Development Dialogue 2018 | Pan-African diasporas in the Brussels bubble: new actors, new business? by Valentina Brogna

Pan-African diasporic networks are emerging in Europe as new lobbying actors within EU-Africa relations under the prism of development cooperation. Who are they, and can they influence EU development policy? This article shows that pan-African diasporic networks as new actors within (or without) EU-Africa relations try to propose different narratives on the African continent, advancing the cause of African-led development.

EU-Africa relations are tightly linked to development cooperation. Civil society tries to influence development policies, gathering around International Non-Governmental Development Organisations (INGDOs). Recently, pan-African diasporic networks have been created with apparently similar purposes, gaining visibility in the same EU political instances, but also African (AU, ACP Group) and international ones.

Many questions relate to the rising of pan-African diasporic networks in Europe, including on development theory (which paradigm(s)?), EU lobbying (which advocacy strategies? why lobbying the EU?), social movement studies (do pan-African diasporic networks and INGDOs ignore, clash, co-opt one another?), and African and diaspora studies (how do pan-African diasporic networks evaluate their representativeness as the sixth African Region?). With these questions in mind, I enucleate the ‘diaspora’ concept and sketch features of some pan-African Diasporic Networks active at European level.


I consider African ‘diaspora(s)’ inasmuch as networks and organisations that take ownership of this term, a “category of mobilization” (Kleist 2008, cited in Sinatti and Horst 2015), with the aim to unify what seems disperse, thus strengthening their agency vis-à-vis political institutions. Definitions of ‘diaspora’ in scientific literature stress ideas of dispersion (of people in distant places, normally abroad), relation-keeping (with the hailing country) (Van Hier, Pieke, Vertovec 2004, cited in Norglo et al. 2016), transnationality (Clifford 1994, cited in Norglo et al. 2016, Sökefeld 2006) and imagined community (Sökefeld 2006, Anderson 1983).

Institutional legitimation to African diasporas’ engagement in different fora is given by the AU definition: “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” (AU 2005, point VIII, 18). By finding themselves in between social places, African diasporas could have a comparative advantage vis-à-vis traditionally conceived INGDOs (Brinkerhoff 2011). African diaspora representatives at EU level are today advancing the cause of African diasporas’ formal recognition in development cooperation (Bora, pers. comm.; Global Diaspora Week 2018).

Pan-African diasporic networks regroup people from different African countries. They operate at national and international level with purposes of inclusion and anti-racism in the societies of residence and betterment of living conditions in the countries of origin. Which visions of development do pan-African diasporic networks concretely strategise to put in practice? When lobbying at EU level, they tend to officially espouse the Sustainable Development framework (UN 2015), probably as the contrary would imply working outside political institutions tout-court, renouncing to any attempt of influence (Ebony, pers. comm.).

Many of these networks are Brussels-based. The EU capital also gathers the AU Permanent Mission to the EU, the ACP Group Secretariat: multi-institutional strategies can thus be considered here. Among these networks, created since 2011, we find the African Diaspora Youth Network in Europe (ADYNE – 2011), the Africa-Europe Diaspora Development Platform (ADEPT – 2013), the A.C.P. Young Professionals Network (ACP YPN – 2014), the African Diaspora Youth Forum in Europe (ADYFE – 2014), the African Diaspora Network in Europe (ADNE – 2015), and the Afro-European Diaspora Platform (AED – 2015). The European Year on Development might have had a triggering effect.

ADNE operates through lobbying events with EU institutions. They have individual and organisational membership, a diverse expertise (both thematically and geographically), an enabling social capital (ex: professional connections to the EP, the ACP Secretariat, DG DEVCO). ADEPT, created within the Joint Africa-Europe Strategy, has organisational membership and aims to become the umbrella organisation of African diasporas. ACP YPN, now a member of ADEPT, works to influence EU, AU and the ACP Group with regards to youth empowerment in the implementation of the Cotonou agreement, currently being renegotiated; its membership is individual only, but its members are highly proactive. Competition among these organisations is probable; lack of unity is often deplored and calls for better cooperation are made, without (for the moment) leading to concrete results (Global Diaspora Week 2018).

