The Washington region is home to one of the largest concentrations of African immigrants in the United States. These communities have always retained strong economic and cultural bonds with their home countries. But many activists and policy-makers are looking for new ways to more effectively leverage that activity through investments and political advocacy. As heads of state converge on Washington for the first U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, we examine the role of local diaspora communities on the continent.


  • Semhar Araia Executive Director, Diaspora African Women's Network
  • Zemedeneh Negatu Managing Partner and Head of Transaction Advisory, EY (formerly Ernst & Young) in Ethiopia

Remittance Flows Worldwide in 2012

Patterns of global migration have shifted in recent decades and those changes, along with the ups-and-downs of the economy, have also resulted in changes in the flow of remittances -the money that many migrants send back to families in their countries of origin. This interactive map shows remittances sent to or from given countries in 2012.


  • 12:06:40

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, we explore the new Common Core curriculum that our kids are expected to learn. But, first, last night at a White House dinner, attended by over 50 visiting dignitaries, President Obama, the son of a man from Kenya, raised a glass to toast the new Africa, the Africa that is rising and so full of promise.

  • 12:07:17

    MR. KOJO NNAMDISince the U.S.-Africa Summit kicked off Monday, many former residents of African nations, members of a strong and active Diaspora community, have kept a close eye on the events unfolding, even as they were largely left off the official agenda. Here to share insights and to how Diaspora members contribute to their home countries and what they hope comes out of this summit is Zemedeneh Negatu. He is a managing partner in Ethiopia and head of the transaction advisory services with EY, previously known as Ernst and Young. We had a great conversation with Zem in Addis Ababa this past January. Good to see you again.

  • 12:07:58

    MR. ZEMEDENEH NEGATUThank you, Kojo. Thank you for having me.

  • 12:08:00

    NNAMDIAlso in studio with us is Semhar Araia, founder and executive director of the Diaspora African Women's Network, DAWN, an organization whose mission is to develop and support the next generation of African Diaspora women focused on African affairs. Semhar, good to see you again.

  • 12:08:17

    MS. SEMHAR ARAIAIt's great to see you.

  • 12:08:18

    NNAMDIIf you'd like to join this conversation, give us a call, 800-433-8850. Are you a part of the African Diaspora? What would you like to see come out of this summit? 800-433-8850. You can send email to Shoot us a tweet, @kojoshow. Semhar, I'll start with you, but this question is really for both of you since you both attended several events this week, official and not. As the inaugural U.S.-Africa Summit starts to wind down now, what's your take on how this week has gone?

  • 12:08:49

    ARAIAIt's been really amazing. First of all, it's so historic just to have this entire week devoted to Africa and U.S. relations. The feelings are high. The spirit is strong. And it's exciting not only to see heads of state in Washington but also all of these community leaders, all of these organizations, people from the continents, civil society leaders who are here, Diaspora groups. There's a buzz. And Monday and Tuesday have just been really exciting.

  • 12:09:20

    NNAMDIWhat's your take on it, Zem?

  • 12:09:22

    NEGATUWell, the general feeling I got from talking to a lot of people, especially in the private sector, is it's about time. I think the United States, for quite a long time, have not been actively engaged, at least on the economic front, which is what is of interest to us in the private sector. So the feeling is it's a good start. We need to do this more often. But it's still probably -- I was talking last night at one of the functions to one of the top CEOs from Africa. I said, well, we need to start engaging the African private sector much more effectively on a bigger scale.

  • 12:10:00

    NEGATUAnd he mentioned to me -- and which something I've always been saying -- is the Chinese has been engaging Africa on a bigger scale than the U.S. Now, as I said, with the Power Africa initiative, which excite a lot of people, and other things, it's a good start. But the feeling is we need to do a lot more as Americans to engage Africa, not necessarily from a charitable perspective or the old traditional, you know, security perspective, which still is important, but more to see -- to realize the benefits of a growing economy, a growing continent.

