The significance of diaspora
More than 150 million Africans form part of what the African Union (AU) describes as Africa’s sixth region, the diaspora.
This declaration by the AU highlights the critical role diaspora communities play in the present and future development of the continent.
At times the diaspora has been perceived as detached and misinformed about the continent's realities. Often diaspora communities are seen to celebrate independence days more fervently than those on the continent and are perceived as perpetuating the misguided,' this is the Africa Europe doesn't want you to see' trope on social media, ignoring the difficult realities seen within African nations.
Yet, more recently, we’re seeing the African diaspora aligning with the concerns of young Africans seeking change; playing a crucial role in amplifying issues in their respective nations.
Social media has helped spread awareness, with individuals sharing their direct experiences through tweets,Twitter Spaces, and Clubhouse. One of the most prolific examples is the #EndSARS movement, and it's easy to forget it began in 2017.
#EndSARS is a social media movement against Nigeria’s ongoing police brutality, particularly the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), which profiles and abuses Nigerian citizens. Similar to the outcry over the American George Floyd’s murder by a police officer in the summer of 2020, #EndSARS saw a reckoning within the diaspora. #EndSARS became the number one worldwide trending topic in October 2020, gaining millions of impressions amongst Nigerian communities in the United Kingdom and United States. Diasporans in the UK marched at the Nigeria High Commission, with figures like John Boyega, Davido and Anthony Joshua lending their voices in support.
We will never forget 20 October 2020 when Nigerian police and army officers shot unarmed protesters on Lekki Bridge. The number of people who lost their lives remains unconfirmed. “Sọ̀rọ̀ sókè” (speak up) rang through as a clear and coherent message throughout the world.
The report How Africa Tweets, which looks at the users shaping African Twitter discourse, highlighted that during elections held on the continent between 2017 and 2018, 53 per cent of the influential voices were from the diaspora. However, this group isn’t just vocal but also makes a tangible difference on the continent. An example of this is The Gambia. During the country’s 2016 elections, a presidential race emerged between the dictator Yahya Jammeh and challenger Adama Barrow (who had previously lived and worked in London, including a brief stint as an Argos security guard). The Gambian diaspora had a hand in financing the Gambia Democracy Fund (GDF), which was critical in gaining Barrow’s surprise victory.
Social media is encouraging greater discourse and activism across borders, with more and more campaigns bringing to global attention the realities on the continent, including #RedPearlMovement, focussing on ending dictatorial oppression within Uganda, #CongoIsBleeding, highlighting exploitative mining taking place in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and #FaureMustGo, spearheaded by Togolese activist Farida Nabourema who is campaigning to bring an end to the Gnassingbé regime in Togo.
Looking forward, we foresee a continuation of digital-age resistance, with those on the ground putting pressure and effecting change to end oppressive rule in post-independent Africa. The ongoing use of internet blackouts and blocking of social media platforms by some governments highlight how valuable the diaspora is. Even when those within the continent are being silenced, the diaspora ensures that their presence can still be felt.
Astrid Madimba and Chinny Ukata are the co-hosts of It’s a Continent, a podcast on African history. They are also authors of the book by the same name
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