Community, Diaspora and Immigration
Growth, development top agenda at conference on Africa, Diaspora
FACTS on relationship between Africa and the Diaspora and how the link could be explored for the growth and development of the continent formed the crux of speeches at the opening of an international conference by the Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilisation (CBAAC) and the University of Missouri, St Louis, USA on October 30, 2012.
Decision to organise the conference on the theme: Africa and the Diaspora in the New Millennium’, “is spurred by the need to assist in the exploration of the huge opportunities Africa offers the Diaspora to expand and consolidate its relationship with the continent,” says CBAAC’s Director General, Professor Tunde Babawale.
Babawale noted that although Africa’s presence in the Diaspora was made possible under unfavourable historical circumstances of enslavement and emigration imposed by stifling economic conditions on the continent, the Diaspora remains a major but largely underexplored segment of the African population in effort to turn around the continent’s fortunes.
The Diaspora can “limitlessly provide the intellectual, financial, political, cultural and social capital required for the continent’s growth and development,” Babawale said, citing World Bank statistics, which, in 2010 alone, showed that African migrants recorded US$40 billion in remittances to their home countries. These remittances, he said, play important roles in reducing the incidence and severity of poverty on the continent and also help many African households diversify their sources of income and give them opportunities for much-needed savings and capital for investment on the continent.
The Director General bemoaned limited shared knowledge about the continent and its huge untapped and underutilised resources between Africans and peoples of African descent. He also observed that these potentials receive footnote acknowledgement whenever references are made to them, but little is known about them worldwide.
Justifying reason for the conference, further, Babawale disclosed need to address challenges and opportunities created by the phenomenon of global linkages and transnational networks that impact and shape identities, cultural heritages and relationships between Africans and the people of African descents worldwide.
“Through this conference,” he said “we hope to promote relationship between Africa and her sixth region (African Diaspora), promote research and scholarship on Africa and the African Diaspora, and showcase to the world the contributions of Africa and African Diaspora to human progress.
“In addition, CBAAC’s choice of theme for this year’s conference is further informed by the impending declaration of this decade as ‘Decade of People of African Descent’. The decade, if so declared by the UN, would help to strengthen national action and regional and international cooperation for the benefit of people of African descent in relation to their full enjoyment of economic, cultural, social, civil and political rights, their participation and integration in all political, economic, social and cultural aspects of society, and the promotion of a greater knowledge of and respect for their diverse heritage and culture.
“The Centre shares in the optimism of the ultimate realisation of these objectives and ultimately hopes to set agenda for the decade and the new millennium.”
Delivering his speech, Nigeria’s Minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, Edem Duke, drew correlation between the conference’s objectives and aspirations of the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
He, therefore, applauded the theme, describing it as: “relevant and timely, given the invitation extended to the Diaspora to complement efforts made by the Federal Government of Nigeria in realisation of the Transformation Agenda.”
The importance, relevance, recognition and premium Nigeria places on Diaspora and Diaspora matters, the minister said, inform the establishment of agencies that are primarily saddled with the task of helping the country harness their inherent potentials to assist development.
He said: “By nature, Africans are historically, biologically and spiritually attached to the Diaspora. Likewise, we believe the Diaspora is also emotionally attached to Africa. The mutual affection and attachment should reinforce the relationship between Africa and the Diaspora.
“However, these ties, if sustained, can translate into greater obligations and concrete commitments, actions and activities on both sides. The sustenance of such conditions would aid and encourage the transfer of ideas, information, knowledge, skills and know-how to the continent and facilitate stronger physical and spiritual contact of the Diaspora with Africa.”
He lamented that African migrants are viewed as threats to the interests of their host communities and are labelled as takers of jobs, bringers of crime, consumers of scarce resources, and drainers of the wealth of their host communities; but that despite the hostility, many African migrants continue to march on undaunted, committing their energies and resources to the development of such host countries, while remitting gains from such efforts to assist their people back on the continent.
Given these situations,” the minister noted, “a conference that brings matters affecting the Diaspora contributions to Africa’s development to the front burner is important and relevant.” He expressed optimism that deliberations would set in motion the process of harnessing the gains of the Diaspora for Africa’s growth and development.
IN a communiqué, issued at the November 1 close of the event, the conference recommended:
“That activist scholars, civil society organisations and the press must critically re-engage African governments to make them proactive, transformational and accountable to their people, while scholars need to deepen their knowledge about typical African epistemology and employ African systems of thought to provide explanations for Social Science issues of development and democracy in Africa.
