The Horn Of Africa States: The Region’s Global Diaspora – OpEd

The common term which is used to describe people who left their original homeland and spread to other parts or regions is generally described as the “Diaspora”. A diaspora can occur forcibly or voluntarily with the first arising from traumatic events such as natural calamities (droughts and famines, floods, volcanoes and earthquakes), political persecutions, wars both civil and others, and through invasions of foreign powers, while a voluntary diaspora results from people who left their homelands in search of new economic opportunities. A forced diaspora generally entails persecution and emotions of hopelessness, with no desire to return to their original homes unless the forces that caused their departures have also vacated or left those original homelands. Those who left on their own may return to their original homelands. Both forced and voluntary diaspora, however, maintain cultural and spiritual contacts with their countries of origin, at least at the level of the first generation. The second generation may lose interest while the third generation becomes part of the new homelands with little or no interest in the original homeland. 

The Horn of Africa States (“HAS”) is one of those regions that today form one of the largest diaspora communities across the globe. No one knows their exact numbers for no statistical research on this matter has ever been made. Note that reference to the Horn of Africa means different things to different people. In this case, we refer to the Horn of Africa as the lands and seas of the SEED countries. In clearer terms, it means Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti, the actual countries of the Horn of Africa. The HAS diaspora are estimated to be anywhere between three to five million and live in many countries across the globe including Europe, the Arabian Peninsula, Africa, North America and Australasia. From the sources of remittances of the HAS diaspora to their original homelands, one notes that they are present in at least 145 countries of the United Nation’s member states or 75.12% of the UN’s sovereign member states.

A diaspora community generally has advantages and disadvantages for both the host countries and the original homelands. In this article, we shall address the issues related to the original homelands and their impact on their lives and lovies in the original home countries. Many of those who left the HAS region left because of wars, civil and otherwise but others left because of economic opportunities. At least most of the diaspora that left for the Arabian Peninsula left because of economic opportunities while most of those who left for other countries, including the East and Southern African had no other choice because of the civil traumas that result from the continuing wars of the region both inter-state and intra-state. 

Many HAS diaspora are not even allowed by their home countries to return. One must note that the Horn of Africa States region is one of the most conflicted regions of the world where wars and fighting of different shades flare up regularly, including terror groups, ethnic-based competition for power and inter-state wars.

The HAS diaspora has generally thrived in their host countries while, of course, some may have failed. The HAS diaspora is active in the all fields of activity in their new homes in academia, business, and politics, where some have entered in the decision-making echelons at many levels of their host countries as citizens. But they have been equally also successful in achieving tremendous successes in their original homelands, where they have contributed skills and knowledge development, wealth creation and business and even improvement in the political affairs through helping in the peacebuilding efforts of governments. 

But at the same time, some are accused of creating more conflicts and distresses in their original countries, not letting the governments of the region carry out the developmental activities and the business of governance in the region but engage them more in wars and civil strives, as they probably are the only ones that can “speak freely, assemble and organise under the constitutions and laws of the countries in which they reside”, as Alemante Selassie, emeritus professor at the William and Mary Law School in the United States said in November 2016 in an interview with the BBC. He further noted that “The diaspora can speak truth to power in ways that is not imaginable in their own homeland.”

The HAS diaspora like many other diaspora of other regions of the world do create wealth and have resources in their new home countries or hosts. These resources are remitted to the original homelands. In the case of the Horn of Africa States region, the following are reported with respect to remittances as a share of their GDP in 2022:

  • Somalia 20.9%
  • Djibouti   2.0%
  • Ethiopia   0.6%
  • Eritrea     N/A
  • (Source: Statista 2022)

The resources of the diaspora is not limited to remittances or money per se. It involves skills and knowledge transfer, establishment of new trade links and relationships, peacebuilding and creating new strategies for both public and private interests, and hence contributing to improvements in social equity and development in the region. While this is the general trend, there are, indeed, HAS diaspora communities that cause and contribute to the chaos of the region, mainly driven by the ethnic competition for power in the region and fully exploited by non-regional parties to keep the region unstable and shaky all the time.

The region enjoys a significant natural wealth, which includes among others:

  • A faster growing and a bigger economic pie with a substantial agricultural base and hence food security, sub-soil wealth including oil and gas, an immense blue economy potential as a result of its long coast of some 4,700 km, a potential industrial base exploiting the resources of the region.
  • A large youthful population of some 160 million soon to grow to over 200 million and hence a large market.
  • A strategic location at the entrance into the Red Sea and hence the Suez Canal and the Indian Ocean and hence South and East Asia, one of the major waterways of global trade and especially oil and gas from the Arabian Peninsula.

