Interview with Marie Chantal Uwitonze, President of the African Diaspora Network in Europe (ADNE)
ADNE is an umbrella organization for African diaspora in Europe whose primary objective is to assist members (Organizations/Associations, Enterprises, individuals) to engage with policy makers on issues of common interest to Europe and Africa. ADNE has become a recognized interlocutor of the European Union, African Union, African Countries, African Embassies, ACP Group, Governmental agencies and International organizations. The African Diaspora Network in Europe (ADNE) promotes integration of members of African Diaspora in the host countries and provides them with a platform for constructive dialogue, capacity building and knowledge sharing to empower and facilitate their endeavors for sustainable development of Africa. It encourages wider involvement of Africans in shaping the future of Africa and Europe.
Marie Chantal Uwitonze, President of the African Diaspora Network in Europe (ADNE), gives us some insights on the ADNE initiative, links with the agricultural and rural development sectors in Africa and the role of diasporas post-Cotonou:
What was thinking behind this initiative, how did it start?
The African Diaspora Network in Europe was founded to address the low involvement of diasporas in designing and implementing development policies. It went on to have an important role in fighting against the stigmatisation of migration and Africans living in Europe. Many people in Europe confuse refugees, economic migrants, students coming to study in Europe and people who come to work in their host countries as experts.
In development, diasporas have enormous unexplored potential for job creation and increasing skills, entrepreneurship, financing development, knowledge transfer, expertise and technology.
Did you know that the total value of money transferred by diasporas is greater than the official development assistance (over 60 million dollars per year). However, diasporas play only a marginal role in development. The issues facing our two continents mean that we cannot afford to let anyone fall behind. This means that diasporas need to be involved in the quest for sustainable solutions.
Our organisation aims to create tools that in turn create synergies and lead to a structured dialogue with development partners in both host countries and countries of origin.
Focus areas, lessons learnt and future plans:
Many people within diasporas wish to launch sustainable development projects in their countries of origin, however there are not enough structures in place to help them make these contributions.
These people who want to respond to these needs must be assisted, by helping them connect with local ecosystems to invest, produce synergies, join a company or public body, etc.
We work to ensure there is guidance for these initiatives and to foster exchanges between diasporas and the institutions within both countries of origin and host countries.
We are members of the Policy Forum on Development platform set up by the European Commission to facilitate coordination with civil society and local authorities. We advocate for greater involvement of diasporas in designing and implementing development policies.
Since the creation of our network in 2015, many diasporas have taken an interest in what takes place within institutions. European institutions are also making efforts in this direction. Since our first Declaration for the Valletta Summit on Migration, there have been many changes in the landscape of relations between the European Union and the diasporas. Many of the recommendations made in this declaration have been received positively, albeit belatedly, by the European Union. In 2018, the European Commission adopted the Facility for Diaspora (a project funding instrument) to support the creation of collaborative platforms facilitating the involvement of diasporas in development. This is one of the recommendations included in the 2015 declaration.
We have always fought to break down the barrier separating diasporas and public institutions within countries, as well as within the European Union and the African Union. The fact that the European Parliament has officially sponsored the launch of Global Diaspora Week and has welcomed members of diasporas from all over Europe is highly significant.
Would you mind talking about some specific links with the agricultural and rural development sectors in Africa?
Agriculture is a sector with enormous potential for sustainable development in Africa. Whether it is in job creation, industrialisation or food security, this sector is a catalyst for sustainable growth, rural development and empowerment for women and young people. Diasporas play an important role in the development of agricultural value chains and the professionalisation of agricultural professions, as well as in the introduction of new technologies to the sector.
One example of success is a young woman from the Malian diaspora in France, Aissata Diakité, who founded Zabbaan Holding which manufactures fruit juices. The company devised a local development strategy that integrates local farmers into the development of the company. They were included in discussions on how to develop the company to enrich agricultural subsectors with high-performance, innovative production techniques. The company also employs many rural women at all stages of the processes: farming, harvesting and processing.
Many members of diasporas have gained expertise in agriculture and agribusiness in Europe. They play an important role in knowledge transfer and in destigmatising this sector, which young people are often disinterested in due to its low level of development in Africa.
Diasporas can be a driver of development in this key sector, creating jobs and companies and settling young people in rural areas, and thus fighting against illegal migration.
At the ADNE, during Global Diaspora Week 2018, we organised a workshop on ‘Diaspora innovations for agricultural productivity and sustainability.’ There is a great deal of experience that could be used to help rural communities, especially in the areas of innovative techniques for managing water and small-scale local irrigation development, processing regional products, optimising the value chain to increase added value and the use of new technologies in agriculture.
Role of diasporas post-Cotonou
The diasporas know the cultures and social contexts within their countries of origin. They have also obtained expertise in many areas while in Europe. This means that they can constructively take part in dialogue, and in drawing up development policies. The future EU-ACP partnership must take this into account and make the most of this untapped potential.
Beyond the fact that we need to strive for greater effectiveness by setting up a framework that is adapted to the situation on the ground and the diversity within the ACP, it is important to have consultation mechanisms for all stakeholders, including diasporas and civil society more generally. To achieve this, appropriate instruments need to be created to break away from ‘business as usual’.
Marie Chantal Uwitonze President of the African Diaspora Network in Europe (ADNE), has dual Rwandan and Belgian citizenship. She is the CEO of MACH Consulting; which specialises in relationships between the European Union and Africa, in particular financing development and strategic investments. Marie Chantal Uwitonze founded the African Diaspora Network in Europe – ADNE, an organisation that brings together African diaspora associations in order to mobilise and involve members of the African diasporas in African development.
She is also Director of BEES 55 (Boost Employability and Entrepreneurship Skills), a company based in Kigali, Rwanda, that aims to mobilise a local and international solidarity network in order to set up job creation and entrepreneurship initiatives in Africa. Marie Chantal Uwitonze is committed, in both Africa and Europe, to the empowerment of women and gender equality. She is a member of the Board of Directors of the Women in African Initiative, a platform dedicated to economic development and supporting prominent, and high potential, African women.Passionate about writing, Marie Chantal Uwitonze has published a number of works and articles on the EU-Africa partnership, the management of natural resources and professional development.
Her book, Union européenne, acteur du maintien de la paix en Afrique: succès et limites d’un engagement (The EU, a peacekeeping actor in Africa: successes and limitations of commitment), published in 2014, has become a reference for universities and anyone wishing to understand issues of peace and security in Africa. In 2017, Marie Chantal Uwitonze published The keys to a successful career, an inspirational book for young people and women. Marie Chantal Uwitonze has worked for over a decade with various international institutions, including the United Nations Population Fund, the European Parliament (Parliamentary Adviser for the Committee on Development and the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly under Minister of State and MEP Louis Michel), the United Nations Development Programme, etc.
Marie Chantal Uwitonze holds a Master’s degree in International Relations and a Master’s degree in Development, the Environment and Society from the UCL in Belgium. She also holds a degree in international law and diplomacy from the ENA in Algiers.
Twitter: @mc_chantal, @mach_consulting, @AdnEurope, @bees55africa