The African Union and Africans in Diaspora: An Engagement

Published on 8th July 2016

Engaging Continental Africans Living Outside Africa (African Citizenry and Members of the Five Regions in Africa). Strengthening Cooperation with Historical Diaspora (The Symbolic Sixth Region). Distinction is not Division: A Way Forward with New Thinking and Leadership for AUC and ECOSOCC.

The term "Diaspora," in and of itself, has no legal recognition anywhere in the world, as acknowledged by various institutions, including the International Organization for Migration. The word was originally and anciently used to describe "dispersed" people living outside their homeland. Today, it is generically applied to people living outside their homeland, regardless of duration, continued legal and unbroken ties to their place of origin, including expatriates and students.

Historical Diaspora refers to people of African descent who trace their presence outside Africa as a result of the treachery of slavery. In an effort to distinguish AU citizens who trace their presence outside Africa due to migration from Historical Diaspora, this later group is sometimes referred to as  Contemporary Diaspora . Yet, still, the labeling does not properly represent this population of Africans. Additionally, their [long] sojourn (irrespective of reason) has produced offspring, some of whom who are citizens of Member States based on their constitutions. The latest case of Zambia's dual citizenship law is an example. Therefore, while the descendants are Americans, Australians, Europeans, Asians, Caribbean, etc. born, they differ from their Historical Diaspora counterparts because they are members of the AU. 

The lack of legal clarity has hindered strategic outreach and the actualization of needed domestic and other resources through unrealistic classification and expectation. For policy purposes, it poses practical, political and legal challenges when the African citizenry living or sojourning outside Africa, estimated at 39 million, is classified as an indistinguishable group under "African Diaspora," which includes all people of African descent living outside Africa, irrespective of their motivations. It also does not prioritize the special relationship between Africa and Historical Diaspora, and their institutions that are willing and able to respond to AU's invitation to participate in Africa's development based on mutual cooperation.  

The single classification is based on the erroneous assumption that the legal identification relative to Africa; obligations; interests in, and ties to, Africa are similar among all groups of  people of African descent living outside Africa. It  discounts the basis of AU decisions to include the predictable cash flow as a domestic from the African immigrant-oriented population that is characterized by indigenous, transnational activities to support developments in Africa. 

These challenges are becoming more apparent with the symbolic reference of African Diaspora as the "Sixth Region."  On the other hand, Member States of the African Union have set up Office of Diaspora Affairs and more are following suit with a view to engaging their nationals in nation building and regional developments; and not all people of African descent irrespective of their nationality and regional membership. This reflects a divergence between the theoretical umbrella "African Diaspora" and formal applications.  This appears to be parallel tracks.

However, from a practical and careful examination of the "African Diaspora," that the AU intended to invite those willing and able to contribute to the development of Africa, the invitation does not necessarily pertain to AU citizens living outside Africa with inherent rights, including the eligibility for the African Passport, which will replace their national and regional passports. This population has been contributing as patriotic and obligatory duties before the inception of the AU. Member States depend on these contributions.

Given the reference to African Diaspora as the "Sixth Region," even though it has no legal and political context, there is practical need to distinguish between the two groups for legal and engagement purposes. It must be emphatically noted that this is not an exercise of being divisive but a quest to clarify for policy, legal and engagement purposes, which are feasible to implement. 

For example, the  clarification by the AU regarding Haiti that only an African state can be member of the AU underscores the need to distinguish between the two groups since it raises the same legal question of whether non-citizens of the African Union can be representative members of an AU organ, such as ECOSOCC, Pan African Parliament or nominated as a Commissioner, which involves participation and voting in the political process of the organs and, consequently, making decisions that affect African citizens. It gets more complicated especially when regional representation of the five regions in Africa is vital, including from the Diaspora. 

The matter is for the AU Executive Council to address the prospects and for the General Assembly of the African Heads of State to ratify any proposal to that effect, if feasible. Hopefully the AU leadership and the members of the AU Executive Council who, by the way, administer their Diaspora policies will give serious consideration to these recommendations: 

1) The descriptor,  Continental Africans, which is also a common reference for those who trace their presence outside Africa due to migration and are members  of either of the five regions in Africa that they legally identify with, should replace Contemporary Diaspora.

2)  ECOSOCC is the appropriate vehicle of representation and engagement of Continental Africans because it mirrors the mission of the typical Continental African civil society organization that is explicitly formed to stay connected and contribute to hometowns, states and regional developments. These groups are usually known to, and collaborate with, their embassies to facilitate outreach. This recommendation is in alignment with Member States' and Regional Economic Communities' policies, outreach and programs in engaging their citizens living outside their homeland. 

The recommendation is in further consideration that Member States' and Regional Economic Communities' Diaspora policies are tapping into the patriotic contributions and and more predictable structures of  their citizenry base living out of their homelands.   The AU does not have to ratify any proposal or amend its constitution to engage its own citizens. The question of whether non-citizens of the AU can be official members of AU organs, participate in the political process and make decisions does not arise with Continental Africans.

3) CIDO should be the main vehicle for partnerships relating to Historical Diaspora and its civil society organizations that wish to participate in the AU as the "Sixth Region." This recommendation is consistent with the recent clarification by the AU regarding Haiti, which additionally indicated that CIDO is mandated for the purpose, which includes citizen and non-citizen participation through specific mutual cooperation and developments that strengthen the special relationship and ties between Africa and Historical Diaspora. The members or institutions can organize themselves into discernible networks, seek partnerships and observer status at the AU or its organs as the AU is still to decide on the political and legal status feasibility of a Sixth Region outside Africa. 

Effective engagements of the respective populations stand a better chance of yielding tangible results.

Written collaboratively by Sil Mudsi with  Strategic Communications; Marcel Apaloo, Jah Kente International; Adeyemi Coker, and drawn  from surveys and research papers on  Diaspora contributions by African Development Bank , International Migration Office, among other studies.

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