Over the past decade, the relationship between Africa and Europe has changed significantly. The African diaspora in Europe is playing an increasingly important role. How can Africans in Europe help shape a new chapter in African-European relations?
The African Diaspora in Europe is not a homogenous group. The cultural imprints and references to the country of origin are very different. Neither for the EU as a whole nor for Germany is there an exact number of people with an African migration background. According to estimates, however, there are around one million in Germany alone.
Yet the diversity and achievements of the African diaspora are hardly recognised. Instead, Africans in Europe are often associated with the image of Africa as a politically unstable and economically backward “continent in crisis”.
This widespread view influences the way we live together. Many people with African roots experience various forms of racism, discrimination and violence. Although there has been little attention to these issues in Germany and Europe so far, the current protests against police violence against blacks in the USA have also intensified public debates in our country about structural racism and the legacy of European colonialism.
Making the competences and achievements of the African Diaspora visible
Many actors from society, politics and business must assume more responsibility and promote a differentiated image of Africa. More intensive partnerships between Africa and Europe need to be formed, for example between cities, municipalities, universities or companies. This includes making black people “visible” in a positive sense.
Visibility means, for example, that companies value people of African descent and their skills as an important part of the workforce and to communicate this to the outside world. It means that they support innovative and sustainable entrepreneurship in Africa and show that it can be successful. One example is the commitment of the Volkswagen Group in Rwanda, which has been present there since 2018 with local production and networked mobility services.
Besides traditional companies, start-ups also play an important role. Their success stories on the African continent have so far received too little attention from European investors. State-provided hedging instruments such as risk buffers for investments can be an important contribution to reducing the perceived risk (which rarely corresponds to the actual risk).
These and other measures can do much to paint a more differentiated picture of Africa. People with African roots living in Europe would benefit considerably from this. But not only perceptions should change. The African diaspora must be a partner in designing and implementing such initiatives.
This applies first and foremost to development policy measures. Several development cooperation organisations in Germany and Europe still find it difficult to involve the African Diaspora in their work. Their staff is often not very diverse.
Sustainable participation of the diaspora in development cooperation
A positive example of successful cooperation is a project of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) to promote micro-enterprises in the informal sector. This enables people from the African community in Germany to invest directly in structures in their countries of origin. The investments are doubled by funds from the German Government. Diaspora networks are involved in an advisory capacity and can play an active role in cooperation.
The small project promotion offered by the Centre for International Migration and Development (CIM) also enables diaspora organisations to plan and implement projects on their own. Our association Afro Deutsches Akademiker Netzwerk (ADAN) was thus enabled to carry out the “aXd Fellows Programme”: Five young people from the African Diaspora worked together with five startups from Ghana for four weeks on their business idea and exchanged their knowledge on many levels.
In addition to financial support, it is also important to make better use of the high educational level of academics with African roots. In the age of digitalisation, the transfer of know-how has become easier. The study “The Diaspora and Economic Development in Africa” (Gnimassoun/Anyanwu, 2019) emphasises the positive influence of higher education on the engagement of migrants in their countries of origin, for example through a more intensive integration in scientific, political and economic networks (so-called ex-post effect).
The EU Council Presidency offers Germany a good opportunity to develop strategies for a structured dialogue in order to use the many resources of the African diaspora for sustainable development. Diaspora networks not only open up potential trade and capital flows and enable the transfer of know-how and technology. They can also help to establish social and institutional norms that promote development.
Last but not least, the African Diaspora has the necessary cultural sensitivity and can thus act as an important interface between Africa and Europe. Such factors are of great importance when implementing projects and establishing structures.
The negotiations between the African Union and the EU should therefore provide ways and means to include these capacities. The diaspora can contribute new perspectives to the discourse on Africa due to the special experiences in both “worlds” and thus build bridges for a better understanding and greater political coherence between Africa, Germany and Europe.
Alhaji Allie Bangura is founder and board member of ADAN, a network for the African Diaspora and students and young professionals interested in Africa with over 190 members in seven German cities. The aim of ADAN is to create a platform for exchange through various formats and projects, to make diversity visible and to present Africa as a continent of opportunity. Born in Sierra Leone and raised in Germany, he has long been engaged with the experiences and perspectives of the African Diaspora in order to positively change the presentation of and narratives about Africa in Europe.
This article is the second part of our blog series on the German EU Presidency. In preparation for this, VENRO organised the Digital Africa Forum with around 70 participating civil society organisations from Africa and Europe. The participants of the forum came from almost 30 countries and different social sectors. Three of them describe their perspective on African-European relations here.