There is a need to teach African youth in the diaspora to keep their identity while also providing them with opportunities to play a role as active citizens in their countries of origin. Eritrea has vibrant examples of this
The role and contribution of Eritreans in the diaspora in the struggle for independence cannot be undermined. As many young Eritrean students migrated to North America, Europe and the Middle East during the 1970s, they became the key in supporting the armed liberation struggle for independence that was taking place in Eritrea at the time. This participation has laid the foundation for today’s diaspora’s nationalistic participation in the country’s development.
This transnational participation interprets and explains many features of Eritrean diaspora communities and their relation with the Eritrean nation state today. Besides having family ties to Eritrea and often supporting them through remittance, Eritreans in the diaspora can enjoy the rights of full citizenship, including opportunities to own land and open business, by paying a 2 percent voluntary tax. Twenty-two years after Eritrean independence, many from the diaspora continue to visit their homeland to invest, to witness and contribute to development efforts, to encourage their children to build a connection between their family and the Eritrean society at large.
Although the fervor of independence has yet to die down, and despite the fact that the threat to Eritrea’s sovereignty still exists with Ethiopia’s occupation of sovereign Eritrean land, it would be naïve to think that the strong connection Eritreans in the diaspora have with their country will last forever without any plan or effort to have new generations build a connection to their homeland. The nationalistic feelings of those in the diaspora during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s are difficult to match or recreate today. Besides the fact that Eritrea’s independence has since been achieved, the anti-bourgeois progressive movements of the 1970s are no longer with us. Today, youth aren’t as active in the fight for social justice as they were back then, mostly due to the fact that technology doesn’t require them to demonstrate as much commitment.
There is a need to teach and allow African youth in the diaspora to keep their identity while also providing them with opportunities to play a role as active citizens in their countries of origin. As Africa suffers from the brain drain, diaspora youth participation allows the opportunity of reversing the negative effects of it. And if the integration of the African diaspora wasn’t a necessity, the African Union (AU) would not have recognized them as the ‘sixth region of Africa’.
From 23-25 May 2012, the AU organized the Global Africa Diaspora Summit for Heads of States in South Africa, and to make sure that women and youth had the opportunity to include their input on proposed African Legacy Projects, a pre-summit event for them was organized. The summit, under the theme “Towards the Realization of a United and Integrated Africa and its Diaspora”, was organized by the AU because one of its main policy goals is to involve the diaspora more actively in the development of the continent. Moreover, the desired outcomes for the summit were legacy projects aimed at strengthening the economic and cultural ties of Africans around the world to their continent.
The five (5) legacy projects proposed were the following:
1. Database of professional skills in the African Diaspora
2. African Diaspora Investment Fund (ADIF)
3. Remittances in Sub-Saharan Africa
4. The development market and youth development project
5. Volunteer Corps Program
Already prior to the summit, the National Union of Eritrean Youth and Students (NUEYS) was conducting projects and programs that directly contribute to the achievement of two of the legacy projects (development market and youth development project, and the volunteer corps program), and has since also played a role in achieving the goal of the legacy project that aims to create a database for professional skills in the African Diaspora. NUEYS, which is a non-governmental, democratic grassroots organization based inside Eritrea, works actively to make sure that Eritrean youth in the diaspora can still have a connection with their country through other various programs as well.
NUEYS conducts a volunteer program especially for youth in the diaspora with the aim of enhancing social, cultural and educational exchange through volunteer work and internships, so as to develop the skills of Eritrean youth for community leadership in Eritrea and abroad. This program aims to strengthen the skills and development of young Eritreans from the diaspora through the facilitation of internships, volunteer work, community service, and national service, as well as through the support of community based projects in their country of residence upon completion of internships in Eritrea. In other words, this program aims at building youth leaders who would play a positive role in community development not just in Eritrea, but also in diaspora communities.
Also included in this program is the Youth Exchange Program and the Skills Transfer Program. For youth who cannot commit a few months to volunteer (often due to school and work obligations), NUEYS offers them smaller volunteer tasks that still allow for cultural exchange and intercultural dialogue between the youth from the diaspora and those who live inside Eritrea. This Youth Exchange Program is most vibrant between the months of May and August, as many Eritrean youth from the diaspora spend their summer vacation in Eritrea.
The Skills Transfer Program allows those who would like to share their skills or experience with interested youth to do so. For instance, if a young person from the diaspora would like to give a workshop, let it be a day or week long, NUEYS will provide them with the venue and equipment to conduct this workshop, as well as mobilize youth and student participants who would be interested in attending the workshop. This also holds true for seminars and lectures on topics of interest, which are usually one or two hours long.
Other programs conducted by the NUEYS that aim at increasing the involvement of diaspora youth in Eritrea’s development include the Diaspora Youth Participation program, as well as summer programs like the Zura nHagerka (Know Your Country) Tour Program and the mobilizing Diaspora youth to participate in the bi-annual National Eritrean Youth Festival (Eri-Youth Festival).
The Diaspora Youth Participation Program focuses on guiding youth in the Diaspora to conduct projects that contribute to the development of the motherland. NUEYS guides them by advising them on which projects are relevant and how they may raise funds for the project. NUEYS also acts as a partner to make sure the project is successfully implemented and that it is promoted through NUEYS’ media channels so that other youth can be encouraged to also contribute to their country’s development. Diaspora Youth Participation projects have already contributed to youth centers across the country through the provision of books and computers.
The Zura nHagerka (Know Your Country) Tour Program, as well as the bi-annual Eri-Youth Festival, aim at familiarizing youth in the diaspora with their country. It is through these activities that the youth receive an eye witness accounts of how thousands of young Eritreans in Eritrea are contributing to their country’s development on a daily basis. The Know Your Country Tour Program familiarizes diaspora youth with Eritrea’s history and heritage, and it allows them to interact with youth in Eritrea to find out how they live, work and actively participate in their country’s development. The same holds true for the Eri-Youth Festival, which is conducted every two years and which attracts some 25,000 participants, 3000 from the diaspora.
Recently, NUEYS has also been working to encourage youth in the diaspora to contribute to the DEAIMS Database initiative taken up by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the State of Eritrea. By doing so, NUEYS plays an aggressive role in increasing the number of young professionals who become part of a pool for agents and partners for development in their homeland, especially in critical sectors such as education, health, technology and business.
All of these efforts that aim at connecting Eritrean diaspora youth with their homeland are done in recognition of the valuable role the diaspora has and continues to play in Eritrea’s development. However, in spite of this important role they play, NUEYS holds the conviction that diaspora youth benefit just as much (and maybe even more) by taking the opportunity to contribute and participate as doing so strengthens their own identity and meaning in life. The youth of Africa’s diaspora face many challenges to integrate, and in many cases suffer from the negative effects of stereotyping, racism and xenophobia. An intimate connection with their country of origin plays a positive role to mitigate against these negative effects. They often learn about the history of Africa not from the voice of Africa but that imposed by imperialists. By connecting with their homeland, they not only get to learn the truth about their history, but also play a role in shaping their country’s future.
If all African countries took up programs similar to those taking place in Eritrea, we would be that much closer to creating Pan-African knowledge and historical dialogue. Moreover, today’s youth can play a key role in offering creative marketing strategies and developing IT infrastructures that expand the possibilities of global mobilization of people of African Descent.
* Rahel Weldeab is the head of the Foreign Affairs Department of the National Union of Eritrean Youth and Students (NUEYS), and is currently serving as the Vice-President of the Pan African Youth Union (PYU) for the East Africa/Indian Ocean region.
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