The Role of the Diaspora as stakeholders in Post-African ‘Arab Spring’ Reconstruction
By Albert Che Suh-Njwi
An Austrian Statesman once remarked: ‘When France Sneezes, Europe catches the Cold’. This aptly explains the revolutions that ignited in Tunisia late 2010 and spread like while fire across the Arab World. By the Spring of 2011, from Tunis to Algeria, Lybia, Morocco, Sudan, and Egypt, regimes either fell or pro-democatic reforms ushered in others, in what has been referred to as ‘the Arab Spring’ Revolutions. Notably important is the fact that the contributions of the Arab diaspora in realizing the Arab Spring Revolutions is no more a far-fetched illusion Although the on-going debate on the role of diasporas as either ‘peace-brokers’ and ‘peace-breakers’ in Africa is still very controversial, to a very large extent, the contributory efforts of the diaspora as stakeholders in post-conflict reconstruction, nation-building through the promotion of peace and development is also undisputable. But the history of revolutions teaches us that a revolution is a gradual process spanning over a period of time with its achievements measured in terms of the impact it has on posterity. As such, it would be erroneous to hastily conclude that the North African Arab Spring is over yet. There is still much left to be done as far as rebuilding state institutions and the rule of law all that guarantees sustainable peace and development as well as the rights of the minorities is concerned. Pulling down regimes and holding free and fair democratic elections are not enough for an accomplishment of a revolution, given that free and fair elections without the guaranties of the minority tantamount to the rise of illiberal democracy and the tyranny of the majority. As such, the contribution of the diaspora is needed now than ever before in the reconstruction process for the following reasons:
The diaspora is no longer seen as long-distant political agents. Their active involvement in providing logistical support through the social media and taking the front as commandos to over-throw Ghaddafi cannot be under-looked. Although changes have been effected, the revolution also brought a stand-still in the economies of these countries, with Libya suffering the greatest devastation by the conflict.
-Financially capital, is needed for reconstruction, development and prosperity. The diaspora remains a true partner in foul weather when foreign investment is curtailed. Even international financial institutions like the World Bank and IMF believe that diaspora investments could help to meet some of the funding needs in the years ahead in order to revamp their homeland economies.
-Intellectual capital manifested through good leadership as well as best practices remitted by the diaspora will proof to be indispensible for reconstruction and consolidation of the political structures in the newly-born democracies. The diaspora will impact their homelands positively with the reversal from ‘brain drain’ to ‘brain gain’
-Social capital that will lay concrete foundations for capacity-building of civil society that, hithertoe, suffered persecution from the ancient regimes. Diasporas stand to inculcate the art of tolerance by creating awareness built on social cohabitation. This would eventually generate political sophistication with the effects being felt in every spectrum of society.
-Cultural capital is advanced on the premises that revolution did not aimed at eradicating historical and cultural institutions but to render them more dynamic.
-Lastly, it is accepted that the diaspora has emerged as transnational actors. This is evident in its ability to mobilize resources towards the reconstruction of post-conflict societies. Given the homogeneity of the Arab regions, it is debatable as to whether the model of ‘good practices’ propounded by DIASPEACE research on Diasporas contribution to peace in the Horn of African involving Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea can be copied to the North of Africa as part of the post-revolutionary peace-building process.
It is easy said than done, the effective contributions of diasporas to the reconstruction of their homelands depends on two preponderant factors:
The ability of the diaspora itself to mobilize resources and to proof or convince the new leaders and civil society without any reasonable doubt that their involvement is an indispensible asset towards achieving sustainable peace and development; that they are worthy ‘peace brokers’ and not ‘peace breakers’. Also the capacity-building cohesion that prevails within the ranks of the diaspora is also non-negligible.
The willingness and enthusiasm of the leaders of the newly emerged democracies in North Africa to absorb the ideas and the potentials of the diaspora in their ranks. At this juncture, it becomes clear that the ball is in the court of the custodians of the newly acquired democracies in north Africa. This would be the unique opportunity for them to tap in to the resources of the diaspora. Failure to do so, they are not different from their predecessors. They risk steering the ship towards the rocks and posterity would hold them as ‘enemies’ instead of ‘children’ of the revolution.
To conclude, the role of the diaspora in shaping the future of the North African Arab Spring countries cannot be down-played. As emerging transnational stakeholders or co-development actors, they hold the master key towards sustainable peace and advancement of that part of the African continent - South of the Mediterranean. They possess the tools to remit both financially and psychologically. Their level of political sophistication and civil society building capacity is unparalleled with any in the region. If given the chance, they can contribute to deliver the goods that will consolidate the newly worn liberties through institutional structures and mechanisms that would render the Arab Spring ‘Glorious’.
*Albert Che Suh-Njwi holds an MSc in International Relations and Transnational Governance the Vrije University Amsterdam and is currently an Intern/researcher on Migration and Development at the African Diaspora Policy Centre (ADPC) in The Hague. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org