  • 12:10:34

    NEGATUI mean, we went from the hopeless continent to Africa rising, so the feeling, as I said, is positive. Everybody's excited about it. But the United States needs to be engaged. I was actually expecting and most people were expecting bigger deals to be announced than the 33 billion or so. I mean, for size of the United States economy, that's still relatively small. But the consensus is it's a positive first step.

  • 12:10:57

    NNAMDII want to talk about that background buzz for a second, Semhar, because the background buzz that I seem to be picking up from the African Diaspora community is that this U.S.-Africa Summit is at least, in some respects, a response to the U.S.'s concern -- some would say even panic -- about the advances that China is making on the continent of Africa. Is that in fact something people are talking about?

  • 12:11:19

    ARAIAYeah. China has been brought up a few times, notably by visitors from the continent, talking about, you know, we've been engaging with China. We've been seeing China enter. And the United States is having this summit, but what will the outcomes be? What does this mean for the future? I do think that the United States is realizing the value and importance of Africa as a partner and the value of developing relations.

  • 12:11:40

    ARAIAI mean, it's astounding that it took this long to get a U.S.-Africa Summit, but it has happened. And I don't know when the next one would be because we're now approaching the end of this administration's term. And the next administration, I don't know where this would sit on the timeline. So I will say it's better late than never. But as long as it can be the beginning of a longer conversation to be had on a regular basis, that's what we want.

  • 12:12:04

    NNAMDI800-433-8850. Do you think Diaspora groups should have been more formally involved in the summit? Tell us why. Tell us why not. 800-433-8850. Zem, generally on this show, we try to avoid talking about Africa the continent in broad strokes. We try to zero in on individual nations instead. So this summit is kind of pushing us outside of our comfort zone with its approach. What factors do you see as unifying the Diaspora community across the board?

  • 12:12:31

    NEGATUWell, I completely agree with you with that. We need to stop referring to Africa as if it was one country. I mean, I think the general mistake will make -- about Africa is, if we look at it as if it was one homogenous place. There's 54 of them. Certainly in the business that we're in, we look at them as countries but eventually also as a continent because there are some commonalities. So starting from that, let's look at Africa as individual countries, which do have some in common. As far as the Diaspora is concerned, it's interesting.

  • 12:13:02

    NEGATUOne of the first things that I did this week is on Monday, I was invited to be a panelist at an Africa Diaspora forum. The place was standing-room only. I mean, and it was to talk about what can Africans do, go back, invest, that kind of stuff. So there's a great deal of -- and this is diverse Africans from West to East to South. Everybody was in there. So even Africans here are starting to realize the importance. But I contrast that again. Africa used to be a niche market maybe but has changed.

  • 12:13:30

    NEGATUIn the afternoon, the same day, I was invited to be a panelist at the Milken Institute which had organized a fantastic event of corporate America, people with billions of dollars to deploy. And a few of the CEOs who attended that are actually deploying billions of -- hundreds of millions of dollars in Africa. So for the Diaspora, I think it's -- their interest in Africa's transformation is now coming together with corporate America's interest in Africa, and that needs to be taken, too, considerably because it used to be that we kind of had the continent for ourselves.

  • 12:14:03

    NEGATUBut now the big boys -- not just Chinese, but we're talking about big multinationals and American companies, bit private equity funds from the United States -- are starting to come to Africa. And the Diaspora here needs to be aware of that so that we don't start to kind of drag our feet and say, oh, I'll wait a year or two or three before I go back and do investments. But by then, the big guys would have landed, and opportunities might get smaller and smaller.

  • 12:14:26

    NNAMDIWhether you're from the Congo, whether you're from South Africa, Nigeria, or, for that matter, Tunisia, what brings the Diaspora community together at an event like this?

  • 12:14:36

    ARAIAWell, what's interesting is the summit kicked off with a day committed to civil society engagement on Monday, the 4th, and so we were there on Monday. And it was a forum of about 400 attendees of different civil society representatives from the continent and the Diaspora.

