Chamberlain S. Peterside, Ph.DTuesday, April 26, 2005
[email protected]
New York, NY, USA



(Text of Presentation at Panel Discussion of National Association of Seadogs and Institute of African Studies held at Columbia University, NY on April 23rd, 2005)


am truly honored to be here in your midst this afternoon to discuss black heritage with the well respected poet and noble laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka and Major David Dinkins, first black Major of New York City.

The theme of this discussion is quite in tune with the times we live, given the growing interest in African affairs around the world. There is now an increased focus on poverty eradication in Africa, achievement of UN Millennium Development Goal (MDG), and recent creation of African Union/NEPAD, unveiling of Africa Commission Report in UK are some of the events that for the first time since after colonialization are gradually moving African issues to the center-stage in the global arena.

Archeological findings suggest that mankind originated from the African continent and through the process of migration over million of years became dispersed across the face of the earth. Black people today come in different shades and skin tones and could now be found in practically every continent on earth. It was the famous reggae singer Peter Tosh who ones said that "no matter where you come from, as long as you are a black man you are African" Some like Whoopy Goldberg (the Actress) will beg to disagree.

By some estimate there are nearly 1 billion Africans worldwide, (nearly as much as the population of India). 800 million of these are resident in the continent, 40 million in North America, over 70-90 million in the Caribbean and Southern America (not many people here know that Brazil has the second largest black population in the world). The rest of black people are in Europe and Asia.

The key historical factor for the dispersal of Africans across the globe are two-fold: the transatlantic slave trade and in the post war era, migration of Africans overseas, this time by their own volition. UN report just published actually estimates that more Africans have migrated from the continent since 1990 than during the whole period of slavery.

Africans wherever they find themselves have been faced with a myriad of challenges such as maintaining their socio-cultural identity and achieving collective economic empowerment. Black people as a race have so far failed to pull its weight in the committee of nations due to poverty, mismanagement of its natural resources and lack of cohesion. Critics argue that much of Africa's problems are self-inflicted. That not withstanding the African culture is today still alive and well in several places outside the continent both in the Caribbean, North and South America as well as in Europe. The huge economic burden on the African race to my mind is one of the critical factors militating against the achievement of cultural integration and the necessary level of cohesion between those at home and in the Diaspora.

Earlier attempts to forge robust economic partnership and socio-cultural ties between the continent and the Diaspora had limited success. Legend has it that the Jamaican-born activist, Marcus Garvey even formed a shipping company - Black Star Line in the early part of twentieth century, for the purpose of repatriating Negroes back to Africa. Fortunately in recent years, there has been a rising level of cooperation on the political front between African leaders at home and in the Americas. US African-American political leadership has been instrumental in achieving recent political strides in Africa.

One of the issues confronting Africans globally today is that of retaining their cultural identity as they become economically emancipated. Poverty, disease, brain drain, debt burden and asymmetry of dependence are some serious huddles that must be surmounted. Alleviating those problems would enable us continuously bridge the cultural divide. Despite the fact that no one is born or breed to hate themselves or their kind, experience shows that, some times as Africans in the Diaspora attain higher level of economic success and climb the social ladder, they gradually start to lose consciousness of their cultural heritage and alienate themselves from their ethnicity or the continent, as if they are ashamed of their African origin. I call that the "Acquired Success Syndrome (ASS)".

Key Challenges
Just to put some of Africa's economic problems in contest:

  1. Africa today accounts for less than 2% of global trade and about 1,5% of global capital flow.

  2. With just over 40 million people, the African American population accounts for nearly a billion dollars in purchasing power. Equivalent to the tenth largest economy in the world. Yet, level of economic cooperation between the continent and African-American is still at a low ebb

  3. Statistics indicate that over 5 million African professionals are based overseas - Doctors, Dentists, Nurses, Engineers and University Lecturers, etc.

  4. African countries spend billions of dollars to train professionals, yet lack sufficient highly skilled manpower to tackle its myriad of problems and therefore forced to spend yet more financial resources in paying expatriates.

  5. Evidence suggests that there are more Nigerian doctors abroad than at home - over 14,000. More than half of them were trained in Africa.

  6. According to a recent report, only 400 Registered Doctors are still left in the whole of Zambia.

  7. Last year, Kenya's Daily Nation reported that only 600 Dentists now practice in the country, resulting to a ratio of 1 Dentist to 69,000 inhabitants.

The Flip Side

  1. Over $12 billion estimated to be repatriated annually by Africans - Nigeria accounts for $2.5 - $3.0 billion, Somalia $500 million, Ghana - $600 million.

  2. Remittance in most African countries now surpasses official humanitarian assistance, Direct Foreign Investment or even official foreign exchange receipts.

  3. Remittance in Nigeria for instance surpasses the total asset base of the banking industry.

  4. Remittance now forms one of the major sources of investment funds for capital market and real estate industry in Africa and a means of subsistence for many.

  5. African "returnees" have historically been a source of skilled manpower and a crop of entrepreneurs in the continent.

Questions to Ponder
Before I conclude as you leave here today, let me pose some questions worth considering:

  1. What are the solutions to some of the current quagmire confronting Africa - brain drain, cultural inferiority complex, and inherent lack of trust?

  2. Should brain drain be considered an impediment to progress or a blessing in disguise? How could this be harnessed to raise the socio-cultural consciousness of the African Diaspora?

  3. Given the current paradigm shift in Africa and globally, how can Africans become more economically viable and politically relevant?

By addressing these key issues, every one of us could set the stage for future empowerment and building closer ties with our kit and kin back home.

Chamberlain is the Founder & President of New Era Capital Corp. and MyCompleteFinance.com, a New York based financial services group. He was previously a Financial Advisor in the Global Private Client Group, of Merrill Lynch.