Arikana Chihombori-Quao, Help from Africa’s Diaspora

Ambassador Arikana Chihombori-Quao (right) addressing LAWAC members at a Roundtable luncheon.

Africa may have some of the fastest growing economies in the world - with Ethiopia and Ghana predicted to grow by 8% this year - but the continent still needs much greater economic and political integration if it is to raise all its people out of poverty, said Dr Arkikana Chihombori-Quao, the African Union Ambassador to the US. This is an urgent task, as the population of Africa is expected to double from 1 to 2 billion by 2050. Bringing Africa together is the task of the 55-member African Union, and Chihombori said this can only work if Africa can mobilize its diaspora populations around the world.

Speaking to a LAWAC roundtable lunch on March 30th, Chihombori said economic development required peace and security, as well as representative government. “Sadly we still have some leaders who are not behaving,” she said.

Taking a longer-term view, Chihombori blamed many of Africa’s current problems on the 1885 Berlin Conference, when the European powers carved up Africa into areas of influence, dominated largely by France, Britain, Belgium and Portugal. The legacy of colonialism still governs much of what happens in Africa today, from the arbitrary borders of countries to the economic and trade models that see most of Africa’s natural resources exported to other countries with little added value by African laborers. “Until we decolonize our minds, we won’t be united,” she said. She said it was only recently that Ghana, one of the world’s top producers of cocoa beans, began making its own chocolate, rather than just exporting all the cocoa beans it harvested. “We are bleeding jobs all over the world and it has got to stop!”

Chihombori said the popularity of the recent film “Black Panther”, about the fictional African land of Wakanda, has helped her job enormously. On a recent trip to New York a taxi driver heard her accent and asked if she was from Wakanda. “Of course I said ‘yes!’” she said. “Africa is the Garden of Eden – everything the world needs can be found in Africa.”

Chihombori, herself a medical doctor, said that health care in Africa was in a “Mission Impossible” situation because the continent only has about 2% of the world’s doctors. Many countries do not even have enough qualified medical staff to teach young student doctors. The only answer, she said, is to get highly-trained African doctors living overseas to come back to Africa for some time to help. “What we need is out there in the diaspora: training, training, training!” she said.