  • 12:14:51

    ARAIAAnd what we found were those of us that are here in the United States, the Diaspora groups that were represented, we've been pushing to have this conversation with the administration in particular and also highlight the issues that we feel are very important to raise with African governments, whether it be about human rights, about rule of law, about good governance, right, because you need the good governance in order to have really sustainable economic development.

  • 12:15:13

    ARAIAAnd what's uniting us is this opportunity to say to decision makers on both sides what we've been saying so long but in a united front. For example, one group, the Cameroonian American Council, was able to ask the first question to the president of Ghana, Mahama, and president of Tanzania, Kikwete, about whether African leaders would be willing to encourage the United States to prioritize immigration reform or African immigrant communities. And while now that's an issue, we've been -- groups have been raising internally in the United States as immigrant groups.

  • 12:15:46

    ARAIAHaving the platform to also address it and raise it with African presidents, who -- you know, he gracefully answered the question, reminding everyone that this is a U.S. domestic priority, but, you know, the Diaspora are of value and a value to both sides of the table, which was really important. So this platform has been powerful for many of us that go between both countries, if you will, or both continents.

  • 12:16:09

    NNAMDISo members of the Diaspora community raised immigration issues. They raise issues of governance. They raise issues of human rights. How about economic developments, Zem? How does your own personal experience, growing up in the U.S. and now doing business in Ethiopia, reflect the kinds of opportunities that are available?

  • 12:16:29

    NEGATUWell, if you remember from the last time you and I met back in Africa, we had this conversation. I mean, by large, in most African countries, there's an enormous amount of opportunity for the Diaspora to go back and make something happen, not just to feel good but also to really take advantage of the significant economic progress stuff.

  • 12:16:47

    NEGATUI mean, Africa as a whole, for example, is growing by more than 5.5 percent. The GDP growth in Africa as a whole is 5.5 percent. And in some countries, it's even higher than that. So I -- as you said, my experience is probably can be a lesson for others, maybe modified. I went back -- started going back to Ethiopia 15 years ago. I grew up around here.

  • 12:17:07


  • 12:17:07

    NEGATUAnd I started seeing the opportunity here. About 15 years ago, I went to -- I'm the founding partner of the Ernst & Young practice in Ethiopia. And since then, of course, seeing -- and I practice what I preach. I don't just tell people to come in and invest in Africa. But I practice what -- so since then, myself and others, through various opportunities, we've invested in a number of sectors in Ethiopia and a few other places in Africa. So the message I have for the African Diaspora is we have been very good at making a very rich country richer here in the United States. Fantastic, okay?

  • 12:17:38

    NEGATUBut we have the same opportunity now to do that in Africa. And I think that's one of the key messages. Every time I give a speech here in the United States around the world, that's what I tell the Diaspora. Take advantage of the great opportunity the Americans have given us. We learned here. We built wealth here. We have knowledge and know how we can take back here. I'll give a very good example.

  • 12:17:59

    NEGATUCurrently, I'm working with a doctor who moved from here, who built a hospital in Ethiopia, has 110 bed. Now he's looking to expand, and we're helping him raise the financing to expand the bed, to build a world-class facility. I mean, he couldn't have built a hospital in the United States. I mean, he's a very successful doctor, but that kind of opportunity is fewer and fewer. So these are just some of the examples that we see.

  • 12:18:23

    NNAMDIOne of the ways in which members of the Diaspora contribute to their countries, of course, is in remittances. You can go to our website,, and you'll find a link there to a Pew Social Trends remittance tracker that will let you track the worldwide flow of money, so you can see what is going to each individual country. And, Semhar, one recent figure I saw estimates remittances amount to a figure as much as $80 billion a year across the continent of Africa. But if I'm from, oh, Nigeria, and I'm sending, oh, $100 a month to members of my family, what does my contribution, which seems small, look like when you take all of the others into account?

