According to Cameroon Tribune, the Prime Minister “acknowledged that the government was aware of the exodus of Cameroonian intellectuals, technicians and medical officials to work in foreign countries” and reveled that the government of Cameroon “was working towards organising a Day for the Diaspora to enable Cameroonians abroad effectively contribute to the development of the country”.
Although a Day for the Diaspora is a welcome development, the evidence suggests that there is a complete lack of innovation and creativity in Cameroon’s approach to the issues of Diaspora engagement and/or return and preventing the flight of human resources from the country. The problem will not be solved by ad hoc initiatives such as conferences whose final resolutions will most likely end up in a paper pile, but by simple institutional strategies and policies that will stymie the unrelenting exodus of scarce talent and also attract professionals abroad. For this to happen, however, the real reasons for brain drain must be clearly identified.
True, there are indeed Cameroonians who have left the country because of “[a lack of] job satisfaction, inadequate infrastructure and lack of proper understanding between some local employers and employees” as the PM stated in Parliament. However, recent research on the brain drain phenomenon in Cameroon, along with annecdotal evidence, indicate that the reasons for the exodus of talent from Cameroon are mainly systemic and political (see the Brain Drain section of this blog for related articles).
This lack of innovation and vision is also evident in the government’s inability or unwillingness to engage members of the Cameroon Diaspora community on issues of national development. As I pointed out in my Success Story Magazine interview, the government’s continued inability to fully engage the Cameroonian Diaspora is due to the nefarious influence of partisan politics (which leads regime officials to divide Cameroonians in the Diaspora into two groups; unpatriotic “opposants” on the one hand, and patriotic pro-government individuals and groups on the other), a complete absence of political will and a shocking lack of vision. However,as examples from elsewhere in Africa have shown, those countries that have been willing to rise above politics and partisanship when dealing with their respective Diaspora communities have emerged as winners in the "Brain Gain" game.
In its September 2003 issue, eAfrica journal, published an interesting article titled “22 Good Ideas for Using the Diaspora”. I am reposting the article here to shed more light on possible measures that African countries can put in place to make the African Diaspora a veritable partner for development.
HERE are the best ideas we’ve found to get Africans living abroad involved in developing their home country.
Embassies and Emails
1. Know your resources.
Each African country’s embassies abroad should compile a list of key academics, professionals and business people operating in that country, as well as social and sporting fan clubs. These lists should be co-ordinated in a central database, and regular communications should be sent via email to help expatriates share information about news from home, business opportunities, permanent job openings, and development projects needing short-term assistance.
2. Slay the occasional goat.
Embassies should keep fellow nationals in touch with each other by hosting occasional get-togethers. They can tap visiting sports stars and musicians for shows that promote their countries. These occasions provide opportunities to highlight projects where members of the diaspora can volunteer their skills or contribute financially.
3. Boost embassy budgets and staff.
Most African embassies do not have dedicated trade-support staff and almost none has staff to support the diaspora. This gap should be filled and embassies properly funded to support outreach and database activities.
Adverts and academics
4. Promote Africa as a tourist destination.
Create an advertising campaign under the African Union to encourage expatriates and those of African descent to take holidays in Africa. In addition to the continent’s natural beauty and wildlife, emphasise the historical and culturally significant attractions such as the slave forts in West Africa, Robben Island, Timbuktu and Great Zimbabwe.
5. Give incentives to bring new faces to Africa.
Offer coupons or frequent flier miles to every visitor who provides the email addresses or contact details of friends. Send promotions to those friends and greater mileage awards if those friends actually travel to Africa.
6. Use positive video on airplane flights.
Run video profiles of African successes on flights to and from African destinations to counter the generally negative perceptions of Africa abroad.
7. Utilise alumni associations.
Keep track of Africa’s best and brightest through their alma maters. The Association for Higher Education and Development, for example, is an association of Ethiopian academics abroad who have created a foundation to improve their country’s higher education.
8. Develop an African Peace Corps.
Offer opportunities for young people from the diaspora to come to Africa to re-connect with their heritage and contribute to development projects.
