Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Africa's secret weapon: The diaspora

By Amini Kajunju, Special to CNN
November 1, 2013 -- Updated 1106 GMT (1906 HKT)
  • African Diaspora can boost continent's prosperity, says Amini Kajunju
  • They can dispel myths about Africa and help shape foreign policy, she says
  • Skilled diasporan professionals are investing in Africa

Editor's note: A native of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Amini Kajunju is the first African woman to ever serve at the helm of The Africa-America Institute, the oldest nonprofit organization of its kind in the United States.

(CNN) -- Each year, bright, optimistic Africans leave home to earn an education or seek a better economic life abroad for themselves and their families. With fewer opportunities in their home country, many never return home.

The African Diaspora is broadly defined by the African Union Commission as "peoples of African origin living outside the continent, irrespective of their citizenship and nationality and who are willing to contribute to the development of the continent and the building of the African Union."

Globally, Africans in the diaspora are spread out across the continents. In North America, there are 39 million from the African Diaspora; 113 million in Latin America; 13.6 million in the Caribbean; and 3.5 million in Europe, the World Bank estimates.

Amini Kajunju
Amini Kajunju

The African Diaspora is not a monolithic group -- some were born and reared outside of their home country; many migrated to Europe, the United States and other parts of the world at a young age; while others arrived to attend college.

No matter how they arrived in their adopted country, diasporans bring a distinct perspective to the discourse on Africa because they have experienced both worlds and can serve as a bridge in fostering greater understanding between the continent and their adopted country.

Read this: Africa's most exciting photographers

My personal story is that I have lived most of my life as an African diasporan. I was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Yet, in my father's pursuit to attain a higher education and better career opportunities, my family moved to Japan, the United States, and then Liberia. I returned to the United States for my undergraduate and post-graduate degrees, and remained in the States to build my career.

We live in an interconnected world. My life embodies this interconnection. I love my adopted country of America and all that it has to offer; and Africa is where my roots are and where my heart and passion live. With this duality, I try to marry these worlds the best way that I can in my daily life.

Diasporans can help dispel myths and stereotypes about Africa to change the narrative about the continent.
Amini Kajunju, The Africa-America Institute

The organization that I lead, The Africa-America Institute (AAI) has served as a bridge between continents for 60 years. As African nations were gaining independence from colonial rule in 1953, AAI was founded to build human capacity on the continent by providing opportunities for African students to pursue academic degrees at top universities in the United States.

After receiving their degrees, more than 90% of our alumni returned home to become leaders in the public, non-profit, and private sectors in Africa, where they contributed to strengthening the foundation for African development.

Read this: 'New wind of change is blowing through Africa'

With 23,000 AAI alumni worldwide, we proudly count prominent alumni such as Wangari Maathai, the late Kenyan environmental and women's rights activist and Nobel Laureate; Prime Minister H.E. Nahas Angula of Namibia; and President Joyce Banda of Malawi, among other distinguished African leaders.

Today, AAI offers rigorous professional development and leadership training programs through our African partner institutions to women and men who exhibit talent and leadership in key fields -- and who display a deep commitment to advancing to Africa's development.

Indeed, Africans in the diaspora have so much to offer the continent, boosting one of the world's fastest-growing economic regions -- six of the 10 fastest growing markets in the world are in sub-Saharan Africa.

'Why you should give Africa a chance'
Amini Kajunju: Pushing for a better Africa

By leveraging the skills, ingenuity and resources that the African Diaspora possesses, diasporans are uniquely positioned to contribute to boosting economic growth and prosperity in Africa.

Firstly, diasporans can help dispel myths and stereotypes about Africa to change the narrative about the continent. All diasporans can serve as "brand ambassadors" to bring a new vision and inspiring ideas for Africa.

By and large, the three "Ds" about Africa -- death, despair and disease -- still prevail in the minds of many people in the Western world. African diasporans, especially young people, can become the face of a "new Africa" -- educated, optimistic, and actively working to transform and shape Africa's future.

Secondly, diasporans can help shape foreign policy. Since many in the African Diaspora still maintain strong connections to the continent, diasporans can help influence foreign policy priorities by offering informative analysis of on-the-ground realities in African nations and sharing under-reported success stories of progress taking place, as well as solutions to development challenges.

