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Mobilizing the Gambian Diaspora for National Development

JONES

Gambian Diaspora, defined as peoples of Gambian origin living outside Gambia, can play an increasingly important role in the country’s development both through the financial resources they send back to their home country and through their professional expertise. According to the 2019 budget speech, remittances flow from Gambian diaspora was US$136.7 million.

China, Korea, and India are among the countries which have shown that Diaspora contribution can significantly help to transform economies. The approaches adopted by these Asian nations point to country-driven initiatives that are built on shared development objectives between the government and the Diaspora, and underlined by comprehensive policies, administrative structures and incentives to foster an enabling environment for mobilizing Diaspora resources (expertise, investments, entrepreneurship and corporate affiliations) around critical growth pillars.

Chinese, Indian, and Korean, and other communities of Diaspora nationals have been heralded as champions in knowledge and skills transfer, and foreign direct investment (FDI) flows from their adopted economies to their homes of origin, contributing in part to the rapid pace of industrialization that these countries have witnessed.

Over the past 22 years, the Gambia suffered from massive brain drain that weakened our institutions especially the civil service.The skills flight from 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 labor to seek opportunities outside the continent.

The Gambian Diaspora should be considered not just as sources of financing but also 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 honored and respected. Indeed Gambians in the Diaspora detest bureaucratic inertia and corruption that characterizes public administration;
  3. Security sector forces which 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 includes 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 health and education sectors.

The Gambian Diaspora can play a positive role in poverty reduction and the Government of the Gambia recognizes this and has established a 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.

(a)    The Government and the Gambian Diaspora should agree on a shared national development vision around which to mobilize Diaspora resources.

(b)     An enabling environment is a pre-requisite to successful Diaspora engagement.

(c)     The Government must appreciate Gambian brainpower no matter where it resides.

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