  • 12:19:06

    ARAIAWell, you know, those monthly remittances that we send, they're small to us, but they're, in some ways, for many, lifesaving and necessary expenses. So they're an ongoing process of sending money back home. What's fascinating about this $80 billion figure is that it actually exceeds, you know, the total amount of foreign assistance going into the continent. So remittances have surpassed what donor countries are doing. And it's an indication -- it's the very tip of the iceberg of the power of investment, particularly from Diaspora.

  • 12:19:33

    ARAIASo when that money goes home and it helps these families, especially in countries like Somalia where they've been facing a devastating drought, on the verge of another famine since 2011 -- this year, we're ringing the alarms again. Those remittances matter. And the fear -- the danger is if those remittances are being blocked or the ability to send money back home is diverted, there's a fear that this will actually disrupt the basic living for so many millions of people.

  • 12:20:04

    ARAIASo the trick is, how do you move these remittances from a relief standpoint into a development opportunity where remittances can also be used -- as they are in some cases -- for small businesses, for helping entrepreneurship programs, for using it for more long-lasting impact.

  • 12:20:19

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break. There are a lot of callers on the line who'd like to join this conversation about African Diaspora engagement, now that the Africa-U.S. Summit is winding down here in Washington. The number is 800-433-8850. You can send email to Shoot us a tweet, @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:22:28

    NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation on Africa Diaspora engagement with the Africa-U.S. Summit taking place in Washington, D.C. We're talking with Semhar Araia, founder and executive director of the Diaspora African Women's Network, DAWN, an organization whose mission is to develop and support the next generation of African Diaspora women, focused on African affairs.

  • 12:22:47

    NNAMDIAnd Zemedeneh, or as we call him, Zem Negatu, who is managing partner and Ethiopia head of transaction advisory services, with EY, previously known as Ernst and Young. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Before I go to the phones Semhar, talk a little bit about the young leaders' event that you were involved in this week.

  • 12:23:08

    ARAIAYeah, so the administration, in addition to hosting a summit, has actually launched the Young African Leadership Initiative, YALI as it was known, which has been renamed to the Mandela Washington Fellows Program. And what it did was it brought 500 young African leaders from I think -- oh, I can't remember the number. But a majority of African countries. And brought them here for an eight-week internship or educational program, where they were sent to over 20 universities across the country, from Berkeley to the University of Minnesota to Howard University.

  • 12:23:37

    ARAIAAnd these leaders had training in public administration, in entrepreneurship and in civic engagement. And the idea was to help them sort of take some skills from the best universities, so that when they return to their home countries they can apply it. But then after the eight weeks they were here for a few days leading up to the summit. And out of the 500, 100 of them have been selected to continue in internships for the next six weeks. So DAWN had learned about YALI from the -- from its beginning when it was to form in 2010.

  • 12:24:10

    ARAIAAnd we've been following this very carefully. And it's really encouraging to see an investment in the next generation in making the young people, but also the next 50 years a priority. The question, of course, is how this will impact their work on the ground. We're waiting to see how these young leaders will be able to apply those skills. And we had a chance -- DAWN -- members of DAWN had a chance to meet with four YALI fellows from Eritrea, South Sudan, Sudan and I believe Somalia.

  • 12:24:40

    ARAIABut the opportunity that was presented was we had a really heart-to-heart, honest conversation with these young people. And Diasporas -- we were able to learn from them what it's like to start a non-profit or start a business or what their aspirations and dreams are. And we were able to share with them some of the realities of African immigrant life, of the Diaspora life, of the longing to be connected to back home.

  • 12:25:05

    ARAIAAnd the YALI fellows and members in DAWN, I think we all walked away with a sort of sense of deeper understanding of what -- where we are aligned. We had a lot of conversation about our identities, about the challenges to being young leaders, but also how we want to -- how we envision our roles together, collaboratively, to support the continents. It's very powerful.

