To mark the 20th anniversary of the African Union, EUDiF Diaspora Engagement Specialist Elvina Quaison, spoke to Angela Odai, acting head of the diaspora division of the AU’s Citizens and Diaspora Directorate.
On the 9th September 2022 the African Union celebrates its 20th anniversary. This day marks the evolution of the de-colonialization and anti-apartheid focused Organisation of African Unity (OAU) into the future which focuses on a people-centred African Union. This shift, confirmed through the signing of the Sirte Declaration in Libya on 9 September 1999, marked an ideological transformation on the continent with a commitment to prioritise inclusive social and economic development, continental and regional integration, democratic governance and peace and security amongst other issues aimed at repositioning Africa to becoming a dominant player in the global arena. The African Union was officially launched on 9 July 2002 in Durban, South Africa.
Over the last twenty years, the African Union has forged partnerships and developed initiatives in line with its mandate and worked to enhance cohesion and cooperation across the continent and beyond. In 2013, the Agenda 2063 was created to serve as Africa’s ‘blueprint and masterplan’ to create the “Africa we want”. The Agenda provides a vision of where Africa’s planned trajectory is headed and enables entry points of participation for those who share this vision.
In celebration of the 20 year milestone, the “Our Africa, Our Future” campaign is underway to highlight the achievements of the AU and support the objective to connect the AU to over one billion African citizens. Prior to the creation of the Agenda 2063, the Citizens and Diaspora Directorate (CIDO) had been working towards the goal of integration by establishing connections with African diaspora communities globally, in accordance with the Declaration of the Global African Diaspora Summit (GADS). CIDO’s work has been crucial to strengthen ties between the diaspora and their countries of origin, highlighting the possibilities diaspora engagement offers AU member states and the continent as a whole.
With this history and ambition in mind, Elvina spoke to CIDO’s Acting Head of Diaspora Division, Angela Odai, about this moment of celebration and what the future has in store for CIDO.
EQ: Angela, how important have the diaspora been to the progress of the African Union over the last 20 years?
AO: The African diaspora have been an integral part of the African Union and played a fundamental role in the transition from what was the Organisation of African Unity to what is now the African Union. African Heads of State noted that the objectives of the OAU, which saw to the end of colonialism and apartheid, were achieved with the involvement of African civil society actors both within and outside the continent. So, in 2003, an amendment to the Constitutive Act officially introduced the diaspora as an important stakeholder for the AU and encouraged full participation of the diaspora community. Consequently, the Citizens and Diaspora Directorate was born in 2005 to streamline the activities of the African diaspora into the policies and plans of the Union. In 2012, the AU organised the Global African Diaspora Summit; this led to the Summit Declaration which is, for us, the Magna Carta of diaspora engagement within the AU and the adoption of the five Diaspora Legacy Projects by Heads of State and Government.
Thinking of the anniversary campaign “Our Africa, Our Future”, how does the AU envision involvement from the African diaspora on the continent?
Firstly, we are reminding the world that we are recognising a decade since the Global African Diaspora Summit. We have connected with AU diaspora networks to share their views on the engagement process so far.
Secondly, the AU has long been highlighting the importance of diaspora involvement in various ways including on key global platforms, including recently the EUDiF African regional thematic events and the regional consultations which took place in the lead up to the Global Diaspora Summit, the Global Diaspora Summit itself, and the International Migration Review Forum (IMRF) amongst others.
Furthermore, the Republic of Togo and CIDO is leading a Continental agenda themed,” The Decade of African Roots and Diasporas” to be commemorated this year.
All of this to say that, given the huge variety of the African diaspora, reflecting different eras in history, diaspora involvement is viewed as very important within the AU. The diaspora is part of Africa, and therefore part of its future.
Having reflected on the past, what are CIDO’s plans to work with and support the African diaspora for the next 20 years?
CIDO is focused on strengthening ties with diaspora through the formation of an internal AU diaspora engagement framework, in recognition of the 2012 Global African Diaspora Summit Declaration. CIDO’s diaspora are not homogenous, so it covers diverse sectors and themes and would like to make use of key AU Representative Offices to engage the diaspora in a more proactive and cross-cutting manner. We plan to hold annual diaspora fora to foster continuity and growth in the engagement process. We would also like to work with more thinktanks to merge research, advocacy and practice to ensure greater understanding of the diaspora’s needs and motivations. This will help us find and create avenues to encourage an active and integrated continental diaspora, all geared towards development
Thinking about the next generation, what difference do you see in the way younger generations of diaspora are engaging with the continent and how is CIDO reflecting this interest?
Most young African diaspora are interested in creating viable investment or business opportunities in Africa. There is also a huge interest in leading the continent towards digitalisation. CIDO has been working with other AU departments and partners to bring to fruition the Diaspora Development Marketplace legacy project among other continental projects. We also facilitate awareness raising of diasporas and their relevant projects in collaboration with other departments.
Thank you, Angela, for sharing the important role of diaspora in the establishment, growth and plans of the AU and happy AU day!
Angela Naa Afoley Odai, is the Acting Head of the Diaspora Division at the Directorate of Citizens and Diaspora Organisations (CIDO) of the African Union Commission in Addis Ababa. Angela is a development expert with 13 years of experience in diaspora engagement and migration and development at both national and continental levels.