Magazine article New African

Why the AU Is Courting the Diaspora: Africa Freedom Day, Which Falls on 25 May Every Year, Is Always an Important Date on the Continent's Post-Independence Calendar as It Commemorates the Founding of the OAU. This Year, the Day Was Even More Poignant When the AU, the South African Government, and the Pan-African Parliament Jointly Hosted the First Ever Global African Diaspora Summit. Belinda Otas Attended the Event

Magazine article New African

Why the AU Is Courting the Diaspora: Africa Freedom Day, Which Falls on 25 May Every Year, Is Always an Important Date on the Continent's Post-Independence Calendar as It Commemorates the Founding of the OAU. This Year, the Day Was Even More Poignant When the AU, the South African Government, and the Pan-African Parliament Jointly Hosted the First Ever Global African Diaspora Summit. Belinda Otas Attended the Event

Article excerpt

THE SENSE OF BELONGING AND PRIDE WAS CLEAR AMONG the over 200 Diasporans invited to South Africa to participate in the inaugural Global African Diaspora Summit. The popular saying you are not African because you are born in Africa but because Africa is born in you," aptly summed up the atmosphere of togetherness at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg.

From the four corners of the world (in over 5o countries, including Jamaica, Guyana, Cuba, and the USA), came the sons and daughters of Africa's Diaspora who basked in the glory accorded the Sixth Region of the African Union. It was a historic occasion as the recognition of the Diaspora as the Sixth Region did not come without a fight. In fact, at the launch of the AU on 9 July 2002, no such plan was on the cards.

Indeed, when the AU chairperson at the time, President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, was asked where the Diaspora fit in, he first laughed, then became pensive, and finally dismissed the question by saying the AU's inaugural summit in Durban was reserved for "heads of state". He then suggested that those Disaporan Africans wishing to participate in the Union should contact "our ambassadors in Washington DC"; and even easier the black media in the USA should "look it up on the Internet".

It was quite shocking to see a Pan-Africanist like Thabo Mbeki of all presidents put up such a performance in front of the world media. But, fortunately, amends were made by the Union, and the Diaspora was recognised as the Sixth Region and made an integral part of the Union.

Today the AU defines the Diaspora as "consisting of peoples of African origin living outside the continent, irrespective of their citizenship and nationality and who are willing to contribute to the development of the continent and the building of the African Union."

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This definition takes in all the descendants of people of A Frican origin who left the continent either out of their own volition or as enforced slaves (during both the Arab and transatlantic slavery) now living across the world.

As one participant, Dr Erieka Bennett, originally an African-American and now founder and head of the Ghana-based Diaspora African Forum Mission, explained: "There are two types of Diasporans--those of us taken during slavery and those who leave Africa to work in greener pastures. This is the type of African Diasporans the AU is dealing with at this time."

So, as many participants asked, if the Sixth Region of the AU is so important to the Union, why has it taken 10 years to hold the first Global African Diaspora Summit? Even more so, when the contribution to Africa by only the "second type" of Diasporan--"those who leave Africa to work in greener pastures"--is counted in billions of dollars a year! That is a lot of money, which if properly channelled into the right sectors, can bring immense benefit to Africa. That is not counting the contribution that the first type of disporan--the descendants of the Africans forcibly taken away during the slavery eras (over 4o million of whom live in the USA alone)--could bring to the table. Countries, such as Israel, have become economic and political successes partly because of the active roles and contributions made by their diasporas. Africa cannot be an exception if its diaspora's role is properly harnessed.

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It is a point acknowledged by Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, South Africa's foreign minister: "The Summit will help create sustainable partnerships between the African Diaspora and the continent through a realisable 'programme-of-action'," she said. "We hope to create sustainable dialogue and partnerships, and strengthen Pan-African solidarity for a better Africa and its Diaspora." Dr Erieka Bennett believes that more could be done: "I'm very encouraged but the work has just begun. The bottom-line is implementation [of the summit's outcome], and that's what we are excited about, "she said, adding: "We know the problems in Africa. …

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