Perspective on the History of South-South Cooperation and Migration in Africa

In this article, I provide perspective on the history of South-South cooperation in Africa and how it has influenced south-south migration.

- Approximately 215 million migrants live outside their home countries.
- 80% of African migrants live within the region.
- Uganda has the largest number of refugees in Africa.

The history of migration and cooperation within the global south dates back to the beginning of mankind, and the global south, specifically Africa, has always been an important player in the international arena, though very rarely recognized as such.

In November, 2018, I traveled to United Nations headquarters in New York, to participate as a presenter and panelist at a side event to the Global South-South Development Expo.  Convened by the International Organization for Migration, this event, like others at the Expo, contributed to the preparatory process for the Second High-level United Nations Conference on South-South Cooperation, which will be held this March in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

More immediately, the dialogue presented information to UN Member States and other stakeholders considering the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, and offered them an opportunity to discuss the benefits of South-South and triangular cooperation in promoting better migration governance.  The Global Compact has since been adopted at a conference in Marrakech on December 10, and endorsed by the UN General Assembly on December 18, 2018.

It is worth recognizing, however, that South-South migration and cooperation pre-date modern diplomatic institutions.

In one of the previous episodes, I pointed out that migration has been a consistent part of human civilization. History reveals that mankind originated in Africa and through migration, spread to the other parts of the world. According to genetic evidence and the most recent fossil discoveries, groups of modern humans first moved across the Sinai Peninsula about 180,000 years ago. Innovative talent carried our species into every exploitable niche. We were living in the eastern Mediterranean region by 90,000 years ago and reached Asia and Australia by 40,000 years ago and Europe by 30,000 years ago.

During ice ages, sea levels were as much as 425 feet lower than they are today, so there were land bridges connecting many of today’s islands and continents. Humans walked across what is now the Bering Strait from Russia to Alaska by 15,000 years ago, and reached the southern tip of South America by 12,000 years ago.  Polynesian voyagers even colonized New Zealand at least 700 years ago.

Historically, there have been different social, economic, and political reasons for migration.

These migration trends led to cities emerging, markets, trade routes and most importantly established trade relations and diplomacy.

In Africa, as a product of these trade practices, many of the indigenous people of the Maghreb and the Sahara before the Arab/Muslim conquest, - the Berber, adopted whichever language was spoken by their conquerors or trade partners. Due to the transportation barrier caused by the Sahara Desert, they interacted more with the European and Arab traders who used the Mediterranean Sea as their trade routes, and picked up their culture.

This scenario is similar to the settlement and integration of refugees in Uganda.  I earlier mentioned that Uganda hosts the most refugees in Africa and many of these refugees have picked up local identities and practices.

However, there were also the trans-Saharan trade routes, and the Nile Valley migratory routes that led various groups of people from across the Sahara into Sub-Saharan Africa, and they settled there. As a result of the trans-Saharan trade, Berber merchants and nomads incorporated the lands of the Sudan and other lands in the sub-Saharan region into the Islamic world and culture. 

The Zulu are part of the Bantu ethnic group
There was also the great African Migration of the Bantu from West Africa, all the way to the south,  and how the Bantu interacted with
the nilotics, nilo-hamites, and other ethnic groups.

These routes would be equivalent to modern day migratory corridors.
Most recently, with digitization and quick access to information, people have learnt in real time the facts and challenges that come with migration to the north and more are choosing to stay closer to their home countries. Major cities in Africa are becoming migration hot spots.

As the IOM points out, countries in the global South are increasingly generating their own best practices and knowledge to address sustainable development challenges. This is critical to a successful south-south cooperation that would have to tap into indigenous/local solutions to challenges, especially since there are less formal migration policies in the south, specifically Africa.

It goes without saying that there are financial challenges to migrant hosts.

Indeed, countries in the global south need to work together to strengthen south- south cooperation on national, bilateral and multi-lateral levels. 

