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Africa harnesses diaspora power amid migration and climate crises

May 25, 2024
tags:#Africa, #migration, #climate change, #renewable energy
located:Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya
by:Bob Koigi
A recent report finds that skills mobility and diaspora investments are revolutionising Africa amid climate and mass migration challenges. But some experts remain skeptical.

As the world becomes more interconnected and new challenges like climate change arise, migration has become a critical topic, especially in Africa, which is continually affected by unpredictable weather patterns.

The continent has experienced both the benefits and drawbacks of migration. On one hand, Africa faces a significant brain drain, with up to 70,000 skilled professionals leaving every year in search of better opportunities. On the other hand, climate-induced migration strains both migrants and host countries due to limited resources.

But there is also a silver lining: the African diaspora is increasingly investing back home, contributing through remittances and establishing businesses that create jobs and benefit local communities.

mass Migration and human development in Africa

A joint report by The African Development Bank (AfDB) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) titled 'Diaspora Engagement, Climate-Induced Migration, and Skills Mobility: A Focus on Africa' delves into the complex aspects of migration, highlighting its implications for human development and poverty reduction across the continent.

The report, which was released in March 2024, underscores the intricate relationship between diaspora engagement, climate-induced migration and skills mobility in Africa. It sheds light on how these phenomena intersect, influence each other and ultimately impact the socio-economic landscape of the continent. 

The report notes that African diaspora communities play a pivotal role in fostering development in their countries of origin. For example, remittances sent by diaspora members significantly contribute to national economies, serving as a lifeline for many households and facilitating investments in education, healthcare and infrastructure.

In 2023, remittances sent to Sub-Saharan Africa reached USD 54 billion, with the continent expected to receive over USD 100 billion this year from Africans in diaspora according to estimates. 

Tapping into skills mobility 

Skills mobility, another key aspect highlighted in the report, has been crucial for driving innovation, entrepreneurship and economic growth in Africa. The migration of skilled individuals, including professionals, scientists, and entrepreneurs, the authors of the report indicate, catalyses development by transferring knowledge, technology and expertise across borders.

"In Africa, migration stands as a powerful tool for poverty reduction, offering individuals the opportunity to escape entrenched cycles of deprivation," Anita Nkirote, a Kenyan-based political and development expert, told FairPlanet.

"It fosters cultural exchange, knowledge transfer, and economic diversification, driving progress and prosperity across the continent," she added, echoing the report's findings.

Aware of the threats facing the continent, such as climate change, environmental degradation and loss of biodiversity, Africans in the diaspora are leveraging their skills and resources to address these challenges. They are establishing initiatives like affordable solar power solutions, which reduce emissions and tackle energy poverty, and climate-smart agritech solutions, which help farmers adapt to changing weather patterns.

Solar Sister is one such example. Founded by Nigerian-American entrepreneur Katherine Lucey, Solar Sister empowers women entrepreneurs in Africa to distribute clean energy products, including solar lamps and cookstoves. 

The organisation operates under the belief that women are key agents of change in their communities. The local women who join the programme are christened Solar Sister entrepreneurs and receive one year of training in solar technology, business management and marketing strategies.

These women are selected based on their leadership qualities, entrepreneurial spirit and commitment to improving the lives of those around them, according to the organisation.

They are then financially supported to sell solar-powered products such as solar lanterns, phone chargers and larger solar home systems that can power multiple appliances to their communities.

Solar Sister also provides the entrepreneurs a ‘Business in a Bag’ kit to help them launch their business. The kit includes a receipt book, accounting purse, product brochures with details of each product, branded posters and stickers.

The organisation’s staff also offer the entrepreneur mentorship after starting their businesses while monitoring the progress of their businesses. 

Operating in various African countries including Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya, the network has empowered over 5,000 women entrepreneurs to date who in turn have reached more than 1.5 million people with clean energy solutions.

"The Solar Sister Apprentice Program gave me an opportunity to receive relevant business training. The skills acquired from the training have been very helpful, as I now know better to be disciplined and persistent and not give up even when my clients are not cooperating," Christine Ayieko, one of the entrepreneurs who benefitted from the programme, wrote on the organisation’s website. "I also ensure to keep my sales records and save towards supporting my family."

Another example of a diaspora-supported network that reinvests in Africa is Kobo360, a Nigerian logistics platform leveraging technology to optimise freight transportation and reduce carbon emissions. Founded by Ife Oyedele II and Obi Ozor in 2016, the idea for Kobo360 emerged when Ozor, then a college student in Michigan, struggled to send diapers to Nigeria. He faced slow movement of merchandise and high transportation costs, making such goods unaffordable for many Nigerians.

He decided to do something about it and set up an online logistics company. The Kobo 360 platform is a digital tool accessible on web and mobile applications that matches businesses and individuals who would like to transport their goods with truck owners.

The platform then pairs these shipment requests with available trucks in the business' vicinity and allows the shipper and truck owners to monitor the status of the shipment in real-time. 

By digitising the logistics value chain, Kobo360 aims to improve operational efficiency, reduce empty miles and minimise fuel consumption. By leveraging data analytics, the company claims, it optimises routes for trucks within its network, therefore reducing empty backhaul trips and the total distance traveled by vehicles. This leads, they state, to lower fuel consumption and emissions per shipment.

For long-haul journeys, the startup promotes the use of lower-emission modes of transportation, such as rail and waterways. 

The company has thus far facilitated the movement of over 500,000 tonnes of cargo, reducing emissions by over 20,000 tonnes of CO2 and supporting thousands of truck drivers across Africa.

What the report overlooked

However, while the report highlights the connection between migration, skills mobility and the role of the African diaspora in tackling climate change, experts and researchers have criticised it. They argue that it fails to provide specific reasons linking migration to climate change and instead offers a generalised African perspective.

The report does not account, some experts maintain, for the varied reasons people migrate in different regions and climatic conditions. For example, the factors driving migration among pastoralists in the Sahel due to extreme heat differ significantly from those affecting people displaced by cyclones in Mozambique.

Another weakness of the report, according to some voices in Africa, is its tendency to prioritise economic perspectives at the expense of broader social, cultural and environmental considerations.

They argue that while economic factors play a significant role in driving migration, a deeper analysis is needed to fully understand its impact. This analysis should consider various aspects such as how society is constructed, why people move and the social, cultural, economic, political and environmental forces that drive migration. 

"By focusing primarily on economic aspects, the report has overlooked important social and environmental dimensions of migration such as conflicts, persecution, discrimination, natural disasters and displacement, therefore limiting the effectiveness of policy recommendations," Nkirote concluded.

Image by Joshua Oluwagbemiga.

Article written by:
Bob Koigi
Bob Koigi
Author, Contributing Editor
Nigeria Tanzania Uganda Kenya
Embed from Getty Images
The continent has experienced both the benefits and drawbacks of migration. On one hand, Africa faces a significant brain drain, with up to 70,000 skilled professionals leaving every year in search of better opportunities.
Embed from Getty Images
Remittances from the African diaspora significantly boost national economies, supporting households and funding education, healthcare, and infrastructure, the report finds.
Embed from Getty Images
Aware of threats like climate change, environmental degradation and biodiversity loss, Africans in the diaspora are using their skills and resources to address challenges back home.