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THE first Global African Diaspora summit, held at the weekend in Johannesburg, concluded with some pretty ambitious goals.
The summit was held on the anniversary of the day when the Organisation of African Unity, the forerunner of the African Union, was set up in 1963, and was intended, in the words of Minister of International Relations Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, to set up a set of Legacy Projects, including a programme to mobilise Africans outside the continent to help with African development; the creation of an African Diaspora Development Fund to channel remittances from Africans abroad into investment in African development; and the creation of a “development market place” to promote African entrepreneurship.
All that is well and good – except for one thing. Why should those in the African diaspora – defined by the AU as “people of African origin living outside the continent” – fund Africa’s development, if those living right here do not do so?
As Thabo Mbeki pointed out many years ago, a very high proportion of Africans’ savings seeps out of the continent in one form or another.
Whether as investments in foreign companies or as investments in local companies listed abroad, big chunks of retirement fund money and other savings land up on the stock exchanges and in the banks of Europe, Asia and the United States. Even the revelation, with the financial crisis, that many of those those so-called “safe” havens are not really safe at all has not prompted any major shift in conventional investment thinking.
Some exposure to the markets of the rich countries is necessary, of course, for reasons of currency and other risk.
But a serious attempt to channel domestic savings into real domestic development – starting perhaps with the government pension funds in each African country – could free up billions of rands for African development projects.
Rather than turning to members of the African diaspora and trying to formalise and control their remittances, those in the AU responsible for these projects should start by talking to those living on the continent itself.