When Hillary Clinton was US secretary of state in President Obama’s first administration, she was fascinated by the world of Diasporas. Not only did she make outreach to diasporas, she also made it part of her Global Partnership Initiative — a “whole of government” approach that was all about creating action-oriented partnerships between governments and the diasporas.
So when I got an invitation to attend the global Diaspora forum held from May 14 to15, 2013, in Killiney Castle, Ireland, as one of the shining lights from Africa Diaspora to share my thoughts with an array of thought-molders including The Economist business editor and author of “Borderless Economics,” Robert Guest; Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs secretary, Rajiv Mehrishi; Migration Policy Institute director and co-founder, Kathleen Newland, and McKinsey’s Global Alumni relations director, Sean Brown, I knew it was a great opportunity to share and learn new things about global diaspora.
The choice of Ireland as the first co-host of this prestigious forum is indicative of two interesting developments. The first is the burgeoning interest in Diasporas around the world and the second is the leading role Ireland is taking in bringing back her diaspora to develop its knowledge economy. Ireland is seen as a “thought leader” and part of the Big Four alongside Israel, India and China.
Today, more than 215 million people now live in a country other than the one they were born in — including at least 10 million Nigerians. If this were a country, it would be the twentieth-largest in the world. And remittances in 2012, according to the World Bank, amounted to $23 billion and have been surging despite the economic crisis. It looks as though these trends will persist as the processes of urbanization and globalization continue their advance.
I have given you this background so that you can understand the role of the diaspora in the new economy and development of the big four. India, for example, used her diaspora to create an identity for its over 1.3 billion population by bringing back some of her citizens from Silicon Valley to help with the project. The project has been recognized globally as the biggest identification project ever taken on anywhere in the world, and that saved the Indian government billions in foreign exchange.
Millions of our diasporas could be encouraged by the government to invest in special infrastructure bonds that can be created by the government through the Debt Management Office and can easily raise up to $2 billion if well marketed and sold in small units to Nigerians scattered all over the world. This will help ease the pressure on the exchange rate as the bonds will be denominated in dollars. Countries such as China, India and Ireland have used similar methods to raise much needed development capital for their countries.
The other areas they can be very useful is in the area of knowledge transfer by encouraging them to come back and help develop skills in the very critical areas of engineering, medicine, healthcare, agriculture and finance. Nigerians have been known to have excelled in different fields and some are serving in very high political and business offices in the Americas, Europe and Asia. If there is sincere and genuine interest from the government in inviting them back to develop their motherland, I am sure a lot of them will heed the call.
The government, on the other hand, should make sure that the security of life and property is given very serious consideration as this crop of Nigerians will not prosper in a country if they have to worry about the security of their family and loved ones. Issues such as voting rights for diaspora, structures for creating business linkages and ways to help generations of diaspora connect with their roots are some of the areas that can be explored as measures to maximize the benefits of connecting with our diaspora.
In the present situation where the price of oil is at its lowest in recent years, the possibility of pension schemes investing in large government infrastructure projects with substantially better returns is worth considering. It could be a win-win for all concerned - the government, the taxpayer, the pension scheme and, ultimately the scheme members themselves.
Let me quickly add that pension schemes would need to be persuaded, not compelled, to invest in such projects and reassured about their long term viability and guaranteed returns before investing. If the government can fill that void between pension funds and viable projects, such as the Lagos-Ibadan expressway, it would be a big step forward.
By reaching out to our diaspora, we can create communities centring on business, technology and the creative industries. We can share ideas and collaborate to bid for businesses and implement initiatives for the common good.