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UN Urges Expatriates to Invest in Africa

The U.N. Economic Commission for Africa is calling for Africans living overseas to invest in their native continent. The commission has wrapped up its three-day workshop in Kenya.

The director of the Economic and Social Policy Division at the Economic Commission for Africa, Augustin Fosu, urged Africans living outside the continent to come back home and invest. Mr. Fosu told reporters it costs about $50 billion a year for Africa to meet the U.N. millennium development goals, yet the continent only gets about $19 billion in overseas development assistance. He said investment from Africans living abroad is one way of making up the difference.

"Given the level [of] patriotism that we are likely to envisage, it means that perhaps you are willing to take a bit more risk as opposed to other potential investors who are foreigners and who are therefore not very conversant with the environment within which the investment activities are taking place," said Augustin Fosu. "So remittances have become an extremely potentially important resource for filling the gap."

Mr. Fosu did not give details of how much investment could be generated from the African diaspora or how many would be willing and able to invest. He said expatriate investment in Africa could also reverse the damaging effects of brain drain, where the continent's educated professionals apply their knowledge and skills overseas.

"The brain drain of yesterday can indeed be a boon today," he said. "The same reasons why people left, if you want to reverse a number of these conditions, they would be willing to come back."

Mr. Fosu called on governments to provide political stability, security, legal frameworks governing investment, and implement other policies and programs to attract expatriate Africans to invest in the continent. Reaching out to African investors was one of many strategies being discussed at the three-day workshop, which brought together economists, lawyers, bankers, government officials, and others from Africa and around the world.

The workshop looked at ways that African governments could increase their revenue and other resources so as to pay for development in their countries. These included: streamlining and clarifying investment procedures and regulations and fighting corruption.