My story is that of a young man who finds his way to this chilly country where he had to master the language, chat endlessly about the weather and deal with a very strong individualistic culture. What made it bearable was my strong faith and belief that I would one day be successful here. This was no blind optimism. Like others, I knew it would not be easy. But I knew where I came from: a war zone, Liberia, escaping from the claws of poverty, from a place where I could not be the man I wanted to be. Yet, a remarkable aspect of living in the Diaspora is how differences between us seem to vanish. Our world-view becomes broader. But there is still a reason why we look for our fellow country men, to remind us of our roots because our past keeps haunting us. We try to find ways to deal with our past: by supporting projects in our country of origin, building schools, organising conferences about issues such as development and peace processes. This enables us to share our perceptions on the future of these countries. We try to keep our life balanced, to come to terms with both a gruesome past and a sunny future. This is both a blessing and a curse. Yet, it makes us unique. - Vamba Sherif | Novelist – Foreword in ‘Drivers of Change’
Drivers of Change and African Diaspora 20x20 Nights
Last 23rd September saw a group of mostly African, but with some Dutch and others, gather at the Nutshuis at The Hague for the African Diaspora 20 x 20 Night. According to the four organising NGOs, the purpose of the event was to raise awareness of the role and added value of the African Diaspora in the field of security and development in their countries of origin. The African Diaspora in the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe occupy a unique bridge-building position in which they can play a potential role in promoting peace in Africa. This strategic position enables African Diaspora individuals, groups and organizations to channel new and innovative approaches and practices in peace-making, negotiation and conflict transformation from host countries in Europe, such as the Netherlands, to their countries of origin. Thus, there is considerable potential in working with African Diaspora groups and organizations to promote security and, by extension, development back home. This valuable potential among the Diaspora can and should be sufficiently tapped.
During the event, Africans living in the Netherlands related their inspiring and successful stories of contributing to the development of their home countries. Their efforts vary from building a school to empowering women, and from stimulating entrepreneurship to changing mindsets. What sets these Africans apart isn’t only a steadfast commitment to peace and development, but also the fact that they are experts by experience. The event also included presentations from two Dutch NGOs that have long-standing programs to up-scale the capacity of Diaspora organizations. This will help to showcase how the Diaspora can be stimulated and supported to become more of a force for constructive development in their respective countries of origin, and will work to widen the civil society constituency in the Netherlands with regards to Africa.
I found attending the African Diaspora 20x20 Night was a fascinating and thrilling experience. Some of the ten presenters were my good friends, while I had heard of others, but that did not give an indication to what I was to witness. The 20x20 format of the presentations meant that each would tell their story in 20 minutes while showing 20 slides. Both story and pictures related to their personal and often intimate experiences in their lives. It was moving to hear how much they all talked about their early youth and how they were still related to their home countries or even more specific their communities in which they were born. At the same time one could not but admire their courage and determination to ‘make it’ in the Netherlands. And ‘make it’ they did, setting up successful and innovative business, organisations or projects, sure of their goals in life. It was clear that they had become an asset both worlds.
As the presentations took quite some time, questions and suggestions were handled in the creative alternative way of writing them on postcards, which were later mailed to the presenters for answering.
The evening ended with a cocktail cum networking session in which I found out that in the public were also many young African Diaspora entrepreneurs or otherwise engaged in linking their stay in the Netherlands to projects or activities in their home countries.
The organizations that collaborated in the African Diaspora 20x20 and the publication are mentioned at the end of this article with their background for your information.
“Drivers of Change - Personal and inspiring testimonials from the African Diaspora”
This is the title of the booklet containing the foreword I quoted at the start of my column this month. It is published in a bilingual, Dutch and English issue, illustrated with large portraits of the ten migrants figured. The personal stories were obtained in interviews conducted by Alberta Opoku, originally from Ghana and producer and co-presenter at Radio Netherlands World service. The photo portraits were taken by Rebke Klokke who lived and worked in Africa and the Netherlands.
