurses born in Africa. In academia, due to the brain drain, large numbers of African intellectuals teach and research in Western Universities.

Unfortunately while rest of the world happily welcome African talent, they are not as welcome home. As one physician told me, "If I was practising at home, my President or Minister would prefer to come here and pay exhorbitantly to see one of my less intelligent classmates rather than see me at home".

In 2014, when Spain, the World soccer champions learned they could poach Brazilian Diego Costa, they pounced. They wanted the best. Brazil and later France, all welcomed their African talent and managed to scale the summits of soccer. American blacks have enriched America with contributions in inventions, medicine, business, literature and the arts.

The missing piece to Africa's transformation is the Diaspora. We lost too much human capital through the slave trade and the brain-drain to ignore. We need to turn our losses into gains by welcoming diasporans as equal partners in all areas of development.

Diasporans, regardless of citizenship, must vote. They do not dilute our votes-- they enrich it. Diasporans must have open to them all offices in our countries. They seek offices not to take from us but to give back.

Nkrumah, perhaps the greatest African of all time, did not heed the call to return home, from Danquah and Grant because of ambition-- he heeded the summons because it was a call higher than the priesthood, to serve his continent, his people and history.

Unfortunately, while we lament the attitude of African countries and people, diasporans must do some self-examination.

Too many who return de-Diasporanise. They return with skills but without the values that make them vital to Africa's emancipation. They defend the indefensible. They refuse to stand for principles.

As a very respected Diasporan once told me, "Here, you cannot be objective. You must choose sides". What about the side of truth and the people? As Ghanaian wags will say, "The diasporan who cannot be principled; is that one too a diasporan?"

We are all one people. Whether we leave on a slave-ship or by air, we are Africans. As the Akan proverb states," No matter how long a log stays in water, it will never become a crocodile". You can take the African out of Africa but you can never take Africa out of an African! Let us build Africa together!