The African diaspora gives three times as much money to African economies as Western Aid does. A statistic that surely shows Africa giving itself a helping hand upwards. But such simplistic statistics often masque more complicated truths. And on closer inspection the soundbite is resting in murky waters.
Firstly the statement does not take into account the money African economies lose from their diaspora. If those people who are sending money back to Africa from more prosperous economies had not left Africa in the first place they would be paying taxes, starting businesses, creating jobs, and using their skills directly IN Africa.
I have mentioned previously the problem of a brain drain and I, as a current ex-pat, am loathe to condemn anyone who is looking to make a better life for themselves and sees that better life not in their own country. Yet one can’t ignore the damaging effects emigration can have on a country – losing your best minds whilst making the ultimate aspiration for a large number of people an unachievable goal which has a hugely detrimental effect on motivation. When speaking to one of the most successful traders in the village I live in he often brings up his desire to move to America. He tells me that in America you can have a very nice and very big compound, whilst assuring me that everyone has a car. I attempt to convince him that that is not the case, but I don’t think he believes me and I don’t push the issue. Something jars in me when I try to give a more realistic image of America or Britain to Gambians, that you are by no means assured a happier life there. Explaining that to people here, where the opportunities are so much fewer, seems condescending somewhat. I also explain to the trader that you can have a nice compound and a car here in The Gambia but he replies that it’s not the same. That may be true, but it is not beneficial in my opinion to have your ultimate goal be a golden ticket to America.
Secondly, the initial statement is worded so as to make it appear that the amount of money streaming into Africa from the diaspora is a huge amount. Not that the amount of money spent on Aid is pitiful. Aid has been a measly band aid on a gaping gash in the world economy these past fifty years, and it is only this past decade that some African economies have shown remarkable levels of growth in a global downturn. No one can seriously give the credit to Aid, more likely it is down to the money generated from new sources of natural resources (e.g. Guinea’s iron ore, Ugandan oil etc.).
Finally I feel the beginning stat simplifies the issue by looking at Africa as one homogenous blob on the globe. There is a huge disparity between what countries are receiving from the diaspora, and I fear that two Africa’s are emerging. Those that are developing and those that are stagnating. Those that have an effective enough education system to send people out into the global workforce and reap the benefits and those that don’t. Aid is not doled out evenly across Africa in light of this; Nigeria now receives little to no Aid. Aid is seen as a way of combatting these emerging disparities on the continent. One could argue that it actually perpetuates them – I don’t have the fortitude, nor internet access to sufficiently back up any argument with facts or delve into that question right now.
Even within Africa’s smallest nation I am becoming increasingly aware of these two Africa’s. The rural village life against the burgeoning urban life developing at a frantic pace in the coastal regions. The rural communities remain relatively unchanged to how they have been for countless generations, whereas the urban regions are unrecognizable from what they were even one generation ago.