Tag Archives diaspora

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. http://www.acpypn.com, accessed 25/07/2017
ADEPT, n. d., http://www.adept-platform.org/about-us/ accessed 25/07/2017
AED, n. d. https://diasporafroeuropeenne.org/presentation-2/ accessed 18/08/2018
ADNE. n.d. http://www.africandiasporanetwork.eu/en/aboutus.html Accessed 05/05/2018
ADYFE, n. d. www.adyfe.eu, 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. http://www.dirco.gov.za/diaspora/definition.html. 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., http://lp-umoja.com/lpu/onepage/ accessed 12/12/2017
MIRAU n.d., http://www.mirau.org 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., https://www.linkedin.com/company/raasbl/ 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 https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/post2015/transformingourworld 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.

The Hague Peace Projects: practicing peace and justice by Helen Hintjens

How can peace and justice be embodied? How can we move from thinking about societal problems to taking concrete action to bring about change? The Hague Peace Projects, a program bringing together diaspora communities in The Hague to think and act together to build peace, shows us how these principles can be brought to life.

Art assumes many roles beyond acting as a canvas for self-expression, from creating greater consciousness of societal problems to serving as a platform for activism. It is a central element of The Hague Peace Projects (THPP), a program that promotes dialogue and campaigns for change through a variety of means. The project, which engages diaspora communities to advocate for peace, can inspire others to become involved in this or similar local initiatives to embody the change they aspire to.

On a (peace) mission

Located in The Hague, known as the City of Peace and Justice, THPP is one of several programs working with diaspora communities to involve them in contributing to positive change in their home countries and across Europe. The project’s main goals are to work toward a world in which conflict between humans, groups of people and countries are not solved by violence, but “through dialogue, respect for human rights, and honest cooperation between equals” (THPP).

THPP was established in 2015 by Jakob de Jonge, himself an artist. The project seeks to help find peaceful solutions to (armed) conflicts. It brings together diaspora from conflict zones that live in The Netherlands, facilitating their collaboration toward finding realistic solutions to local conflicts. The project is based on the belief that diaspora communities know best what causes conflict in their home regions and how such conflicts can be addressed in a non-violent manner. Through dialogue, social media, blogs and public events of all kinds, THPP contributes to diasporic dialogues. THPP also views art as a medium of communication for peace.

Change through action

Jakob explains that he was inspired by his friend Sylvestre Bwira, a Congolese human rights defender, to start this project. Jakob defines THPP as “both a think-tank and a do-tank” spreading “creativity and hope”. THPP’s approach echoes the goals of ISS, which increasingly places emphasis on the importance of scholar activism in bringing about change. Both organisations wish to be “critical but constructive”, grounded in “grassroots communities”, and reaching out to influence “platforms of power”.

THPP is reliant on volunteers, who in turn feel themselves part of a movement for social justice and peace. Having worked with THPP on several projects related to the African Great Lakes region, I put a few questions to Jakob:

Can you tell BLISS readers how art connects with advocacy through The Hague Peace Projects?

As a ‘socially engaged’ artist, it felt weird working alone in a studio. I wanted to connect with people as much as possible, so I decided to engage people through my art. Through visual art I try to present the disturbing mix of horror and beauty that we see in the world. What inspires me is the hope that things can be different if you genuinely desire it to be. Art is also a way to uncover a glimpse of optimism, in the belief that ideas come to life through visualisation, as with THPP’s exhibition The Survivors, in 2016, inspired by a Syrian boy’s drawings. Idealistic as it may seem, THPP is all about transforming reality, however slowly.

What THPP activities have touched you most deeply?

What moves me and keeps me going are the everyday life stories of colleagues I work with. THPP is based on working groups of diaspora members (mostly refugees) from different conflict regions around the world. Each working group establishes its own space for ongoing dialogue between conflicting communities. This creates basic trust between those who might otherwise fear to connect with others in daily life. This trust becomes fertile ground for all sorts of relevant peacebuilding activities.

Two things have especially moved me: First, many colleagues in the THPP working groups have a history of severe suffering. Team members have personally paid a high price for being seen as a member of a certain social group, or for speaking out for the rights of others. They have been tortured, detained, lost their families, witnessed unspeakable crimes and finally, have had to flee abroad. They often lost everything.

Coming from Sudan, the DRC, Bangladesh, Uganda, Syria, Burundi, Turkey, Sri Lanka and elsewhere, it strikes me how resilient, hopeful and committed to change they remain. The people I work with strive for positive outcomes, even when these are hard to imagine. It moves me very much when you see a person’s attitude change over time, from fearful, emotional and easily triggered, to more relaxed, open and creative.

Similarly, publicly commemorating the murder of Bangladeshi writer and free thinker Avijit Roy, as we have done annually since 2016 remains a very special moment. It is a powerful reminder you can never really silence someone through violence. Seeing friendships develop between Turks and Kurds, seeing Dutch Somalis getting together for something positive like Somali poetry, rather than the usual stigmatising divisions, or just dancing together at THPP office with people of every background, including Hutu, Tutsi and Twa. There have just been too many beautiful moments!

After three years, how do you reflect on working in the City of Peace and Justice?

I collaborate well and on many levels with The Hague Municipality. We fully support their mission of striving to be a City of Peace and Justice. In fact, that is how we chose our name. “The Hague” gives many people around the world hope that their tormentors may eventually end up in prison in Scheveningen!

At the same time I believe much more can be done to make the City of Peace and Justice more than a mission statement. The idea is very powerful and creates a kind of responsibility to be different from other cities. The challenge is to show what peace and justice look like in reality, not only internationally, but for all the city’s inhabitants, and across all layers of policy.

How can interested parties become involved?

We are a 99% volunteer organisation and rely heavily on volunteers for goodwill and to take initiative. We always need qualified and motivated people to join our network, so if you are interested, please send an email and your CV to info@thehaguepeace.org.

Main Photo: The Hague Peace Projects

20160917_190837Dr Helen Hintjens is Assistant Professor in Development and Social Justice at the ISS, working in the field of migration. Like Jakob, she graduated with a BA in Fine Art from the Royal Academy of Art (KABK) in The Hague. From 2015 to 2017, she collaborated with THPP to organise three African Great Lakes Diaspora conferences that were held at the ISS. The first conference report is on the THPP’s website; the second conference produced the Declaration and Plan of Action on the role of diaspora media in peacebuilding in the Great Lakes Region. The third conference on women, men and peacebuilding, will be reported on soon. Watch this space!