Tap into Diaspora: Ex-African presidents

The former presidents were unanimous in their views, expressed at a meeting of the African Presidential Roundtable held at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg recently, and concluded that there was an abundance of resources in Europe and the Americas that Africa could take advantage of. The meeting was the fourth to be held by the African Presidential Archives Research Centre of Boston University, and had a particular focus on building Africa’s relations with the diaspora and how the media covers Africa. Former Zambian president, Kenneth Kaunda, said Africans in the diaspora had numerous intellectual and financial abilities that should be taken advantage of by countries on the continent for the purposes of development. Kaunda said the annual income of African Americans in the United States was an estimated US$750 billion, and that this income should be harnessed for Africa’s development. He said the abundance of African talent in the diaspora should also be tapped into in order to create opportunities in Africa. “There are 200 000 African scientists in the United States, which is more than we have on the entire continent. There are 40 000 African PhDs living outside the continent. It is important to do more than lay out a welcome mat to encourage our brothers and sisters to come back home. “We must develop strategies to recruit and encourage and demonstrate that we are serious about their return. The strategies for doing so start with African leaders leading the way in building a bridge to the diaspora. “The time for talk and romanticising the necessity for coming together is past. The time is now for action,” Kaunda said. The former Zambian president’s statements come at a time when the continent is battling to stem the tide of brain drain that has seen a number of skilled professionals still leaving Africa to go and work abroad at the expense of development in their own countries. Despite widespread calls and efforts to lure them back, the bulk of professionals who left the continent due to colonial oppression in their own countries have continued to earn their living in their countries of exile. Concerns also surrounded the negative publicity that African countries ‘ and issues relating to Africa ‘ received at the hands of western media, which some of the former heads of state said were intent on demonizing Africa at the expense of its development. Kuanda said there was a need to establish a widespread multimedia campaign and a strategy to engage major media outlets in order to encourage a more “fair and balanced” coverage of issues relating to the continent. “A plan should be devised to encourage more American non-governmental organisations and non-commercial media forums to create new paradigms for training Western and African journalists covering emerging African democracies. “A strategy must be developed to encourage leading American schools of journalism and journalism organisations to develop specific tracks for covering emerging economies and developing democracies, particularly in Africa,” Kaunda noted. Besides seeking solutions to the continent’s problems, the conference also aimed to promote democratic reforms and structures and took stock of the continent’s progress towards development. According to David Monyae of the Wits International Relations Department, “The aim of the event is to provide former leaders, who constitutionally retired from the presidency seat as required by democratic rule, with a platform to discuss issues pertaining to Africa, to share and reflect on their experiences during their term of office with the continent and upcoming leaders on issues of economic and political governance”. The former heads of state who participated in the meeting included: Nic phore D. Soglo of Benin; Sir Q. Ketumile J. Masire of Botswana; Pierre Buyoya of Burundi; Aristides Maria Pereira of Cape Verde; Jerry J. Rawlings of Ghana; Daniel arap Moi; Karl Auguste Offmann of Mauritius; Ali Hassan Mwinyi of Tanzania; Benjamin William Mkapa of the United Republic of Tanzania; and Dr. Kenneth Kaunda of the Republic of Zambia.

April 2006
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