Select Committee on International Development Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Africian Foundation for Development (AFFORD)

  1.  As an organisation with a mission to expand and enhance the contribution that Africans in the diaspora make to Africa's development, the African Foundation for Development (AFFORD) welcomes this opportunity to comment on the White Paper "Eliminating World Poverty: Making Globalisation Work for the Poor" (Cm 5006) published on 11 December 2000. There is much to support in the White Paper that contains many welcome policy initiatives, not least because it places firmly on the agenda the need for a regime of global governance commensurate to the challenges of managing processes of globalisation in the interests of equity, justice and human-centred development.

  2.  In this memorandum we seek to draw attention to a significant area not substantially addressed in the White Paper, namely the causal link between globalisation and the movement of people and the development policy implications that flow from this link. Our comments here draw upon our earlier submission ("Globalisation and development: a diaspora dimension", attached[12] and with references omitted from this memorandum) to the Government during consultations prior to the White Paper's publication. This link between contemporary processes of globalisation and migration is developed convincingly by research by the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

  3.  A key feature of globalisation today is the rapid flow of capital to what investors consider are the most profitable (especially in the short-term) centres of production. In previous eras, people were encouraged (or forced as in the case of slaves and indentured labour) to move to where the work was. But, according to the ILO, increasing hostility towards migrants in prosperous countries notwithstanding, the social disruption caused by economic restructuring is likely to shake more people loose from their communities and encourage them to look abroad for work.

  4.  According to the World Bank, between 2 million and 3 million people emigrate each year, the majority of them to just four countries: the United States, Germany, Canada, and Australia, in that order. The World Bank reports that a total of 130 million people now live outside their country of birth, a number that has been rising at the rate of 2 per cent a year. Even though this total number is small in relation to the world population as a whole, the majority of migrants are concentrated in North America, Western Europe, Oceania, and the Middle East, giving them a far greater impact than the absolute numbers alone would suggest. In North America and Western Europe the migrant stock grew at 2.5% a year between 1965 and 1990, far outstripping growth of indigenous populations.

  5.  The 1991 British Census revealed that just over three million people or 5.5 per cent of the population could be classified as belonging to an ethnic minority group. Numerically significant groups identified in 1991 included Indian (nearly 28 per cent), Black Caribbean (nearly 16 per cent), Pakistani (nearly 16 per cent), Black African (7 per cent), Bangladeshi (5.5 per cent), and Chinese (just over 5 per cent). Over half (56.2 per cent) the people of minority ethnic origin in 1991 lived in the South East, 44.6 per cent lived in Greater London, 14.1 per cent in the West Midlands. Many people in Britain who are of minority ethnic origin (that we refer to here as diasporas) maintain active links with their regions of origin, often supporting the development of these regions.

  6.  AFFORD's research suggests that diaspora engagement in Africa can take a number of forms: (a) person-to-person transfers of money, consumer goods, and even larger items such as cars, mainly to family, immediate and extended; (b) community-to-community transfers for constructive but sometimes for destructive purposes; (c) identity building/awareness raising in current home about ancestral home either with other members of the same community or with wider groups; (d) lobbying in the current home on issues relating to the ancestral home either of current home politicians or visiting ancestral home leaders; (e) trade with, and investment in, the ancestral home (including via electronic commerce); (f) transfers of intangible resources such as information, knowledge, values and ideas; (g) support for development on a more "professional" basis through non-governmental organisations, associations and structured programmes; payment of taxes in the ancestral home.

  7.  Even in straight monetary terms, this diaspora engagement in regions of origin is by no means insignificant, even if it is under-reported because probably no more than 50% of remittances go through official or formal channels. In 1989 the IMF estimated that the $65 billion of official transfers dwarfed the $46 billion in official development assistance (ODA) to developing countries. We need also to consider that in the ensuing 11 years, migration has increased while ODA has decreased. More recent research suggests that remittances accounted for between $70 and $75 billion a year in the early 1990s, representing a large proportion of world financial flows, second in value only to oil among aggregate international trade and financial transactions. According to the World Bank, that $75 billion figure is 50 per cent more than ODA. Arguably, therefore, diasporas taken as a whole are more significant "aid donors" than are official aid agencies and governments.

  8.  With unemployment, underemployment, social exclusion, and poverty increasing in many developing countries, access to remittances can be an essential part of poor people's strategy to secure a livelihood for themselves. This fact is not lost on developing country governments. Indeed, in a recent quip made in response to a query about his views on Ugandans abroad, President Musevini described his compatriots in the diaspora as Uganda's "greatest export" (now more significant than coffee) as they send an estimated $400 million home each year. Quite possibly, these transfers by migrants tackle poverty at the point where it is felt more directly, effectively and efficiently than numerous other development initiatives spearheaded by governments, multilateral agencies and non-governmental organisations.

  9.  However, significant as they are, remittances are not the only way that diasporas contribute to development in their regions of origin. Our submission to the Government documented a case study of successful efforts by the widely dispersed Somaliland diaspora, working with a range of actors in Somaliland itself, to establish the University of Somaliland.

  10.  Seen in this light, it is rather disappointing that prior to publication of its White Paper, the Government did not conduct research into what it perceives as the balance between the positive elements of migration (remittances, transfer of skills and knowledge) and the cost to developing countries in terms of skills shortages. There is already considerable research on these issues upon which the Government could have built to develop significant policy initiatives in this important area.