9. Look for home-grown employees first.
Encourage businesses to recruit from the diaspora when looking for top skilled professionals and make it easy for them to use embassy databases and staff in recruitment efforts.
10. Advertise vacancies abroad timeously.
Ensure that copies of government personnel adverts and privatisation and tendering notices are sent to embassies and posted on government and embassy websites. Email such notices to interested Africans living or working overseas, so they can apply in good time.
11. Share your know-how.
African scientists and medical specialists living overseas should be encouraged to share their expertise through teaching sabbaticals or by posting their papers and advertising upcoming conferences on their specialities on websites. The South African Network of Skills Abroad is one such enterprise. It has a database of more than 2,000 skilled South African professionals who have emigrated and encourages them to lend their skills to advancing scientific developments back home. Similar efforts are underway by the Association of Kenyans Abroad and the Association of Nigerians Abroad.
12. Expand the development focus at First World universities.
Most African studies departments in the developed world have better funding and access to books than African universities. But they focus on history and identity with little emphasis on practical challenges Africa now faces. Work through African universities to press for an expanded development and business focus and use the diaspora to help fund access to those programmes for African students.
13. Expand use of digital instruction.
Most of Africa’s best minds in engineering and the sciences have left for the developed world. The African Virtual University uses satellite transmission to permit lecturers in the developed world to teach students on African campuses where there are shortages of instructors in technical subjects. Expand the programme to more African countries and enlist more lecturers from the diaspora.
Cut the red tape
14. Simplify visa procedures.
Make it easier for non-citizen members of the diaspora to gain permanent residence back in the country of their ancestry. Adopt simpler procedures for business visas and work permits in all areas where Africa has skills shortages.
15. Offer dual citizenship to returning families.
Many countries are examining how to make it easier for those living abroad with foreign-born children or spouses to return home. Dual citizenship would facilitate the freedom of movement of Africans between developed countries and the continent allowing skills to move as opportunities arise. It will also help prevent well-educated children born abroad from losing touch with Africa.
16. Make Africa retirement friendly.
Make it easy for members of the diaspora, including those without African citizenship, to bring their skills and financial assets back to the continent when they retire. Make it easy to acquire retirement visas and transfer funds, and make it easy for foreign medical schemes to cover medical costs in Africa.
Network in the North
17. Organise the diaspora to press for change.
Latin America has successfully used its diaspora, churches and non-government organisations to create substantial political support to change certain US policies. African Americans similarly played a crucial role in pushing for greater funding for HIV/Aids. Africa could organise the diaspora to press for trade concessions, debt relief and more funding and participation in African conflict resolution, which many developed nations shy away from.
18. Open formal channels into the African Union.
The channels for diaspora participation in the AU and Nepad need to be clear and efficient to bring expertise into African ventures and to allow influential non-governmental groups in the diaspora to lobby for African interests in the developed world. The Western Hemisphere African Diaspora Network – which raises funds and facilitates participation by people of African descent on the continent – proposed making the diaspora the ‘sixth region’ to complement the five existing geographic regional Communities in the AU.
19. Facilitate remittances.
Governments should improve their banking infrastructure and laws to make it is as easy and inexpensive as possible to bring foreign funds back into their countries. Transaction charges should be minimised. Computer recordkeeping should be improved to fight fraud while foreign-currency accounts should be made easier to open.
20. Create safe Africa investment funds.
Remittances are sent home to support families, but the major investments of wealthy émigrés remain abroad. Create government-backed project investment funds to enable socially conscious but safe investment in Nepad and other African development projects. Also open the African Development Bank to direct private investment.
21. Create remittance backed bonds.
Because remittances are a large and reliable source of foreign currency, they can be ‘securitised’ or used to back government bonds. Brazil created such a remittance backed government bond that enabled the government to raise $300 million at preferential interest rates.
22. Use African expertise.
Press aid agencies to ‘untie’ aid and utilise African doctors, engineers and professionals rather than ‘importing’ such expertise at much greater cost from the developed world.
Graphic courtesy of eAfrica.