  • 12:25:28

    NNAMDIGot to get back to the issue of China, Zem, because a lot of people have looked at this event and said it's really about playing catch-up with China. We got an email from Beth, in D.C., who says, "My understanding of how China operates in Africa, is that when they built infrastructure in the given country, they bring in laborers from China to do the work. This makes them less popular with the citizens of that country. But that the Chinese have paid off the country's leaders. Is this true?" Beth asks.

  • 12:25:54

    NEGATUWell, let me -- I've been on record for many years that the rise of China has actually been imbalance. Imbalance is the key word, beneficial to Africa. I mean, if you look at the bigger countries, the bigger economies in Africa, if you look at their infrastructure, five, ten years ago it was all crumbling or it didn't even exist. Today you come to major economies like Ethiopia, the infrastructure is significantly transformed. In fact, for example, Ethiopia is building the first subway in Africa -- as I think you probably saw when you were there.

  • 12:26:27

    NNAMDII saw that construction, yes.

  • 12:26:29

    NEGATUHad it now been for Chinese knowledge, expertise, and financing, much of Africa's infrastructure would have remained what it is 10 years ago. Now, as I said, imbalance China has been (unintelligible). But Africans need to be smart buyers. It's like anything else. China can produce you a fantastic iPhone 5, which is made in China. Or if you're not a smart buyer, they can give you what's called made-in-China quality of the perception that people have.

  • 12:26:57

    NEGATUSo I don't want to put all the rap on the Chinese or even Africans. And this brings me, actually, to one of the issues that I'm sure we -- you're -- near and dear to you as well, is in Africa, more than the remittances, what we need is human capital. We need talented Africans, the Diaspora, to go back home and help build these institutions that negotiate these contracts with the Chinese, you know. Bring the American knowledge, know-how, expertise, and good governance, which African governments would very much appreciate.

  • 12:27:24

    NEGATUSo I think it's slightly a trade-off of having China. They have $4 trillion in hard-currency reserves. And they're willing to deploy it. Until recently, the United States was not. Very recently, as you said, a lot of people in these conferences were telling me this conference is actually a reaction to China's ascendancy in Africa. Well, perhaps, yes and no. But the bottom line is, if we are smart I think China -- the engagement in Africa could be beneficial for these countries.

  • 12:27:48

    NNAMDIGot to bring a few of the callers in. We'll start with Kadana (sp?) , in Washington, D.C. Kadana, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:27:56

    KADANAThank you, Kojo, for accepting my call. You know, Kojo, I was reading an article, actually, about the invitee or the not invitee. And the title to end this was a question mark. That didn't matter, you know. So, you know, that's what's compelled me to call you. You know, why this exclusion if the intention is what some has (unintelligible) had, you know. And I want to start with…

  • 12:28:17

    NNAMDIWell, there are a few countries that were excluded. Eritrea, the Central African Republican, Zimbabwe and what's the fourth? I can't think of it.

  • 12:28:24


  • 12:28:25

    NNAMDISudan was the fourth that was excluded. Care to comment on that, Semhar?

  • 12:28:29

    ARAIAYou know, I've asked why these countries were excluded, and particularly Eritrea's -- a member of the Eritrean Diaspora. And, you know, the general answer that was given was we invited members that we're in good relations with. And so you can go look through the four and examine what good relations means.

  • 12:28:45

    ARAIAAnd, you know, as an Eritrean, it's very disappointing that the government wasn't invited. There are policy reasons that have been given that I have -- I can't speak to, but I do think that the best thing we can encourage is engagement on both sides at all times, particularly in these areas where conflict is still nearby, particularly where it's important to create opportunities for stronger partnership based on law and justice and peace.

  • 12:29:11

    ARAIABut again, you know, this still the first one. And I think what's really important here is to push that this summit happens again with better planning, a longer-term agenda, more inclusivity. What was -- this was really a phenomenal feat to be doing it, but at the same time there are very real criticisms of the planning and the timing. You know, it's in August when members of Congress are in recess. A lot of people on vacation.