My recommendation is that Africa, as part of the global south, be more practical in its strategies by revisiting the things that Africa is naturally gifted with, such as its friendly people, flora, fauna and minerals, and leverage that in promoting south-south cooperation, without having to borrow a lot of money from the north, and get tied into debt.

Here are some of the things the continent can do.

1. Celebrate Africa’s innovation and share success stories
2. Specify benefits of migration to increase political will for mart migration policies 
3. Boosting tourism within the south and targeting visitors within the south. Give the people in the 
        south reason to invest in activities that appreciate nature in the south, in this case, Africa. That 
        would generate additional revenue for the countries

4. Putting in place an ecosystem for the youth to thrive

5. We also know for a fact that the diaspora is positioned to play a critical role in providing 
       solutions for south- south cooperation and migration. In a previous episode, I also mentioned that 
       reports indicate that immigrants from the continent of Africa to the United States are highly
       educated and contribute significantly to academic research, though many are under-employed.  
      These immigrants can easily be engaged for consultation, strategic planning and networking

Vivian Kobusingye Birchall

US Relations with Burkina Faso and Cabo Verde

Interview with Ms. Maria G. Martinez- U.S Department of State

Ms. Maria G. Martinez (left) - Department of State and Ms. Vivian Birchall (right) - Producer and Host, Africa2U at Acton TV

2018 marks two hundred years since the U.S. opened its first consulate in Sub-Saharan Africa in Cabo Verde, then a Portuguese colony. Ms. Maria Martinez from the Department of State-Bureau of African Affairs represented the Department of State at the celebratory event in Quincy, Massachusetts. 

Ms. Martinez was also hosted on Africa2u, in an interview about the United States’ bilateral relations with Burkina Faso and Cabo Verde, the African Growth Opportunity Act,  (AGOA) and Millenium Challenge Corporation programs. She also discussed how the African diaspora can engage in Africa’s development processes and programs.

She joined the State Department as a Presidential Management Fellow in 2015, was a political-military officer at the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and served as a desk officer for Qatar and for Nigeria.  She is currently the desk officer for two African countries - Burkina Faso and Cabo Verde.

Prior to joining the State Department, Ms. Martinez served in the United States Marine Corps for 13 years, during which she was stationed in Okinawa, California and Virginia, and deployed to Australia, Thailand and South Korea to support bilateral military exercises.

She holds dual Bachelor’s Degrees in International Security and Conflict Resolution and Islamic and Arabic Studies, and a Master’s Degree in U.S. Foreign Affairs.

Watch Interview
During the interview, Ms. Martinez mentioned cooperation areas and goals for the U.S. and Cabo Verde today, include promoting economic growth driven by the private sector. Cabo Verde has completed two Millenium Challenge Corporation compacts with the United States – the first country to do so – and the US government is promoting American business investment in the country.
The first compact signed in 2005 with approximately $110 million focused on expanding the port of Praia located in the southern part of the Island of Santiago, and building bridges and roads to promote internal integration of Cabo Verde’s markets and reduce transportation costs. The second compact, signed in 2012, focused on water, sanitation and land registration sectors, and promoting private investments.

The United States government is also working with Cabo Verde to strengthen its maritime security capabilities. The Department of Defense and Coast Guard conducted joint military training exercises with security forces, and provided 10 harbor patrol boats, which have already been used for rescue missions between islands.

Ms. Martinez also discussed the G5 Sahel regional cooperation framework, which includes Burkina Faso along with Chad, Mali, Niger, and Mauritania, the framework’s role in protecting the Sahel region from extremists, and how the United States has helped with this process.
She highlighted a joint force established by the G5 Sahel in February 2017, focused on counter terrorism operations. The United States announced $60 million in support in 2017, and has contributed a total of $110 million in bilateral security assistance to the joint force thus far, with the number expected to grow depending on specific country needs. The US government will provide $46 million to Burkina Faso in bilateral security assistance, including vehicles, training, and protective equipment.

