Africans in the world: engine for development or brain drain?

Building on the findings of Mo Ibrahim Foundation’s (MIF) 2019 Ibrahim Forum Report on African migrations, this joint research paper, co-authored by MIF, the African Foundation for Development (AFFORD) and Welcoming Diasporas, complements the migration discussion with that on the African diaspora. 

While 2019 was declared by Ghana as the ‘Year of Return’ of African diaspora, the economy of many countries on the continent is and has been heavily reliant on diaspora contributions from all over the world – remittances and beyond. 

The paper intends to shed light on the challenges of measuring the diaspora, and on the composition of African diaspora, while assessing its contribution to the development of the continent and its impact on destination countries. The paper then reviews current initiatives supporting the diaspora and aiming at retaining Africa’s human capital on the continent, including the recent Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA).

Read the new report here.

Some of the key messages and themes emerging from the report are:

  • Who are the diaspora? The diaspora is a product of migration – however, there is no commonly agreed definition of diaspora, with the World Bank counting at least 271 definitions worldwide. The African Union (AU) defines the diaspora as people of African origin living outside the continent, irrespective of their citizenship and nationality and who are willing to contribute to the development of the continent and the building of the African Union. 
  • Contemporary African migrations are primarily composed of young, educated women and men, representing a substantial human capital resource. Education levels tend to be higher for people who take concrete steps to migrate. According to survey data from Afrobarometer, more than half of those who prepare their departure have completed secondary or tertiary education.
  • The diaspora contribute a lot of money to Africa’s development. Remittances can be equal to national budgets and higher than overseas aid flows. According to the World Bank, formal remittances to Africa reached $82.8 billion in 2018. In Nigeria, the amount officially remitted through financial systems in 2018 ($25.08 billion) slightly exceeded the entire federal budget for that year and was seven times the total ODA to Nigeria. Altogether, formal, informal and in-kind remittances to Africa are estimated to be as high as $200 billion. 
  • African diaspora and migrants contribute other forms of capital, intellectual, social, and political, and volunteer to support development in Africa. The contribution of the diaspora in terms of skills, expertise and transfer of knowledge is key to Africa’s development and to meet targets outlined in the SDGs and to counter the negative impact of brain drain in many sectors. 
  • Reverse migration: how the African diaspora is being called back. Various policies and initiatives are being shaped to attract the ‘best and the brightest’ in the diaspora to come back and take part in Africa’s development. 
  • Continental mobility and importance of governance frameworks: limited or weak frameworks for mobility and recognition of skills, educational and experience qualifications across national borders hinder the ability of African migrants to enter and effectively engage in continental labour markets.
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