Nobody needs the long memory of an elephant to remember the uncomfortable words of the South African president, Thabo Mbeki, at the African Union's post-launch press conference in Durban on 9 July 2002.
When asked about the conspicuous absence of the African Diaspora at the launch and on the structures of the AU, President Mbeki (as New African reported in September 2002) "first laughed, then became pensive, and finally dismissed the question by saying the Durban Summit was reserved for 'heads of states'. He then suggested that those Diasporan Africans wishing to participate in the Union should 'contact our ambassadors in Washington DC' and the black media in the US should 'look [the AU] up on the internet'."
It was a shocking performance by a man of Mbeki's high intellectualism and pan-African commitment. Thank God, he and the AU have since redeemed themselves by quickly realising that the linkages and synergies between Africa and its Diaspora are some of the most vital things to lift the Mother Continent from underdevelopment.
For years, such a linkage had been the one sure thing that imperialism had feared. That was why various attempts were made in the past by the powers that be to keep Africa and its Diaspora apart.
These powers knew, for example, that Israel would have less clout today without the linkages and synergies between the Jewish state and the wider Jewish Diaspora--in areas such as inward investment and the political support and lobbying done on behalf of Israel by the Diaspora.
Now, realising the initial mistake, the AU is singing a new song: "It is the top priority of the AU to embrace and encourage Africans in the Diaspora to come home and fully participate in the social and economic development of their motherland. The development of this important effort will be a test of my success," says the new AU Commission chairman, Alpha Oumar Konare, the former president of Mali.
This "recognition of the Diaspora" did not come cheap. It was as a result of months of soul-searching by AU leaders and functionaries. In the end, an AU Adhoc Ministerial Committee was empowered to come up with recommendations. Their report on the "proposed amendments to the AU's Constitutive Act" published in the middle of last year contained six amendments, one relating to the African Diaspora.
The Committee recommended that the AU "invite and encourage the full participation of Africans in the Diaspora in the building of the African Union in its capacity as an important part of our continent".
Two definitions of the Diaspora were considered: (a) in the narrow sense, "the Diaspora includes all Africans currently residing any where outside the continent of Africa"; and (b) a broad and historic sense, whereby "the Diaspora comprises all Africans (and their descendants) who had left, or been taken from Africa by force and still consider themselves Africans".
After much debate, it was finally decided that the overall principle underlying both definitions should be retained and incorporated into the AU's Constitutive Act.
During the debate, a number of proposals were made, such as the need to convene a forum between the AU and the Diaspora to chart the way forward; and also to set up a coordinating mechanism within the AU Commission in Addis Ababa to deal with the issues relating to the Diaspora.
After months of consideration, the idea has moved from words into action. And for four days (between 26-29 February), the first Diaspora African Forum will be held in Accra, Ghana, under the theme: "Linking together for unity and empowerment".
As Dr Erieka Bennett, chairperson of the Diasporian African Forum, put it: "It is our duty and responsibility of Africans born in America to be intimately involved in the development process in Africa. After all, what we are talking about is the future of our children--African children! …