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14.10.2008 Business & Finance

African Finance Ministers and Donors meet chart new course


A Consultative Meeting on "Mobilizing the African Diaspora for Development" was held on Sunday with African Governments, Africa Union (AU), the African Development Bank, USAID, IFC, France and other donor partners at the World Bank during the 2008 Annual Meetings.

Ms Obiageli Ezekwesili, World Bank's Vice President for the Africa Region chaired the meeting, a release from the Bank Office in Accra said.

The Vice President urged African Ministers to take concrete steps to create room for the participation of the Diaspora in their national sectoral development programmes, such as in health, education, energy, and agriculture.

She called on African Governments to "recognize even more the importance of creating enabling environments to truly mobilize the Diaspora and leverage their contributions to national development through remittances and virtual or real return programmes and work on Diaspora policy frameworks."

Ms Ezekwesili said the Bank would offer support to governments "where there is a clearly demonstrated demand and country ownership" through, for example, robust but selective analytical advisory activities, and consultations on Country Assistance Strategies.

The Bank's financial team is already working on reducing the cost of remittances and improving data on remittance flows to African countries. Assessment work is underway in several countries, for example, Uganda and Nigeria. The Diaspora is involved in selected Bank lending operations - a tourism project in Ethiopia is currently under preparation.

Ms Ezekwesili outlined the evolution of the partnership between the Bank and the African Union on the Diaspora initiative. The partnership was formalized by the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding on September 26, 2008.

She highlighted the support the African Development Bank, European donors, the USAID and CIDA have given to the Diaspora agenda, an agenda she described as an ignored but vitally important aspect of Africa's development, adding: "The agenda is not symbolic, it is substantive."

The Deputy Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Mr Erastus Mwencha observed that the AU considered the Diaspora its sixth constituency and the organization has created space for the Diaspora in its governance structure.

"They have a place at the table and a voice," he said. Together with the Bank, the AU is working to identity key sectors in which the Diaspora can participate.

The President of the African Development Bank, Donald Kaberuka, underscored the support his organization was giving to the initiative. He highlighted a study of the role and impact of remittances that the African Development Bank, with support of the French government has undertaken.

"Reducing transaction cost and volatility embedded in remittances is crucial," he said. He announced that his organization was looking into how the economic slow down in the developed world might affect remittances to Africa.

The Administrator of USAID, Henrietta Fore, enumerated the various forms of engagement with the Diaspora that USAID has established over the years and new ways of engagement that were taking shape.

The French Deputy Minister for Immigration, Integration, National Identity and Development Partnership, Kacim Kassel presented the newly created Ministry's mandate and explained that his Government has increased its total budget allocation ten fold since the establishment of the Ministry two years ago.

The Ministry is collaborating with the World Bank in three specific activities - contributing to a Trust Fund to mobilize migrants for a total amount of three million Euros over three years; contributing 375,000 Euros to the Bank's flagship report on Remittances in Africa; and contributing to the 2009 Development Market for Diaspora in Europe.

Thierry Tanoh, Vice president, International Finance Corporation (IFC, the private sector arm of the World Bank) described the African Diaspora as a key source of knowledge, technical expertise and capital, and outlined the various ways in which IFC engaged the Diaspora in its programmes.

Ministers from Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali and Tanzania, described their countries' engagement with the Diaspora and the steps they were taking to create a more enabling environment.

These included consideration of dual citizenship, opening up a national pension scheme to include the Diaspora, and assuring the Diaspora of tax exemption on their money and safety whenever they decided to remit these moneys back to home countries for investment.