Burkina Faso has completed one Millenium Challenge Corporation compact.  A second compact is being developed, which will focus on the energy sector and human capital development to address energy quality, access to energy, and workforce development. 
Both Cabo Verde and Burkina Faso are eligible for preferential trade benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act, or AGOA. Ms. Martinez noted that it has been difficult for these countries to maximize the benefits, and that USAID’s Africa trade hubs can help develop strategies for maximizing benefits.

Ms. Martinez also offered guidance on the African Diaspora’s search for ways to partner with governments, non-profit organizations and businesses to contribute to the development of Africa, including Cape Verde and Burkina Faso in particular. She highlighted private investment in energy development, targeting collective remittances to specific projects, and working with the State Department and Embassies to identify available investment and loan opportunities.
Describing upcoming US policy on Africa, she noted that the President recently signed into law the BUILD Act, which consolidates the capabilities of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and USAID’s Development Credit Authority into the new US International Development Finance Corporation, with $60 billion in assets.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee convened a hearing on US Policy in Africa on December 12, 2018, including testimony from the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, and National Security Advisor John Bolton will present the policy in remarks at the Heritage Foundation on December 13, 2018.

Of course, it remains how successfully the new programs can propel the growth of low-income and lower-middle income countries, in which large numbers of rural poor still practice subsistence agriculture and have few ties to western economic systems.

Lunch at Asmara restaurant with diaspora, convened by Africans in Boston, in Massachusetts

Implementing the Global Compact for Migration through South-South Cooperation

Image: IOM
I recently participated as a presenter and panelist at a side event to the Global South-South Development Expo, which took place between 27 and 30 November at United Nations (UN) Headquarters in New York.

The informal dialogue was convened by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Office to the United Nations, as a contribution to the preparatory process of the Second High-level United Nations Conference on South-South Cooperation, taking place in Buenos Aires, Argentina, from 20 to 22 March 2019. The outcomes will inform the upcoming UN conference to adopt the Global Compact for safe, orderly and regular migration (Global Compact). It is intended to offer UN Member States and other stakeholders an opportunity to discuss the benefits of South-South and triangular cooperation in promoting better migration governance.

According to the IOM, the dynamics of South-South migration, and especially intra-regional migration, necessitate new and expanded forms of partnership between developing countries. Migration trends in the global South require further investigation and policy attention, given the challenges they pose for migrants and communities and the potential benefits these evolving trends may hold for development. At the same time, countries in the global South are increasingly generating their own best practices and knowledge to address sustainable development challenges. Exploring how to build upon those practices to promote better migration governance should be part of the discussion.

A summary of discussions was produced as a contribution to the broader Expo outcomes and other intergovernmental discussions on South-South cooperation.

Details of my presentation

The South-South migration trend is characterized by people from very poor economies moving to emerging economies triggered by conflict (as refugees), search for better economic and employment opportunities, for school and sometimes in hopes of experiencing lifestyles they have only seen in the media or movies.

I was asked to share my experience working with the African diaspora in New England, and to highlight the contributions the diaspora community has made to home countries, as well as ideas for countries to work with their citizens living overseas to improve development at home.

Today, moving between countries in the south is easier for individuals with passports from the north than for those with passports from countries in the south. Changing the trajectory of migration from South-North to South-South can be encouraged and realized in part by improving mobility within the south. In Africa, this could entail revisiting the visa policies of different countries and working toward standardization of documentation, as well as improving infrastructure and getting rid of unnecessary customs, taxes, and tariffs. 

As diaspora, we have the privilege of being removed from the day-to-day challenges in Africa such as access to electricity, modern health care and other basic needs, and the internet. This places us in a strategic position to do amazing things with technology that can be shared with the continent. We also have the capacity for high-tech, bio-tech, finance, and other infrastructure development for the advancement of poor and emerging economies.

