Can Africa’s Diaspora Alter The Continent’s Future Stability Landscape? – Analysis


The attempted coup in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on May 19, 2024, was not just another failed power grab. It exposes a worrying trend with long-term implications: the role of the African diaspora in exacerbating instability in already fragile African states. While Africa holds immense potential, its future stability hinges on addressing how its expatriates and immigrants, with their complex motivations and various allegiances, can either impede or accelerate progress. The persistent erosion of democratic institutions on the continent, manifested through military coups, electoral manipulation, and foreign-backed constitutional amendments, becomes opportunities for these communities to exert influence in internal conflicts.

A Double-Edged Sword: African Diaspora’s Impact on Stability

African diaspora, a population scattered worldwide, presents both opportunities and challenges for the continent’s pursuit of stability. Within the global African diaspora, there are African expatriates who reside outside the continent, often for temporary work or study reasons, and African immigrants who have permanently relocated to another non-African country, typically becoming citizens. While factors like conflicts, economic hardship, and educational pursuits drive this migration, popular destinations remain concentrated in Europe, Asia, and Northern America. Despite the distance, many maintain strong ties to their homelands, keeping a watchful eye on political and social developments.  

African expatriates and immigrants recently held protests in Europe and the United States. In Belgiumand France, they showed solidarity with the people in North-Kivu, a province in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) that’s under attack by a rebel group called M23. In New York, people with roots in West Africa protested against the influence of the United States and France in West Africa. All these protests show how much these communities care about their home countries, even if they live elsewhere now.

On the one hand, the African diaspora injects valuable resources – financial investments, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), and advocacy efforts – that strengthen ties between their adopted countries and their homelands. This fosters collaboration on development initiatives and bolsters relations, laying a foundation for present and future cooperation between their homelands and their new country.

However, a segment of the diaspora, particularly those from war-torn or politically volatile regions, can become a destabilizing force. Witnessing perceived corruption and repression, some feel compelled to support opposition movements, even those employing violent tactics, against regimes viewed as proxies of Western powers. This fuels insurgencies, as exemplified by the Ambazonian separatists in Cameroon who receive funding and leadership from abroad.

The recent coups d’état in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger underscores the complexities of regional security in the Sahel. Members of the African diaspora, motivated by Pan-African ideals and critical of France’s historical influence, have voiced support for the newly formed Alliance of Sahel States (AES). This highlights a potential tension: the diaspora’s aspiration for improved governance in their countries of origin may diverge from the foreign policy priorities of their adopted nations, creating a loyalty conundrum.

Combat Veterans Expatriates: A New Destabilizing Force?

A new layer of concern emerges with Africans gaining combat experience abroad, particularly in conflict zones. The ongoing war in Ukraine has become a new training ground for fighters from various countries. African fighters engaged on either side of the conflict risk returning home with advanced weaponry skills and potentially radicalized ideologies. Their motivations might be diverse – disillusionment with Western-backed regimes, support for ethnic militias, or alignment with Pan-African or pro-Russian leaders.

Individuals with Western military training and extensive combat experience, while motivated by a genuine desire for change, may leverage their skillsets in ways that undermine fragile democracies. This creates a complex situation: a confluence of well-intentioned actors and actions that inadvertently weaken state institutions and democratic processes.

The presence of Biafran fighters spotted in Ukraine exemplifies this concern. Their potential acquisition of advanced combat training could significantly bolster secessionist movements in Nigeria or other African countries. Additionally, exposure to pro-Russian narratives could fuel anti-Western sentiment, prompting them to align with pro-Russian regimes within Africa, further complicating or reshaping the continent’s geopolitical landscape.

With the increasing growth of Russian influence on the continent, its military relations with African countries, especially the Alliance of Sahel States, the strong anti-West sentiments, and the democracies’ rejection of the International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders, which is seen as another manifestation of the West double standards, those veterans African fighters might have the status of helpers than destabilizers when they return to fight alongside their people.

Countering the Tide: A Multifaceted Approach

The trend of diaspora influence on internal conflicts in Africa presents a significant challenge, but there are strategies to mitigate its impact. A multifaceted approach that addresses the root causes of instability and fosters positive change is crucial.

The cornerstone of this approach lies in promoting robust democracies and inclusive development across Africa. The recent wave of concerning developments – attempts to extend presidential terms, rigged elections, and the rollback of democratic reforms – creates fertile ground for instability. Strengthening democratic institutions, ensuring free and fair elections, and upholding the rule of law are essential first steps. Concurrently, promoting economic development that benefits the wider population is critical. Widespread poverty, lack of opportunity, and feelings of marginalization can create a breeding ground for discontent, making individuals more susceptible to radical ideologies or recruitment by insurgent groups and private military companies.

International actors must adopt a nuanced approach. Past interventions in the Sahel region have yielded mixed results, suggesting that purely military solutions are unsustainable. Any future interventions must be part of a comprehensive strategy that addresses the underlying causes of instability, such as poverty, ethnic tensions, governance failures, and most importantly the respect of countries’ sovereignty and a partnership that is not based on intimidation and bullying from their western allies. A focus on capacity building within African militaries and regional security forces is crucial to empower them to address internal threats while fostering a sense of ownership over security solutions.

ECOWAS, which is supposed to have a leading role in West Africa, is seen by West Africans and observers as a U.S./French proxy entity and a non-reliable institution. The Alliance of Sahel States, even fragile now, can become a cornerstone for a more robust approach to insecurity leading to development and stability in the Sahel region. The recent military maneuver called “Tarhanakal” or “Love of the Fatherland” which aims to strengthen the resilience capacities of the forces of the Alliance of Sahel States (AES) in the face of all potential threats as well as to strengthen the interoperability and cooperation” between the armies of participating countries – Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Tchad and Togo – is a great example for capacity building within the region.

Engaging constructively with the whole African diaspora is another crucial element. Many in the diaspora possess valuable skills and expertise that can be harnessed for positive change. Fostering dialogue between the diaspora and their home governments can create opportunities for collaboration on development initiatives, conflict resolution, and democratic reforms. African countries like Ghana and Rwanda are key examples by bridging the gap between diaspora with their home countries to create a better condition for investments and development. Diaspora communities can be a powerful force for positive change, but only if their energies are channeled productively.

Ignoring the trend of expatriates and immigrants influence on African conflicts would be a grave mistake. By acknowledging the potential for destabilization and initiative-taking measures, leaders can help ensure a more peaceful and prosperous future for Africa. This requires a multi-pronged approach that combines promoting democracy and development, fostering constructive dialogue with the diaspora, and ensuring responsible international engagement. Only through a comprehensive strategy can African countries mitigate the risks posed by some of its own people and create a more stable and secure future.

Komlan Avoulete

Komlan Avoulete is a Sahel researcher and geopolitical analyst who specializes in African affairs, US-Africa relations, France-Africa relations, and Conflict Analysis. His work can also be found in publications such as Foreign Policy Research Institute, International Policy Digest, Eurasia Review, The Week (UK), and Le Rubicon. Komlan holds a Master's degree in Diplomacy and International Relations with a focus on African security, and his fluency in English, French, and Ewe allows him to navigate the complexities of the region.

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