Rev. Tony Agbali reflects on the contributions of African immigrants to African Development:
The number of African immigrants in the US and Europe is increasing, and many are making significant strides in their individual pursuits. Some countries are urging these immigrants’ greater transnational participation in ensuring the development of their social and economic arena. Some of these immigrants have gone back home to their country of origin to contribute veritably to the development of the polity. An examples is that of the present Nigerian Minister of Finance, Dr. (Mrs.) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former World Bank Vice President, and others. Her expertise and skills were significantly useful in the recent Paris Club cancellation of $ 18 billion Nigeria debt. Thus, African immigrants have a germane role to play in contributing toward the development of their homeland polities.
African immigrants are resilient and critical agents of their homeland development. Many express this through income remittances that are sent home to relatives and friends. Others are involving themselves more radically in the politics of their homeland, with some leaving their adopted home to contest political offices, such as the examples of Dr. Chiromanke Nnamani of Enugu State Nigeria, a physician who left his practice in the United States to contest election. There are many more like these. Today, too, branches of Political Parties in Africa are establishing within immigrants’ destinations, with active members. Immigrant nationals of many African countries are agitating for their ability to participate in the political process, especially by voting in elections in their homeland, as the Iraqi did in their most recent elections.
African immigrants are noted, in the United States to have the highest level of educational attainment of any group, including native born Americans, for many years running, at least since or earlier than 1994. Many are excelling in their chosen career and professional paths, as well as making resounding economical progress. African immigrants are considered as likely becoming entrepreneurs than African-Americans. Even, second generation Americans descents of contemporary African immigrants are making enormous progress in their aspirations and drive toward insuring their future. In sports, the Udeze, Emeka Okafor, Owumi, even Fredie Adu, and Igali (Canadian) are among the many young people who are engrafting the African scion unto the American sports’ scene, not to talk about the substantial and pioneering efforts of earlier folks like Hakeen Olajuwon, Mutombo, (NBA), Chidi Okafor (NFL/Canadian), and others.
African immigrants are competing fairly and crucially. Many are in Wall Street, and even some were assumed to have died in the rubbles of the World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks. Africans are also fighting and dying against terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq. Some have died in loyalty to their adopted homelands. African Christians and Churches, African Moslems and Mosques, together with their clergies are coloring the ecological contours of diverse American urban spaces, and I guess that the same is true of Europe. African immigrant physicians have their practices in many discreet spaces in America, Canada, and Europe, and many of them are considered as excellent practitioners. African immigrant pharmacists are also found in different drug stores, hospitals, with some owning their own pharmacies. Even, against discrimination and racial hostilies many are performing exceedingly.
In the new realities facing Africa, these African immigrants and their children (the second generation) are vital to the future of Africa’s development. However, a vital problem exists, given their weak organizational institutions. Many African civic associations lack the social and political clout to influence policies in their adopted homelands, and even in their aboriginal nations. Thus, in their adopted homelands they like sojourners, and their voices and impact are substantially muted within their home polities. Above all, African organizations are fragmented entities without an overaching organizations, a Pan-African umbrella and clearing house to help foment African unity and crystallize as a powerful lobbying outfit for African issues.
Today, as the G-8 summit unfolds its agenda, there is no strong voice nor powerful lobbying groups that represent the views of African immigrants, yet their perspectives on issues are significant, and are not monolith. Thus, the immediate future involves a greater coalition of African interests for the sake of helping to foster the direction of African policies as perceived by African immigrant groups. It must be noted that many African associations are organized along national, ethnic, and hometown levels. Even, for most internal intrigues diminishes their resiliency in shaping policies in any reasonable manner. Often, internal squabble as it relates to leadership accountability dominates rather than focal preoccupation with issues. Other than these African immigrants can form powerful foundations, not for self-aggrandizement but as veritable instruments of pursuing germane African causes, especially toward shaping African policies and ensuring a greater understanding of African issues. Yet, these attempts do not have to follow a singular path to be successful, plural voices, and organizations concerned with divergent issues would suit the African need more.
The issue of organizing African immigrants is complex, but some attempts must be made to not only organize African immigrants, but to bring their issues to the front burner of the contemporary hegemonic interests. In so doing, these African immigrants would become essentially involved in improving the African social space. Within such constructs African political actors and foreign political entities would rally and channel cogent issues, through such conduits. And thus involve African immigrants more significantly in African matters at the global level. It is my wish that many African immigrants’ organizations would rally themselves toward engendering such a strong voice as it regards to African issues. Other areas that need such articulation is in the areas of helping to propel businesses such as airlines, phone companies, IT industry to help discount their prices so that more Africans can benefit. Thus, it must be stated that the cost of traveling to Africa and phone calls to most African countries are highly prohibitive. As African leaders rally to enhance some level of development, as perceived from their joint and individual efforts toward the African debt cancellation (recollection), African immigrants can be instrumental in their collectivity to ensure social change by utilizing their critical agency and social spaces to contribute focally toward African developmental issues.
Also, I am wondering whether African immigrants cannot be relevant toward ensuring horizontal development, from below and at the African grassroot levels, through driving and supporting efforts such as I noted before I left Nigeria in 1997. That has to do with the resilient transformations that occurred in spite of poverty in terms of individuals' creativity. The facts I am pointing to are trajectories such as the "engine forging." This scenario entails that given the lack of spare parts, mechanics were able to transfer let say a "toyota" engine that is considered as reliable and fuel efficient into a Mercedes car. I was personally amazed, when in spite of my initial protest my mechanics ordered such technological "suturing" on my used Mitsubishi Gallant car, using a Toyota camry engine. I do not know if copyrights laws pertain to such innovations, but it worked fine for me, until I had to give up the car, and of course I found that method far cheaper and cost effective given the fact that the money crunch, given the delay in timely salary payments and owing of salary arrears, together with fuel scarcity was a major hallmark of the Abacha regime then in Nigeria.
Later, I learnt that many folks who used to buy Lister generators have switched to "grounding" (milling) engines creatively affixed to electric generating coils in producing electricity for domestic usage, that was less expensive maintenance wise, than most of the traditional Electric generating Lister or Peters generators. When I visited a friend of mine in 2000 in his Parish, in the backwoods of Idomaland, I was amazed with the intense electricity this innovative approach to power supply generated for his domestic use. Well, some might snob at the idea adjudged in terms of the issue of environmental pollution, but I realized that the fumes from this "grounding" generators was actually lesser than the one my former formally appropriately" designed Lister electric generator in my former parish oozed unto the environment. Such approaches could be better promoted and supported through immigrants investment, research, funding, and promotion.
In this vein, I hope that the issues of African immigrants will be among the core ones among to be discoursed relative to the theme of the African Conference organized by Professor Toyin Falola, holding in March 2006, in Austin, focusing on Migration, Movements, and Displacement. My own research in this direction, looking at African Immigrants experiences in urban America and their mode of social identity construction relative to their religious values, institutions, and participation in St. Louis (a traditional American immigration center), presents to me the enormous significance of African immigrants in their role of fostering African development. Without pre-empting the conference agenda, in the light of recent development, we look forward to many more African immigrants, as individuals and groups to contribute to discussions on Africa at a more substantial level in forums (for a) that matters.