In the African way of life, families are still deeply dependent on each other socially, economically and in other ways.  This historical trend makes the diaspora a critical resource. Migrants maintain connections to their home countries, and send remittances to improve the ways of life of the people back home. These remittances make up a meaningful percentage of their home countries’ income.

According to the World Bank, remittances are the second-largest source of foreign inflows into Africa, after Foreign Direct Investment.  Averaged across all of Africa, remittances account for a few percent of domestic GDP, but the percentage is higher in some countries.  In 2017, Africa registered almost $40 billion in “formal” remittances, and more than 25% of Liberia’s GDP came from remittances.

In my experience with Africans in Boston, I have found that the diaspora is not only hungry to send remittances, but also to contribute to improving the economic and political governance of Africa, and is looking for entry points into building partnerships with corporate, political and social structures on the continent.  This year, we have moved beyond providing a platform for the diaspora to build partnerships and social and economic networks and strengthen the socio-economic status of Africans in New England, and established a working relationship and partnership with the African Union Ambassador to the United States, H.E. Dr. Arikana Chihombori-Quao.

We engage in dialogue with the Ambassador about the different ways we can contribute to Africa.  As a result of these conversations, Africans in Boston is exploring the creation of a Diaspora financial entity in New England, which would serve the diaspora in the region, and also be one of many avenues for investing in Africa, in the future.

In addition, we have created a “book of list,” which is a database of Afro-owned or Afro-themed businesses, both to take inventory of the African businesses in the area, and to be in a strategic position to mobilize capacity for future projects in Africa.  The diaspora has the capacity to fill gaps that many countries in the South face, sensitizing communities in the south to support each other, to not only reduce “brain drain,” but also help build poor and emerging economies.

We recognize, though, that our influence as professionals is modest and must be leveraged using the right tools to have an impact.  If the influence of a professional, teacher, innovator or doctor is a five out of ten, I might rate the influence of a celebrity or professional athlete in the diaspora at nine out of ten.  Engaging influential figures the public looks up to can help mobilize both the diaspora and communities in Africa to create structures and infrastructure, advance the agenda for encouraging south-south migration, and create financial entities that would be a stepping stone for contributing to the development of the South.

What the diaspora can do, given the tools

  • Create financial entities to fund development projects in the South
  • Build universities in the rural regions, electrical power infrastructure,  television and radio   networks and sports to help transform these rural regions into mini cities with a full eco-system of their own.
  • Mobilize expertize to meet specific needs in the south, through creating a “Book of list” of diaspora businesses, professionals and organizations
  • Develop local eco-systems in the south with capacity comparable to those in the North for education, health care, technology, et cetera so that countries in the south can tap into these local eco-systems
  • Innovations and creations that utilize existing local resources to promote local capacity
  • Identify people and places in Africa with projects that the diaspora could help facilitate, equip with the necessary tools, and help succeed.
  • Create jobs and opportunities in the far remote villages that would reduce the need for people to migrate in search of economic opportunities.
  • Serve as advisors and consultants to governments and organizations trying to achieve good governance of South-South migration.
  • Work with organizations that facilitate South-South Migration as advisors
  • Build call centers in the south in partnership with governments, to create communication hubs
  • Create positive images of Africa, to help young media consumers feel proud and comfortable about where they live, to prevent peer-pressure triggers for South-North migration.
  • Speak well to the development of Africa, because the power of the spoken word and the power of the mind determine what one does.
To conclude, South-South migration, facilitated by the cooperation between developing countries will be realized by not only creating structures and policies that provide an environment for developing countries to help each other with knowledge, technical assistance, and/or investments, but also by the South, specifically Africa, tapping into its diaspora for professional advice, technical assistance and building partnerships with the north.

Vivian Kobusingye Birchall

Africa's Economic Systems Over Time

Africa’s indigenous economic systems have influenced the current economic models on the continent.

Beyond the image of mud huts and subsistence agriculture, ancient African Kingdoms had economic structures that supported economic activities, before they were overwhelmed by foreign entities. These indigenous institutions and systems served to protect the social, economic and political interests of the people.

