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Africa and Aboriginal Tuesdays: Diaspora Unity in Action: The Case of the Nigerians in Diaspora Organization by Bathseba H. Belai

The past few years have witnessed a growing realization that - properly managed and creatively utilized - the financial, intellectual and social capital of Africans in the diaspora presents a unique resource to fuel growth on the continent.

Indeed, the beneficial impact that diaspora Africans may have in the development efforts of their countries of origin is a matter that is now widely accepted and recognized by various stakeholders, including African bodies such as the African Union; African governments as well as the diaspora themselves. However, significant and sustainable diaspora participation with an appreciable impact on national development - such as witnessed in countries such as India, China, Mexico, etc. - remains largely elusive on the African continent.

Weaknesses in the engagement of the African diaspora on the continent are mainly attributed to the lack of well thought-out initiatives that go beyond supportive statements as regards diaspora participation in developmental activities and actually establish channels through which resources in the diaspora could effectively be matched with needs in the home-country. While it is clearly the responsibility of home and host country institutions, in partnership with relevant international organizations, to design and implement appropriate mechanisms that would enable the African diaspora to realize its potential as a full-fledged development partner on the African continent, diaspora communities also have a crucial role to play in terms of increasing their visibility so as to improve their standing in the mainstream international development scene.

A higher profile of African diaspora communities in the societies they live in as well as in their countries of origin can only be achieved through a concerted effort by various African diaspora groups to work together on issues that affect them all, thus forming a common front for action such as effective lobbying for policies and programs that facilitate diaspora engagement. However, such successful advocacy requires unity among the African diaspora, both within groups from specific countries as well as across the continent - precisely the type of alliances and level of organization that diaspora Africans, unlike some of their Latin American and Asian counterparts, have not proved particularly adept at.

Indeed, the fragmentation of African diaspora groups is a recurring theme in considerations related to increasing the impact of their contribution to homeland capacity development. While many are the groups that have voluntarily mobilized to assist in national development efforts, linkages among diaspora organizations remain tenuous, and divisive practices - along political, ethnic, religious, linguistic, and regional lines - continue to spread. Such fragmentation of voice, purpose and action has effectively stunted the full realization of the potential of African diaspora groups for significant engagement in development.

However, over the course of my research on mechanisms to promote the contribution to development that diaspora Africans could make to their countries of origin, I came across an African diaspora organization - the Nigerians In Diaspora Organization (NIDO) - which I thought was most notable for the level of cohesion and organization that it has been able to achieve among Nigerians in the diaspora.

NIDO was formed subsequent to meetings held in 2000 between President Obasanjo of Nigeria with Nigerian diaspora members in the United States and United Kingdom, meetings at which the need to bring together all existing Nigerian diaspora initiatives to contribute to development efforts in Nigeria under a framework organization, so as to streamline and facilitate their engagement, was particularly highlighted. This gave rise to the establishment of NIDO-Europe and NIDO-Americas, which serve as umbrella organizations for Nigerian groups in Europe and the Americas (including the Caribbean).

As per its website, NIDO is a non-governmental, apolitical, non-religious and non-tribal body. It was set-up with the purpose of advancing the interests of Nigeria and Nigerians abroad through the development of "effective modes - through programs, policies and advocacy - for Nigerians abroad to harness their talents, expertise and resources for Nigeria's development and nation building." To that end, NIDO works to raise the profile of the Nigerian diaspora among both Nigerian and host country institutions; establish communication linkages between all Nigerians in the diaspora as well as the governmental and non-governmental sectors in Nigeria; encourage unity among the Nigerian diaspora so as to achieve greater voice and influence; devise means through which the diaspora's resources could be most effectively applied in Nigerian development project; and, promote positive image of Nigeria abroad, with the purpose of enhancing business, tourism, investment and trade opportunities.

NIDO has an extensive network of member groups and individuals on both the American and European continent. NIDO-Europe boasts 17 chapters, including 2 in the United Kingdom, and one each in Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, The Netherlands, Poland, Russian Federation, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and Ukraine. In North America, NIDO has several chapters across the United States, and one in Toronto, Canada. The organization has managed to leverage its significant membership into a considerable Nigerian diaspora voice that wields a certain level of influence in the Nigerian development arena. Thus, in 2005, the Nigerian diaspora - through NIDO - was invited by the Nigerian federal government to participate in the country's National Political Reform Conference, the first time ever that the diaspora was invited to present its views and advance its interests in a national constitutional review conference. Furthermore, the Nigerian National Volunteer Service (NNVS) - under the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation - was established to work with NIDO and other Nigerians in the diaspora so as to facilitate their meaningful contribution to Nigerian development. NIDO was also a major player in the first annual Nigeria Diaspora Day that took place last summer.

However, despite its many achievements, NIDO has also, since its inception, been plagued by certain problems, notably those revolving around its leadership, including accusations of vote dealing during elections for NIDO-Americas Board Chair; concerns regarding the relationship between NIDO and the Nigerian government, leading to speculation as to how "non-governmental" this organization really is, are also part of the recurring controversies that surround NIDO.

Nevertheless, the case of NIDO - and the wide recognition it has been able to achieve through its high level of organization and its efforts to regroup the efforts and voice of diaspora Nigerians - greatly merits closer examination by other African diaspora groups. Indeed, despite the many setbacks NIDO has suffered since its establishment, it undoubtedly presents a case of unity in action as is not commonly seen on the African diaspora scene. Fragmentation of purpose and efforts in African diaspora communities have led to their marginalization from the mainstream development structure; a more effective and efficient engagement, leading to higher impact and sustainability of diaspora national growth initiatives, would certainly be well served by the type of overarching framework associations such as advanced by NIDO, for consideration at a national as well as continental level.

Bathseba H. Belai is an independent researcher based in Montreal, Canada. She is currently conducting a study on mechanisms to facilitate an effective and sustainable engagement of the African Diaspora in the continent's capacity building efforts, with a focus on Ethiopia as a case study.This article was published in The Ethiopian Reporter.

Bathseba H. Belai

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

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