Reading the book you will get the impressions I experienced and described above at the African Diaspora 20x20 Night. I do encourage you to read or even better get it. You can download the booklet at: http://www.Diaspora-centre.org/Peacebuilding/Expert_Meetings/African_Diaspora_20x20_Night. You can also order it from NCDO: http://www.ncdo.nl/index.php?menu=43&page=1298
Drivers of Change and Migration
The two most important drivers of change, wherever in our present world, are globalization and technological innovation, both enhanced by multi-media communication and commercialization. There is no escape for anyone, except perhaps in rural North Korea, but one day their curtain will be ripped open too, as it happened to the Berlin wall, the proverbial iron and the bamboo curtain. Then they want to have what those others have or be where those others are and so migration continues.
However the real ‘drivers of change are people, who in their own individual way change themselves, adapt to their new environment and together change society. Holland is no stranger to large groups of immigrants, like when after the bloody crushing of the Hungarian popular political uprising in 1956 a 300,000 people came and settled in the Netherlands, while another 300,000 Indonesian Dutch were repatriated, as it was then called, during the 1950s after Indonesia’s independence. These two quite homogenous groups have completely integrated in Dutch society and can only be recognised by their names for those from Hungary or physical features for those from Indonesia. Given that this happened just over fifty years ago, their second and even third generation, are as Dutch as any Dutch can be.
The African Diaspora in the Netherlands did not come in large groups, but trickled in given the adverse political situation in their countries in the 1970s and 1980s. More recently most of the African Diaspora in the Netherlands originates from seven countries located in the Great Lakes and the Horn of Africa regions - areas which are severely affected by protracted civil wars and other violent conflicts. Those seven countries are Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan in the Horn of Africa; and Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo in the Great Lakes region. This reality confirms the direct relation between violent conflicts and the increasing number of Africans migrating to Europe since 1990. The state of development in the homelands of the Diaspora continues to directly affect their lives and well-being, despite the fact that they reside far away from the conflict zones. It is therefore imperative to understand the critical role that African Diaspora groups play in the rebuilding of their homelands.
Interestingly the UNDP Human Development Report 2009 also gives an upbeat message about migration, recognising it as a means to expand capabilities of people. This it certainly did for the speakers on the African Diaspora 20x20 Night.
The African Diaspora Policy Centre (ADPC) - www.diaspora-centre.org - is an independent organization which was established in The Netherlands in 2006. ADPC provides a platform that enables the African Diaspora in Europe to connect more closely with the continent as a collective force, pool their resources and proactively undertake initiatives for the promotion of peace, better governance and brain gain in Africa. ADPC pursues its goals by facilitating the effective harnessing of the considerable, and largely untapped, social capital of the huge African Diaspora population in Europe for the promotion of peace, better governance and brain gain in Africa.
Himilio Relief and Development Association (HIRDA) - www.hirda.org - was set up in 1996 by a group of Somali Diasporas in The Netherlands with the prime concern of having a forum that will enable their contribution to the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Somalia. Through their consistent efforts, HIRDA became established as a foundation in 1998 with the clear aim of delivering development aid to Somalia. Starting with a focus on providing basic education to children in Bardera (Gedo region) and Abud-wak (Galgudud region), HIRDA has earned the confidence of Somali Diasporas and international donors to engage in other forms of relief programs. Since 2001, HIRDA has been receiving subsidies from mainstream donor organizations and has extended its presence to other Somali provinces and East African countries with ethnic Somalis.
Multicultural Women Peacemakers Network (MWPN) - www.mwpn.eu - is the concrete product of the basic trainings on peace-building initiated by Oxfam Novib in 2002 and 2003. These experiences were broadened and international linkages were developed during the 2003 international Peace conference organized by Oxfam Novib, NEAG, IFOR, and Vrouwen voor vrede op de Molukken. MWPN is a multicultural women peace-makers network in the Netherlands working for genuine peace based on a just and non-violent resolution of conflicts, respect for human rights and equal rights for men and women.
NCDO - www.ncdo.nl - involves people in the Netherlands in international cooperation and supports them with information, subsidies and advice. The Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) provide the point of reference for all of these activities. In order to increase the potential for international cooperation and to give a higher profile for the MDG’s, NCDO organizes and supports campaigns, debates, educational activities, exhibitions, media productions and cultural projects. NCDO also highlights the efforts of government and citizens to achieve the MDG’s.
*Ato Bob is a former Dutch Diplomat who now consults with various NGO’s on African issues. He lives in Rotterdam and may be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org