The economic systems were characterized by self-reliance and built capacity for self-sustaining development, encouraged broad participation by the communities and consensual decision making, also known as inclusive planning. Social values, rather than formal rules and sanctions, worked to prevent conflict of interest in the socio-economic and political set up of these communities.

Niger-Sahara Medievel routes- Wikipedia
Let us explore how production was organized, goods exchanged and distributed, how the natives obtained finance, and what role the chiefs or native governments played in the economy, and what indigenous technologies were applied.

Historically, these communities and kingdoms were decentralized into chiefdoms. Chiefs operated as custodians of customary law and communal assets, especially land. They dispensed justice, resolved conflicts and enforced contracts. They also served as guardians and symbols of cultural values and practices. They created local markets, and  developed extensive trade routes between villages and kingdoms, including navigating rivers and constructing sea ports. 

The communities engaged in quite a wide variety of economic activities utilizing Africa’s robust natural resources and created an environmentally conscious marketplace that preserved culture, promoting a healthy population through high quality agriculture, food security and social protection. 

While reviewing the indigenous practices of the people of Africa, we learn that early civilization in Africa gave birth to not only passing on traditional survival skills such as the ability to produce food in deserts and scrublands, but also new and innovative ways of increasing productivity and some of these innovations include hydraulic engineering which was used to irrigate crops, iron smelting to make iron tools, and excavation of minerals such as gold, that were used as a form of currency.

Speaking of gold, Emperor Musa the first of the Mali Empire, also known as Mansa Musa, made a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324 along with thousands of his people and tens of thousands of pounds of gold, some of which he gave as charitable donations in Cairo, Medina and Mecca. Mansa Musa gave away so much gold during his famous hajj that it caused inflation and depressed gold prices in the region for years, but in doing so, he also gave visibility to Mali. It is said that his lavish spending led to Mali appearing on the map of the world in 1339.  Mansa Musa also created the city of Timbuktu, a strategic city along the trans Saharan trade routes.

King Jaja of Opobo

In what is now Nigeria, King Jaja of  Opobo was a merchant prince who showed high aptitude for business from an early age. In his prime years, the European “Scramble for Africa” took place, and his kingdom was part of the territories allocated to Great Britain.  It is said Jaja refused to accept British rule, levying duties on British traders and going so far as to shut down trade on the Imo river until one British firm agreed to pay duties.  His rule ended when he was lured into a meeting aboard a British warship, where he was arrested and taken to Accra for trial, found guilty of treaty-breaking and blocking trade, and exiled to the West Indies.

Africa’s abundant natural resources, and the indigenous markets and trade networks developed to exchange them, were among the factors that attracted colonial empires from Europe, eager to assume control of trade. As a result, the economic and political control of indigenous leaders was weakened. 

During the era of colonialism, local production was disrupted, as people feared working on the farms, going fishing or working on industrial processes for fear of being captured and taken as slaves. The economy in the region evolved, with cash crops emerging and taxation structured to serve the colonial regimes.

Communities that were destroyed by anti-colonization and anti-slavery rebellions were left with ruined economic structures including disrupted human resource capacity.  As a result, many post-independence governments inherited fractured communities and tried to create alliances by strategically appointing key tribal representatives to administrative structures. Lingering trauma caused by the slave trade also slowed the process of rebuilding these communities.
The president of the Republic of Uganda, H.E Yoweri Kaguta Museveni with the King of Buganda,Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi
Today, many African countries are still striving to create macroeconomic frameworks that support sustainable development, including inflation control, increased access to credit, fiscal decentralization, and promotion of investment and gains in productivity and marketing of agricultural produce.  They have also created regional economic integration arrangements such as the East African Community, the Southern African Development Community, the Economic Community of West African States and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa.