  • 12:29:37

    ARAIABut then, again, another person presented the argument that if it was in July it would have been Ramadan. So there were -- there's all these reasons that, depending on what side you're on, you realize are important. Now, my hope is that this summit can be the beginning of an opportunity and the space for conversations moving forward.

  • 12:29:56

    NNAMDIIt's the first step. And we don't have a lot of time left, but Mamadu, in Silver Spring, Md., I think what's to make a point that has not been raised so far. Mamadu you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:30:07

    MAMADUYes. Thank you, Kojo. As a fourth-time caller, I'm a Gambian. And we only talk about big countries in Africa. And the problem I have with that is some of these big countries we talk about, we don't mention small countries. And believe me, some of these small countries are more democratic than these big countries that you people are talking about. What is (unintelligible) that come from small countries, like Gambia and other small countries?

  • 12:30:32

    NNAMDIWell, your country's just a little sliver in the middle of Senegal. No. I'm just kidding. I'm just kidding. The importance of small countries, Zem?

  • 12:30:38

    NEGATUWell, actually, this also brings to the point that I usually do when I give these speeches around the world. Regional integration is a solution for the small countries to create critical mass. I mean, I'm on the investment banking, on the transaction side. I can tell you most of the individual countries in Africa today, their economies are too small to -- on their own, to attract a major multi-national from the United States or even from China.

  • 12:31:04

    NEGATUSo one of the solutions we've had is create regional blocks. Present yourself, like for example in West Africa they have ECOWAS. In East Africa we have the East African Community. And in the broader (unintelligible). So if you are part of that region then you get all the attention, both on the political front, and on the investment front.

  • 12:31:28

    NEGATUOtherwise, the vast majority of these African countries are very small. The population is small. Their market size is small. That's why you hear the bigger countries like Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa -- are usually mentioned and not the small ones. Again, it's pure business.

  • 12:31:37


  • 12:31:37

    ARAIANo. I think it's also difficult because we still are 54 countries. Right? And if we were to take this as one country at a time conversation -- it's important that the United States develop its bilateral relations with each country. But for the purposes of a U.S./Africa Summit, you know, this has to be first regional and continental conversations across the United States and Africa.

  • 12:31:58

    ARAIABut at a country-to-country level, what's more important is when this summit is over that the United States actually really prioritizes strengthening relations, particularly with smaller countries, newer countries, countries on the basis of shared agenda and partnerships, but also what is -- where the needs really are. And I commend you, my brother from Gambia, for speaking up. Because as an Eritrean I'm constantly saying this, "We're small and where are we?" You know, but we're great. This is good. Thank you.

  • 12:32:25

    NNAMDIZem, what is your hope for the best thing that can come out of the summit?

  • 12:32:28

    NEGATUWell, actually, much more focused engagement by the United States so they doesn't -- this doesn't become just a one-off event. And, most importantly, for corporate America, which I think is starting to be engaged in Africa, to continue its engagement. Major deals were announced, but I think going forward. And we see, actually, especially the private equity funds from the United States are actually taken the lead now, coming into Africa. So my hope is it gets sustained. And Washington doesn't lose interest after this event is over and people go back home.

  • 12:32:59

    NNAMDIZem Negatu is managing partner and Ethiopia head of Transaction Advisory Services with EY, previously known as Ernst and Young. Zem, good to see you again.

  • 12:33:07

    NEGATUThank you very much.

  • 12:33:08

    NNAMDIAnd Semhar Araia is the founder and executive director of the Diaspora Africa Women's Network, DAWN. Semhar, good to see you again. Thank you for joining us.

  • 12:33:14

    ARAIAGood to see you. Thank you.

  • 12:33:15

    NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back we're exploring the new Common Core curriculum. You and I, together, trying to learn what are kids are expected to learn. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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