Dr Jones: Independence Message “Mobilizing Diaspora Gambians for Development”


By Dr. Tunde Basil Jones


In 2019 the African diaspora financing was US$89 billion compared to Overseas Development Assistance to Africa of US$49 billion. Yet African countries are busy running after loans and grants neglecting the huge potential financing from their diaspora.
Gambian diaspora can play an increasingly important role in the country’s development both through the financial resources, they send back to their home countries and through their professional expertise, investments, entrepreneurship and corporate affiliations. According to the 2020 budget speech, remittances flow from Gambian diaspora was US$182.5 million or the equivalent of 82% of the country’s gross official reserves in 2019.
Over the past 22 years, the Gambia suffered from a massive brain drain that weakened our institutions especially the civil service. The skills flight from the Gambia can be attributed to a combination of push factors, such as poor political and economic governance, as well as pursuing higher education abroad. The propensity to return after studying abroad is strongly correlated with conditions that prevail in the country of origin. The rate of expatriation of students remains exceptionally high for the Gambia. A number of pull factors demonstrated are demand for skilled workers abroad such as that for medical professionals in the UK, Europe and the USA. As a result, Gambian professionals have taken advantage of the global mobility of labour to seek opportunities outside the continent.

The Gambian diaspora should be considered not just as sources of financing but as partners in development. If the Gambian diaspora community is to be encouraged to contribute their financial and knowledge capacities in their country of origin, the government of the Gambia needs to put in place a number of fundamentals including;

  1. Constitutional governance anchored on democratic institutions, the observance of basic human rights and civil liberties including constitutional amendments which enable Gambian diaspora to take up dual citizenship, may prove to be a major incentive for their participation in national development;
  2. A stable legal, policy and institutional environment, which guarantees that contractual obligations are honoured and respected. Indeed Gambians in the Diaspora detest bureaucratic inertia and corruption that characterizes public administration;
  3. Security sector forces that are accountable to democratically elected parliaments, devoted to creating a secure environment for public-private partnerships to flourish. Gambians in the diaspora will be reluctant to deploy their human, financial and technical capacities in a country where fraud, violent crime and lawlessness reign unrestrained.
There are also other major contributions of the Gambian diaspora network towards national development. These include becoming significant players in building democratic institutions, national development, involvement in community development through hometown associations (HTAs) undertaking philanthropic activities in their communities of origin. Gambian diaspora networks are also in the health and education sectors.

The Gambian diaspora can play a positive role in poverty reduction and the Government of the Gambia need to operationalize the special diaspora Department in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A framework for engagement needs to be developed. The recommendations below should be considered for a meaning government/diaspora engagement going forward.

  1. The Government and the Gambian diaspora should agree on a shared national development vision around which to mobilize diaspora resources.
  2. An enabling environment is a pre-requisite to successful diaspora engagement.
  3. The Government must appreciate Gambian brainpower no matter where it resides.
  4. Embrace brain circulation by the Government by attracting and motivating highly skilled Gambian migrants to either return or engage with their home country. They do not necessarily have to return back permanently.
  5. Making use of diaspora resources for productive investment rather than smoothing out consumption.
  6. Develop a database of Gambian diaspora expertise.

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