In 2015, Marie Chantal Uwitonze founded the African Diaspora Network in Europe (ADNE). This umbrella organisation mobilises and involves Africans from the diaspora in the development of the African continent. Glo.be met this ambitious and passionate expert.
Why did you create this initiative?
The African Diaspora Network in Europe was founded to remedy the low involvement of the diasporas in the development policies. Furthermore, it was essential to combat the stigmatisation of migration and of the Africans living in Europe. Many Europeans confuse refugees, economic migrants and people studying in Europe or working as an expert.
The diasporas have huge untapped potential in terms of job creation and the strengthening of skills, entrepreneurship, development funding, the transfer of knowledge, skills and technologies.
Remittances by the diaspora are 3 times higher than global public development aid. Still the diaspora remains marginalised as a stakeholder. The challenges facing both our continents mean that we cannot leave anyone behind. We need to involve the diasporas in looking for sustainable solutions.
In this respect, our organisation aims to create synergies and hold a dialogue with the other development partners in the host countries and countries of origin.
Who is this initiative aimed at?
Many people from the diaspora want to launch sustainable development projects in their country of origin, but there are too few tools to facilitate this contribution.
We need to support those who want to return home by helping them to connect with local systems so they can create synergies, invest, join a business or administration, etc.
We are working to create a system for supporting these initiatives and to facilitate exchanges between the diaspora and the institutions of both the countries of origin and the host countries.
We are also members of the Policy Forum on Development, the platform set up by the European Commission to facilitate dialogue with civil society and the local authorities.
What response has this had in the diasporas? In the countries of origin? In European countries?
Since our network was created in 2015, many diasporas have taken an interest in what is happening in the institutions. The European Commission has also just adopted an instrument for financing development projects from the diaspora (Diaspora Facility). This was one of the recommendations of the 2015 declaration at the Valletta Summit on Migration.
The African Union has recognised the diaspora as the continent's 6th region. Many countries, either within their Foreign Affairs Ministries or separately, have had departments dedicated to the diaspora for a long time now: Rwanda, Senegal, Mali, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Togo, etc.
This greater understanding of the diasporas is essential for inter-culturalism and our coexistence.
Which concrete actions do you support?
We are currently creating a database of experts from the African diaspora, which will act as a centralised resource for different development projects. Wherever they are, qualified people can help to strengthen the capacities of public institutions, businesses, hospitals, industries, schools and universities.
Many innovative start-ups are emerging in the diaspora to improve the standard of living of the populations and bring them closer to public services (health, education, energy and transport). In Nigeria, the "Find A Med" application developed by an expert from the diaspora in 2015 allows users to find the closest health centre and create a medical profile. This facilitates diagnosis in the event of an emergency. The application allowed the country to contain the Ebola crisis, by distributing information on symptoms and alerting doctors more quickly.
We are also working on a project to create a "diaspora fund", so that we can invest in sustainable community projects and provide additional funding for start-ups.
We have launched the "She Solidarity" movement to allow migrant women and those from the diaspora to meet women in public and private decision-making roles and talk about the specific problems they are facing.
What roles can these diasporas play?
The diasporas know the cultures and social contexts of their country of origin. They also have a lot of skills they have obtained in Europe. As such they can play a constructive role in the dialogue and in preparing development policies.
The Diaspora Week, celebrated at the initiative of the ADNE, aims to highlight this potential, which confirms that diversity contributes to the success of both our continents. The African Diaspora Entrepreneurship Award is presented during this ceremony, to reward innovative solutions for development in Africa.
Marie Chantal Uwitonze
After schooling in Rwanda, Marie Chantal Uwitonze graduated in international law and diplomacy from the National School of Administration of Algiers. She then worked with UNDP (United Nations Development Program) before returning to her home country.
She arrived in Belgium in late 2010 to study at the Université Catholique de Louvain (UCL) and won two Masters, one in political science, diplomacy and conflict management and the other in development cooperation.
From 2014, she joined Louis Michel in the European Parliament as an advisor in charge of the Development Committee and the ACP-EU Parliamentary Assembly. In the European institutions, she also covered intergroups working on issues related to racism and culture. In 2014, she publishes the book "European Union, Actor of Peacekeeping in Africa: Success and Limits of Commitment". She is also interested in the management of natural resources in Africa and was particularly involved in the negotiations on the EU regulation on conflict minerals. In 2015, she oversaw the compilation of the book entitled "Natural Resources in Africa, a blessing" of Louis Michel.
Her past experiences gave her the desire to invest herself more concretely in development and become an actor of change. In 2016, she created her own consultancy firm, Mach Consulting, specializing in EU-Africa and ACP-EU relations. She is also author of the book “The Keys to a successful career” dedicated to youth and women empowerment.