The heart of Africa’s diaspora

Semhar Araia is founder and executive director of DAWN, the Diaspora African Women’s Network. Contact DAWN at info@dawners.org and follow on Twitter @DAWNInc.

Last month, 14 American community leaders and change-makers from the Horn of Africa diaspora were honored by the White House as Champions of Change for their efforts to address global issues in a localized context. They represented the diaspora communities of Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Uganda. I was lucky enough to be selected as a Champion of Change for my work with DAWN, an organization I started to help support women and girls of the African diaspora who are focused on African affairs. Watch my segment here:

This recognition is significant for two reasons. First, it acknowledges the role diaspora are playing in Africa’s future. Second, it validates our space within the American story, as transnational Americans connecting two beautiful continents and homelands.

For me and millions of others, Africa is and always will be a place full of love, dignity and hope. As diaspora, it remains a home within our hearts, even for those born and raised abroad. Despite the ever-present reality and imagery of Africa’s poverty and conflicts, diaspora look beyond and push for creative ways to move their countries forward. Think, for instance, of Mo Ibrahim’s Prize Index or of the African Leadership Academy.

As I’ve argued before, diaspora are important stakeholders in Africa’s success and are critical to Africa’s growth, development and relations with the rest of the world. Our economic remittances are just the tip of the iceberg. Not only do we send billions of dollars in remittances annually to the continent, often surpassing many African countries’ GDP, but we are also ambassadors and change agents in our local communities.

We give unimaginable amounts of time, energy and means to support our brothers and sisters back home. In the wake of crisis and opportunity, diaspora are often the first international responders. Now, as is evidenced in DAWN, more diaspora are devoting our professional lives to Africa, pursuing careers in international development, policy or law, in order to help the continent. Knowing firsthand the kind of sacrifices that were made for us to enjoy the life we have, the least we can do is make the most of it by serving and giving back.

These are some of the reasons why anyone focused on Africa must be willing to listen to African voices from all sides — on the continent and abroad. Africa’s narratives are rich and many, and the multitude of voices within the diaspora must be considered. Recent efforts by the White House, the US State Department, USAID, the UK’s Department for International Development and the African Union are deeply encouraging. Similarly, the African diaspora must be better at sharing our stories truthfully, as we know them. The power of our agency cannot be ignored. We must not be guilty of dimming our own light.