African leaders have been called upon to rethink current economic models in a much more comprehensive way during planning, so as to respond to critical challenges that emanate from the new economic reality of a capitalist system in a largely communal society.

NGO Forum, in its submission “Unlocking Uganda’s Development Potential”, notes that policies based on theories and models of purely self-interested “rational actors” are undermining, overwriting and displacing pre-existing norms, values, attitudes and practices among African populations.  This cultural dimension of rapid neo-liberal reforms has negatively affected the previously reciprocal and cooperative relationships and trade practices between smallholder farmers and traders in rural markets.

That said, some leaders in Africa recognize the resilience of the indigenous institutions and practices and have incorporated these structures into their modern governance structures. 

I will end with a quote by the Republic of Guinea’s Dr. Ousmane Dore, an economist with the African Development Bank:

“when policy neglects history, culture, and social context, huge amounts of effort and resources can be wasted on poorly conceived initiatives.”

Vivian Kobusingye Birchall

Some Facts About Africa

Africa’s foundational value for human interaction is “Ubuntu,” characterized by compassion, and restoration of human relations.

 Before I explain why, here are some facts about the continent of Africa:

World Meters reports that the continent of Africa has a population of almost 1.3 billion people, based on the latest United Nations estimates.  If this is broken down into sub regions, the areas and their populations are:
Eastern Africa, 434 million
Western Africa, 382 million
Northern Africa, 238 million
Central Africa, 169 million
Southern Africa, 66 million

* Africa is home to one-sixth of the total world population.
* Among regions of the world - roughly equivalent to continents - Africa is the second most populous.
 * Africa has a land area of 11.44 million square miles, and a population density of only * 113 people per square mile.
* 40.6% of the population is urban
* The median age in Africa is only 19.4

With these statistics, we can see why Africa is a force to reckon with in the global economy, but this is a conversation for another day.

So, going back to attributes that define Africa,

Even with migration within and out of the continent, Africa’s image has been influenced by crosscutting cultural practices that have been carried on by various ethnic groups. These practices include “Ubuntu,” which has historically guided the way of life of the African People in conflict resolution, business negotiations, and trade. It is through Ubuntu that communities have historically managed good relations.

Other cross-cutting practices include sharing household roles, community farming, initiation ceremonies, dances, spirituality, oral education, and crafts, to mention but a few.

Transformations within the continent of Africa have historically been influenced by the changes in the environment, soil fertility and climate. In the past, these changes influenced the community setup, including economic activities.

Pastoralism was carried out in the rift valley region of East Africa.  Agriculture was common in the interlacustrine region, better known as the Great Lakes region, in East and Central Africa. This region is gifted with many lakes, including Victoria, Albert, Kyoga, Kivu, Tanganyika, Edward, and George, which endow the region with fresh water and fertile soils.

Records show that during the great African migration over 3,000 years ago, the Bantu are believed to have migrated from the Cameroon/Nigeria Border to the east and south.  Many settled in Congo and the Great Lakes region, and intermarried with the hunters and gatherers who occupied that area.  They created structured settlements, and elaborate administrative, governance  and economic systems that made them stand out in the region.

Along with other ethnic groupings, this region was home to many kingdoms, including the kingdoms of Buganda, Bunyoro, Burundi, Busoga, Buvinza, Buyungu, Buzinza, Gisaka, Heru, Igara, Ihangiro, Karagwe, Kimwani, Kiziba, Kyamutwara, Kyania, Mpororo, Mubari, Muhambwe, Nkore, Rwanda, Ruguru, Rusubi, andToro

In future episodes, we will learn about how these kingdoms/states were disintegrated at the hands of foreign entities.

Just as a reminder, Africa is home to various ethnic groups speaking over 3,000 languages.  Uganda alone is home to people speaking more than 50 languages.

African history and culture are broad and every aspect of them enables us to understand the continent and its people at home and in the diaspora.