“That declarations, reports of working groups and protocols affecting Africans and people of African descent in the Diaspora should be given the widest publicity and circulation to ensure awareness and promote interest and inclusiveness.
“That African intellectuals, research institutes, cultural agencies, public intellectuals, mass media and engaged individuals should design an Afrocentric model for the creation of a supra national consciousness, based on the intrinsic values of African culture to provide a counter discourse to the existing ideology of racial inequality, stigmatisation and intolerance.
“That in view of the failure of existing methodology, the UN should bring activities associated with the declaration of 2011 as the International Year of People of African Descent and decade following away from cozy conference rooms to public domains in Africa and the Diaspora.
“That existing linkages between Africa institutions and their counterparts in the Diaspora should be strengthened and deepened to promote a better understanding of African social realities.
“That the African Union should create opportunities for Africa and Diaspora cooperation to address contemporary problems of HIV/AIDS, public health challenges and youth empowerment, gender matters and not just money remittances.”
The conference noted that challenges and opportunities confronting Africans and the people of African descent all over the world, in the 21st century, have assumed dimensions that should provoke a comprehensive review of salient aspects of Africa’s initial response to these challenges.
Africans and people of African descent in the Diaspora, the conference said, are still victims of an increasingly globalised world, even as it recalled the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, which acknowledged people of African descent as victims who continue to suffer racial discrimination consequent upon slavery.
Africans and Africans in the Diaspora, it regretted, have yet to intellectually engage the challenges posed by new developments in the new millennium, eleven years after its commencement.”
At the end of highly engaging deliberations, generated by about 60 academic papers, the following observations were made:
“That many African states did not fully appreciate or appropriate the opportunities offered by the United Nations Declaration of 2011 as the International Year of the People of African Descent to engage the challenges of development. “That distinctions made between social science in Africa and African Social Science have not been adequately reflected in proposing scholarly solutions to the problem of racism, discrimination and under development in Africa.
“That the contributions of public intellectuals in Africa and the Diaspora have not been adequately recognised as basis for reconstructing transformational states and societies.
“That despite the opportunities provided by the Declaration of the Global Africa Diaspora, 2012, many member countries of the African Union have not shown required commitment to the ratification of the protocol on the Diaspora Economic Communities and the management of remittances to Africa.
“That the cultural, literary and artistic heritage of Africa is capable of providing common trends in African humanistic experiences, translating African values to higher heights and providing a space for Africa’s offering at the global intellectual market.
“That there is a need to remove the monolingual borders inherited from colonialism by consciously promoting and encouraging the cross teaching and use of various African languages.
“That transnational movements and values of African origin have benefited from the global expansion in communication and transportation.
“That Pan Africanism, as presently understood by this generation of African leaders, has limited capacity to play the role of a liberating ideology and provide a response to racism, discrimination and intolerance.
“That the African Diaspora extends to the Middle East, South Asia and not just the New World.
“That Africa’s new and old Diasporas have not been adequately integrated to be able to present a common front on essentially African affairs.”
EXPRESSING appreciation for support leading to a successful convening of the conference, Professor Babawale spoke of “the immeasurable support” the Centre continues to enjoy from Nigeria’s Minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, in the realisation of its mandate.
“We are particularly grateful that you threw your weight behind us in organising this year’s colloquium. Without your support and approval, having a conference of this magnitude, outside Nigeria, would have been difficult, if not impossible. We believe that with your continued support, there is no limit to our quest to continue organising programmes that uplift the image of, not only the Centre, the ministry and our country Nigeria, but Africans and people of African descent, wherever they are located on the globe.
“We also place on record the huge support the Centre has enjoyed from the National Assembly Committees on Culture and Tourism. I must not fail to give a special mention to the positive disposition of the Chairman of the House Committee on Culture and Tourism to all of our programmes and activities in the Centre.”
CBAAC’s annual international conference is the flagship of the Centre’s numerous programmes. The Centre was established in 1979, following the successful and epoch making hosting of the Second (2nd) World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC 77). It takes custody of all core artefacts and cultural items that were exhibited during the festival.
The Centre was primarily set up, not only to keep the philosophy of the festival alive, but also to create the enabling environment for the promotion of Africa’s cultural renaissance.
CBAAC achieves its set objectives through the organisation of public lectures, conferences, symposia, workshops and exhibitions. While promoting research and publishing books, journals and periodicals, it has a library, a studio, numerous archival collections, a hall of fame and a gallery.
by ABy Femi Alabi Onikeku