The region’s diaspora is aware of the above and so are the governments of the region and the two need to be working together for the betterment and development of the region. No one else would come for the development of the region except its own native people, whether they are outside or inside the region, and here is how they can cooperate:

First, the Governments of the region must recognise the diaspora as a potential asset and not as a liability. The diaspora can contribute to the social, economic and political development of the region, and should henceforth be given the right to dual citizenship where they can participate in both their original and new home countries. Already in some of the countries of the region, like Somalia, many of its diaspora make a significant portion of the governing bodies, private businesses and academia and hence the largest remittances of the diaspora in the region (20.9% of the GDP). This would of course change as the economy grows and other sectors (agriculture, industrial and services, tourism, etc.) develop in the years to come.

Second, the large market of the region must be recognized by both the governments and the diaspora. Note it has a sizeable population of some 160 million of which some 70% are reported to be below 30 years of age. This is a substantial asset, which can be a sword with two edges – a source of violence and hence chaos and a source of labor and future leaders. Both the governments and the diaspora need to develop this substantial market for the betterment of the region and its sustainable development.

Third, it is already recognized in the original countries that the diaspora can play a positive role in the development process. Some of the countries do celebrate “Diaspora Day(s)” acknowledging their contribution to the development activities of the original countries, but this remains far short of organized infrastructures designed solely for this group of people in the original countries and the many possibilities of their contributions in the future.

Todate, it would appear that the regional diaspora work on their personal initiatives or sometimes group initiatives, with scarce/scant involvements from the ministries of development, finance and foreign affairs of the original home countries. The diaspora is not seen as an asset with an intrinsic value, which indeed, it is. In this respect, it is important that the governments of the region create necessary infrastructures that should promote continuous contacts between the diaspora and the original countries. This can be done at national and/or regional levels. Such infrastructures can and should include sponsoring of regional or national entertainers, scholars, elder statesmen in areas with large regional concentrations of regional diaspora.

The governments of the original countries should also support schools and institutions of learning at many levels of regional/national diaspora in the host countries, provide psychological counseling services that assist those that may have difficulties in the host countries, but in way to assist maintain the values of the original countries. This would, no doubt, help in extending the generations that would have links with the original countries of the diaspora. There is also the possibilities of allowing the diaspora to participate in the elections in the home countries, possibly with some conditions to be defined, including continuing connection with the original homeland, investments in the homelands and other contributions and caveats.

Many of the diaspora and even the citizens of the original home countries may find this as far fetched and almost impossible to be put in place. However, it is not as difficult as it appears. The diaspora already help financially the original home countries and may even expand such assistance in the future. Such possible fund collections from the diaspora can be partially used to finance those types of activities as heretofore noted. These governments can even seek assistance for such programs from the countries of residence of these diaspora populations, and especially from those that have large concentrations. This could be part of the assistance to the Governments as foreign aid. There are large concentrations of regional diaspora in countries like the Arabian Gulf, which can help in this respect.

The governments of the region need to develop  streamlined infrastructures aimed at enhancing the relationship the region has with its global diaspora. His could be in the form of a dedicated ministry only handling the diaspora affairs or departments in the ministry of foreign affairs, ministry of finance and ministry of development. The regional governments should develop diaspora engagement policies aimed at enhancing relationships with the diaspora, with a view to considering them an asset.

The regional governments no doubt work on bringing in foreign direct investments and the first home base for such investments should be the regional diaspora, where opportunities should be offered to them for investments in any of the developmental projects in the country. Construction of industrial, agricultural, fishing, services and tourism projects to be financed through share companies where the diaspora can participate with the appropriate investment loans, designed tax rebate processes or tax holidays, appropriate protection laws and dispute resolution mechanisms, should be developed by the regional governments.

The general literature on the regional global diaspora appears to be on the political aspects of the region. The whole region seems to be all politicians, always discussing political matters that only complicate matters in the original homelands. It is perhaps time the regional diaspora looked into other fields, collectively and in a more organized processes, through collaboration with the regional governments in place. Both the diaspora and the regional governments should not involve politics in the development process of the region and the states of the region. Politician’s of the region should be evaluated in how much they put into the development process and the work with the diaspora of the region, which is, as we pointed out earlier a significant asset for the region. 

If we take the lower number of some 3 million for regional diaspora and each one contributes US$ 100 per month to a fund, this should amount to some US$ 300 hundred million on a monthly basis and US$ 3.6 billion on an annual basis. That is a large amount of monies that should not be ignored, and the governments of the region should change their current attitudes to the regional diaspora in this respect. A diaspora investment portfolio, if appropriately managed could be much larger that annually. The regional diaspora has undoubtedly raised the income of many families in the region, helped in education and provisions of health services and, indeed, training and acquisition of new skills and knowledge.