Vivian Birchall

Africa's Identity

People’s perception of Africa have been shaped by clich├ęs of the “dark continent.” It is no wonder that many people are scared of visiting the continent, afraid of the unknown darkness. It is a continent that has been often grossly misunderstood, based on the labels given to it by authors, colonialists, traders, missionaries, visitors and other foreign entities.

Kilembe- Uganda
photo by Andrew Anderson
It is important that one understands the pre-colonial social setup of African people. Historically, pre-colonial communities in Africa were communal, rooted in families and extended family systems.  They identified themselves by clan, tribal or ethnic homelands, also known as kingdoms. It is estimated that Africa had about 10,000 different states and autonomous groups with distinct languages and customs. These structures of human relationships in Africa were and still are critical to the survival of communities - culturally, socially and economically.

In future episodes, we will review how the pre-colonial set up was disrupted over time.

These thousands of ethnic groupings did not have room for a single political word that defined the continent. So, where did the continent of Africa get its name?

The history of the word “Africa” is disputed. There are some theories:

1. The Phoenician Theory: Phoenicians were some of the greatest traders of their time. Many North African cities and towns emerged as trading posts for the Phoenicians. Some believe that the name "Africa" was derived from two Phoenician words, "friqi" and "pharika," thought to translate as corn and fruit. The assumption is that the Phoenicians christened Africa as "the land of corn and fruit."
2. The Roman Theory:' Some believe the Romans used the name “Afri' to refer to a group of a group of people, presumably the Berbers of North Africa.
3. The Weather Theory: the Greek word aphrike, meaning "without horror" and the Latin word apricus, meaning "sunny";

None of these theories indicate that any indigenous Africans had anything to do with what the continent was called. The name is descriptive of what people who came back to Africa to trade or other, witnessed or experienced.

Ankole lady making out the share of a cow's horn- People in the Ankole Kingdom , in Uganda, have historically been pastoralists.
Photo by  Andrew Anderson

So, going back to the identify of the people from the continent of Africa, think of every descriptive word you have grown up hearing about Africa, and the image that has given you about the continent. It is sad that this identity has been distorted over a long period of time, post colonialism. It characterized by national disasters and calamities, in addition to being called the “dark continent.”

However, what characterizes an African is their distinguishing food, language, dance, dressing, and other cultural aspects. This includes African-Americans and Afro-Caribbeans who had to create a new culture, following the slave trade era that caused cultural dislocation.

Vivian Kobusingye Birchall

A man milking an indigenous Ankole long horned  cow 


The African Peer Review Mechanism

The African Peer Review Mechanism is an important process for the transformation of Africa. The climax of it is that countries benefit from the gains of the Peer Review process when they implement the Programme of Action.

One of the strengths of the process is mutual accountability and responsibility to each other as participating countries. A country does this with support of her neighbors and other countries. This contributes to improved collaborations amongst states.

The process helps countries and states to come up with emerging issues, selecting issues of concern that should be given adequate and immediate attention, determining salient challenges facing a nation or state under review, identifying ideas for the solutions of the challenges. These ideas are subject to validation by the community and all stake holders before they are adopted to form the National Programme of Action. It is also a process for finding solutions for specific needs.

The APRM enables citizens to participate in the evaluation of how they are governed. Public involvement during the self-assessment and implementation phase of APRM process enables community engagement and participation in remediation. It also comes up with ways of developing models of community collaboration to improve the ability of community groups to hold their political and community leaders and themselves accountable.

Public involvement facilitates a positive change in the culture and values of people, businesses and organizations in the four thematic areas of Corporate Governance, Economic Governance Management, Socio-Economic Development and Democracy and Political Governance. It is a long-range change toward better awareness and improved stewardship at the community level. By changing the culture and values of those living in the community, a new set of sustainable behaviours can emerge. This can be one of the most subtle but powerful effects of broad public participation.

The process follows African and international standards and codes; deepens African solidarity; builds capacity in monitoring governance; show cases Africa’s innovative thinking in governance and contributes to facilitating greater advocacy.