Read: How African innovation can take on the world

Lastly, diasporans can bring their talent, energy, skills and technological know-how to furthering economic progress in Africa. Many Africans in the diaspora want to eventually go back home after living abroad. However, one of their biggest challenges is finding suitable employment once they return.

The demand for talent is high in Africa, yet the wide skills gap is a sobering reality. A McKinsey Global Institute Report estimates that 122 million people will be added to Africa's labor force between 2010 and 2020, creating a burgeoning labor force of more than 500 million across the continent.

Skilled professionals from the African Diaspora are recognizing the tremendous opportunities that exist in Africa and are repatriating home in greater numbers to fill top positions at multinational corporations and organizations on the continent. They are also investing in Africa's emerging markets and launching African-led businesses and enterprises to create well-needed jobs and spur economic growth.

Harnessing the talents and expertise of the African Diaspora can help to bolster Africa's workforce development. Recognizing this tremendous asset, AAI hosted a Talent Summit where mid-career professionals from the diaspora learned about the challenges and opportunities of launching a career in Africa or at leading Africa-focused organizations in the United States. Attendees left the summit armed with information to plan a possible career transition.

Mobilizing the full participation of Africans in the diaspora is a win-win for Africa, and can foster stronger connections between continents to accelerate Africa's social and economic development.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Amini Kajunju.

Part of complete coverage on
African Voices
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Australia's Tim Cahill appeals to the linesman after a disallowed goal during the Group B match between Chile and Australia at Arena Pantanal on June 13, 2014 in Cuiaba, Brazil.
Kenya's national football team may not have made it to the World Cup Finals in Brazil -- but one man will be there for his African nation.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1044 GMT (1844 HKT)
African contemporary art is thriving, says author Chibundu Onuzo.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 1239 GMT (2039 HKT)
Mulenga Kapwepwe
Mulenga Kapwepwe has single-handedly created an explosion of arts in Zambia.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1230 GMT (2030 HKT)
Wegkruipertjie, a short film playing at the Durban International Festival
From Ghanaian rom-coms to documentaries celebrating 20 years of South African democracy, festival-goers are spoiled for choice at this year's Durban Film Fest.
June 10, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Kalibala with one of the children she supports.
In 2010, Ugandan journalist Gladys Kalibala embarked on a mission to bring attention to her country's lost and abandoned children.
June 3, 2014 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
Sunset at Camps Bay with one of Andrew van de Merwe.
A trip to the beach is usually for lounging in the sun. But for Andrew van de Merwe, the sand stretches in front of him as an enormous blank canvas.
June 17, 2014 -- Updated 1240 GMT (2040 HKT)
Esther Mbabazi, Rwanda's first female pilot
Esther Mbabazi wheels her bag towards the airstairs of the Boeing 737 sitting quietly on the tarmac at Kigali International Airport.
May 20, 2014 -- Updated 1122 GMT (1922 HKT)
Jun 1978: Filbert Bayi #42 of Tanzania rounds the bend during the 5000 Metre event at the AAA Championships in Crystal Palace, London.
He's smashed world records and revolutionized running during his career. And yet the name of Filbert Bayi has largely been forgotten.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1249 GMT (2049 HKT)
Nelson Mandela
Adrian Steirn and the 21 ICONS team have captured intimate portraits of some of South Africa's most celebrated. Here he reveals the story behind the photographs.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 0926 GMT (1726 HKT)
Explore a series of artistic street portraits designed to pay tribute to the people of the Sudanese capital.
August 5, 2014 -- Updated 1557 GMT (2357 HKT)
A growing list of popular African authors have been steadily picking up steam --and fans -- across the globe over the last several years.
May 28, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
David Kinjah njau and Davidson Kamau kihagi of Kenya in action during stage 2 of the 2007 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race.
He's one of Kenya's premier cyclists but David Kinjah's better known as the man that trained Tour de France champion Chris Froome.
May 19, 2014 -- Updated 0942 GMT (1742 HKT)
The President and founder of the organisation 'Femmes Africa Solidarite' (Women Africa Solidarity), Bineta Diop.
Senegalese human rights activist Bineta Diop reveals why she is willing to risk her life to help women in Africa.
Each week African Voices brings you inspiring and compelling profiles of Africans across the continent and around the world.