Other pan-African diasporic networks define themselves as clearly pan-Africanist (Boukari-Yabara 2014) and follow the African Renaissance ideal (Diop  1948; do-Nascimento 2008), detached from the mainstream development paradigm and classic EU-Africa relations: the International Movement for the Renaissance of a Unified Africa (MIRAU), the Pan-African League Umoja (LP-U), and its Belgian branch Renaissance Africaine. They operate for the development of African countries by Africans themselves (including African diasporas), persuaded that EU-Africa relations are not a priority in the quest for a genuine ‘rebirth’ of the continent.

To conclude, pan-African diasporic networks as new actors within (or without) EU-Africa relations try to propose different narratives on the African continent, debunking some development cooperation myths, advancing the cause of African-led development, in cooperation with external actors like the EU or autonomously.

ACP YPN, n. d., accessed 25/07/2017
ADEPT, n. d., accessed 25/07/2017
AED, n. d. accessed 18/08/2018
ADNE. n.d. Accessed 05/05/2018
ADYFE, n. d., accessed 15/08/2018
African Union. 2005. ‘Report of the Meeting of Experts on the Definition of the African Diaspora’, 11 – 12 April 2005, Addis Ababa. Accessed 04/05/2018
Anderson, B. 1983. Imagined communities: reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism, London: Verso.
Boukari-Yabara, A. 2014. Africa Unite. Une histoire du Panafricanisme, Paris : La Découverte
Brinkerhoff, J. M. 2011. ‘David and Goliath: Diaspora organizations as partners in the development industry’ In Public Administration and Development 31: 37-49 10.1002/pad.587
Diop, Ch. A. 1948. “Quand pourra-t-on parler d’une renaissance africaine?” In Le musée vivant, N. spécial 36-37, 57-65. Paris : ADAM
do-Nascimento, A. J. (ed.) 2008. La renaissance africaine comme alternative au développement. Les termes du choix politique en Afrique. Paris: L’Harmattan
L.P.-U n. d., accessed 12/12/2017
MIRAU n.d., accessed 10/02/2018
Norglo, B. E. K., Goris, M., Lie, R., and Ong’ayo, A. O. 2016. ‘The African Diaspora’s Public Participation in Policy-Making Concerning Africa’. In Diaspora Studies 9(2): 83–99
Renaissance Africaine asbl, n. d., accessed 13/08/2018
Sinatti, G. and Cindy Horst. 2015. ‘Migrants as agents of development: Diaspora engagement discourse and practice in Europe’ In Ethnicities 15(1): 134-152
Sökefeld, M. 2006. ‘Mobilizing in Transnational Space: A Social Movement Approach to the Formation of Diaspora’ In Global Networks 6 (3): 265–84
UN A/RES/70/1 Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development accessed 05/03/2017
Bora, ACP Young Professionals Network, Advocacy and Parliamentary Relations Officer, 18 October 2017
Ebony, ACP Young Professionals Network, Policy advisor, 30 January 2018
Observed meetings:
22/05/2017, Conference The impact of Communications on EU’s Policies on Africa, organised by Africa Communications Week; EU DG DEVCO, Brussels
23/05/2017, Conference Changing African Narratives through Diaspora Initiatives, organised by Africa Communications Week; AU Permanent Mission to the EU, Brussels
27/09/2017, Conference Africa at a Crossroads: Youth Political Mobilisation, Freedom of Association and Peaceful Assembly, organised by the Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS) and SOLIDAR as part of the S&D Group Africa Week 2017; FEPS, Brussels
21/03/2018, Cercle Kilimandjaro de l’Université Saint-Louis – Bruxelles (USL-B), Conference L’impératif panafricain: penser la repolitisation, with the participation by Dr. A. Boukari-Yabara, LP-U Secretary General ; USL-B, Brussels
05/10/2018, Global Diaspora Week 2018 Opening Ceremony Digital Diaspora. Boosting the Digital Agenda and Innovation for Development, organised by ADNE; European Parliament, Brussels

This blog article is part of a series related to the Development Dialogue 2018 Conference that was recently held at the ISS. Other articles forming part of the series can be read here,  here , here, and here.

Valentina photo

About the author:

Valentina Brogna is a PhD researcher under FSR grant at the Research Centre in Political Science (CReSPo), Université Saint-Louis – Bruxelles. Her research focuses on the participation of pan-African diasporic networks and INGDOs within EU-Africa relations, mainly in the Post-Cotonou negotiations.

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