  11.  The World Bank, for instance, notes that "cross-border migration, combined with the `brain drain' from developing to industrial countries, will be one of the major forces shaping the landscape of the 21st century, for at least three reasons. First, migration is causing dramatic shifts in the demographic profiles of both industrial and developing countries. Second, the movement of highly skilled people from the developing world affects low-income countries and recipient countries alike. Third, the international diasporas have tremendous business potential."

  12.  Our concern is that the relationship between migration, globalisation and development is too far down the Government's list of priorities.

  13.  Moreover, this omission in the White Paper robbed the Government of the opportunity to build on the earlier policy enunciated in its November 1997 White Paper on International Development, Eliminating World Poverty: A Challenge for the 21st Century. In that White Paper, the Government committed itself to "build on the skills and talents of migrants and other members of ethnic minorities within the UK to promote the development of their countries of origin". It is surprising, therefore, to hear that three years later the Government is doing no more than undertaking more research on these issues.

  14.  AFFORD and partner organisations welcomed this commitment in memoranda to the International Development Committee, however, we are disappointed at the slow progress in translating this commitment into concrete action.

  15.  Migration, in our view, has received a bad press (both literally and metaphorically) in recent times. Our submission to the Government put the case for a more positive and balanced view of the complex processes and impact of migration. Ignoring it will not make the phenomena disappear and may lead to bad or ineffective policy. (For instance, World Bank analysis and prescriptions appear not to take into account these transfers or how they could be made more developmentally effective.)

  16.  In the wake of the publication of this important White Paper, we urge the International Development Committee to establish that the Government does have a clear, coherent (cross-Departmental) policy on migration and Britain's ethnic minorities that enhances in every way possible the Government's overall goal of eliminating world poverty in the context of the challenges and opportunities posed by globalisation. Key questions in this regard are what views the Department for International Development (DFID) takes on the diverse ways that Britain's ethnic minorities engage in and support overseas development, whether DFID has a strategy for engaging with ethnic minorities, what plans it has for this engagement, and what indicators of success it will look for.

  17.  Arguably, the need for so-called "joined-up" government has never been stronger. Many of the initiatives that would make contributions by members of Britain's ethnic minorities to the Government's efforts to make globalisation work for the poor are amenable to policy initiatives by various government departments including DFID, the Home Office, and the Department for Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS).

  18.  The conditions under which diaspora groups exist within the UK shape to significant degrees their propensity and capacity to contribute to development in their regions of origin. Diaspora with access to jobs that reflect their educational attainment, skills and experience, the ability to travel freely, and an overall degree of integration within the host society will be able to play more effective roles as development players than those marginalised and stigmatised by laws, policies and hostile public opinion. Responsibility for these issues lie primarily with the Home Office.

  19.  We welcome the Government's commitment to ensure that efforts to plug skills gaps in Britain by recruiting skilled professionals from developing countries do not undermine those countries' development efforts. However, a key question upon which the Government's silence is troubling is what about those members of minority ethnic groups who are already here and engaging in development efforts in their regions of origin? Clearly not all the migrants of minority ethnic origin in this country were recruited as skilled professionals (in 1991 nearly half, 46.8 per cent, of people of minority ethnic origin were born in the UK). For instance, some came here to acquire skills and although they have stayed, they have maintained active links with their regions of origin.

  20.  For these reasons, we feel that the Government's response to the mobility of people as spelt out in the White Paper is too narrow. We seek reassurance, that it remains committed to its earlier intention of working with migrants and ethnic minorities to develop their regions of origin.

  21.  Given the Government's professed concern that outflows of skilled people from developing countries exacerbate skills shortages, scope exists to now work with skilled migrants, developing country governments, multilateral agencies, and regional organisations to address the problem using flexible schemes that make use of knowledge networks, temporary assignments, etc. For instance, in seeking to tackle the brain drain phenomenon and build human capacity in the region, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa has devised a strategy in partnership with other agencies to reach out to skilled Africans abroad. The British Government could support (and encourage other development agencies to support) this and other initiatives. In passing, we note that estimates suggest that expatriate staff participating in technical assistance programmes in Africa alone cost some $4 billion a year, finding ways to make more effective use of Africans abroad could enable more effective and efficient use of overseas development budgets.

  22.  Our submission pointed to other areas of government activity where joining up different strands of policy would likely add value to the overall effort to eliminate world poverty by managing globalisation more effectively (in relation to ethnic minority diasporas). These include policies by the DCMS to maximise efforts to generate support for development among the public in Britain via appropriate media policies and schemes; Home Office reform of the voluntary sector to ensure that organisations run by people of minority ethnic origin receive the support and recognition their work deserves; Home Office reform of the voluntary sector to tackle institutional racism within international development agencies (part of the UK's voluntary sector); use of information and communications technologies to improve communications and co-operation between ethnic-national diasporas and their home regions in line with efforts by the Prime Minister's Office to bridge the digital divide.

  23.  However, in conclusion we return to a fundamental point. The Government must first take a more rounded view of migration (in all its facets) and understand the diverse ways (including negative ones) that diasporas engage in development in their regions of origin. The issue requires serious consideration and engagement by the Government, with coherent policies that reflect its significance. We hope that the International Development Committee will urge the Government to clarify its position in this area (and if necessary to give it a higher priority) and set a clear timetable and plan of action for broadening its attempts to manage globalisation in equitable ways to include consideration of the important actual and potential role of diasporas in development.

African Foundation for Development (AFFORD)

January 2001

12   Not printed. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 14 March 2001