A message from the African Union Ambassador to the USA, Dr. Arikana Chihombori-Quao

Diaspora Support for Free Trade and Economic Growth in Africa

Image by African Union
Many have pointed out that Africa is positioned as the last economic frontier. Africans in the diaspora have been recognized as critical players in this economy and are urged to actively participate in changing the economic trajectory of the continent, through, among other things, creating financial institutions to support the continent’s development initiatives. 

During a meeting held on Thursday September 6th2018, the African Union Ambassador to the United States, H.E. Dr. Arikana Chihombori-Quao, called on Africans in the diaspora to unite, create social and business partnerships and investments that would position Africa strategically in the global economy, and provide a basis for fair  trade negotiations.

As Ambassador, she is fulfilling the African Union Mission’s mandate to undertake, develop and maintain constructive and productive institutional relationships between the African Union and Africans in the Diaspora. 

But there are many unanswered questions about the socio-economic status of different countries that make up Africa.That is why it is critical that we in the diaspora understand the trade terms and treaties signed by different countries in Africa, and how they impact the success rate of economic activities in those countries. 

It is worth celebrating that recently, African Union member states recognized the need to break down trade barriers within the continent, with 49 of 55 signing an agreement to create the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). Once the agreement enters into force, it will result in the largest free-trade area in terms of participating countries since the formation of the World Trade Organization.

As an action plan, the diaspora needs to rally around the countries that have already ratified or are planning to ratify, and remind them that there is strength in numbers.

Vivian Kobusingye Birchall

Transnational Migration Practices of Africans

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Migration has been a consistent part of human civilization. History reveals that mankind originated in Africa and through migration, spread to the other parts of the world. Historically, there have been different social, economic, and political reasons for migration.

Immigrants from Africa do not come from one homogenous group, but they do have similar practices when they move to their new home countries. In the United States, these are some practices of transnational migrants from Africa.
Vivian Kobusingye Birchall and H.E. Dr. Arikana Chihombori-Quao, African Union Ambassador to the USA

In Africa, families are still deeply dependent on each other socially, economically and in other ways.  Because of this, migrants maintain connections to their home countries, and send remittances to their home countries to improve the lives of their families back home.

These remittances make up a large percentage of their home countries’ income – according to the World Bank, the second-largest source of foreign inflows into Africa after Foreign Direct Investment.  Averaged across all of Africa, remittances account for a few percent of domestic GDP, but the percentage is higher in some countries.  In 2017, Africa registered almost $40 billion in “formal” remittances, and, more than 25% of Liberia’s GDP came from remittances.

African immigrants also maintain their cultural lifestyles, introducing cuisine, fashion, music and other aspects of their culture into the communities where they live.  In doing so, they increase the cultural diversity of those communities.

Africans are very interactive people, and even with migration, they gradually create transnational identities that they maintain through social groups, networks and associations.  They also use these platforms to address issues that affect them collectively and share experiences for self-improvement.

It is important to increase visibility of these vibrant groups of young people who are committed to finding solutions to inefficiencies both on the continent of Africa and in their new homes, especially in the technology industry.

Reports indicate that immigrants from the continent of Africa to the United States are highly educated and contribute significantly to academic research, though many are under-employed.  These immigrants can easily be engaged for consultation, strategic planning and networking by the African Union Mission to the United States.

Early this month, the AU Mission hosted its inaugural African Diaspora Youth Leadership Summit, in partnership with the US State Department. I was among the participants selected from the African Diaspora in the United States, to meet with participants from countries within Africa and discuss issues including business leadership, technology, sports and entertainment.

The summit reinforced the key role that the diaspora plays in the development processes of the continent, through its networking and remittances practices. Transnational African Migrants also have strategic knowledge of both the African continent and the United States, which they sometimes apply to trade, innovation and developing technology that is applicable to the African ecosystem. 

I hope you have learnt something new about practices of transnational African migrants