The Sudanese diaspora have been working to raise the visibility of Sudan’s revolution and the subsequent establishment of a transitional government. The diaspora has stayed involved as Sudan walks a challenging and bumpy road to realise the ambitions of its citizens: “freedom, peace and justice”.
Many diaspora communities maintain intermittent or continued connections to Sudan in the form of circular financial and social remittances. Advancements in telecommunication and lower transportation costs have been pivotal in maintaining and sustaining these connections intergenerationally. Sudan today has the potential to reap enormous rewards from the diaspora, but ambitions and engagement require much thinking and doing to realise this potential. Continuing with ‘traditional’ diaspora activities- conferences, smaller grant-funding, and some volunteering opportunities – require a lot of effort, and risk squandering limited resources, commitment, and goodwill. Activities need to be embedded in the Government of Sudan’s visions and priorities, establishing clear and transparent cross-governmental mechanisms to facilitate diaspora engagements in social and financial remittances, and at the core of this, creating policies and programmes to help realise these ambitions.
Who are the diaspora, and where are they?
According to IOM estimates, there are between 1.2 and 1.7 million Sudanese citizens and people of Sudanese origin currently living abroad. These flows have been mainly directed towards neighbouring African countries and to the Gulf region, the latter being an essential destination for labour migrants. The top host countries for Sudanese migrants are in the Gulf region. And in the Global North, key sites include the United Kingdom, the US and Australia. Important to note that most data does not capture the estimates of second and subsequent generations.
Map showing top twenty destination countries for Sudanese migrants (data source: United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2017)
The emergence of a Sudanese diaspora that is involved and connected to their country and communities of origin has been visible since the late 80s early 90s, contributing through remittances, skills and knowledge, and being allies in mobilising support and ensuring the visibility of the country internationally. For example, financial remittances to Sudan are estimated at USD 271 million in 2018 by the World Bank. In a recent report by UNDP, remittances (formal plus informal) to Sudan were estimated at $2.9 billion for 2017 and 2018. This shows how much remittances are often not captured in official data, as most transfers are not made through the traditional banking system due to lack of trust. Also, Sudan is listed by the US as a state sponsor of terror, limiting access to banking services.
To ensure ongoing financial and social remittances, and to maximise these, policies must be put in place which facilitates different forms of diaspora mobilisation and strengthens the connections that make it possible for people to connect with Sudan.
Why and how to engage the diaspora?
The transformations taking place in Sudan are breath-taking, such as the recently signed Juba peace agreement. However, the government continues to face enormous challenges, including an ever-worsening economic crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the worst floods in a century. Moreover, realising the ambitions of the revolution have taken a significant toll on people’s lives and livelihoods. Engaging the diaspora now is even more critical for Sudan to survive the multitude of crises it is currently facing.
Sudan has long been engaging with its diaspora through the Secretariat of Sudanese Working Abroad (SSWA). Under new leadership, there are some changes already underway, such as outreach consultations with Sudanese diaspora globally and protection for citizens who were stranded due to COVID-19 border closures. Nonetheless, the current government of Sudan is operating with no clear policy or strategy in how to engage its diaspora, despite their collective interest and recognition of the importance of the diaspora as it seeks to respond to the various. The lack of a consistent, clear vision from across the government can result in a lack of trust between it and the diaspora and lead to various losses through the failure to harness the financial and social benefits of its substantial diaspora population efficiently. The impetus is on the Government of Sudan to capture this critical moment, and in earnest.
There are opportunities to relieve the pressures on the Sudanese governments and its people, but these are not always easy or accessible. However, there is a small opportunity to engage a galvanised diaspora before this dissipates. The focus needs to shift from only financial investment to broader social remittances. Of course, not all diaspora, or migrant communities, are poised or in a position to assist; some are also in need. Those who lost their jobs, migrating irregularly or whatever other challenges they face. So, any policy needs to also account those who are on the other side of the spectrum and who are in need of protection.
How to engage the diaspora?
This cannot be answered here briefly. It requires having a discussion and collating evidence on needs and resources from both the government and diaspora. Nonetheless, there can be a lot of learning from others based on existing patterns of engagement in other areas.
Economic Cooperation: Diaspora who are looking to create trade, investment, and mentorship opportunities to contribute to sustainable impact businesses that foster development in Sudan, as well as to support preparedness and response to humanitarian crises. Examples include the Ethiopian Diaspora Trust Fund initiative and the Nepali Diaspora Investment Fund.
Social Cooperation: Knowledge and skills transfer as a development strategy is critical in capturing the gains of migration, including the engagement of second and subsequent generations. Creating platforms of knowledge transfer will support human development in innovation and core public management institutions. This includes the creation of linkages between academic & research institutions. Also, engage in cultural diplomacy to raise awareness about the rich and diverse cultural heritage of the country, and the promotion of the different arts unique to the country.
Political Cooperation: The diaspora can extend the country’s reach in the world and give a sense of belonging to the many Sudanese and their descendants around the world, who will be essential allies in future diplomatic engagements. Additionally, it is important to ensure that vulnerable Sudanese are offered services and protection.
Call to action and way forward
To leverage the current wave of civic mobilisation among Sudanese diaspora, it is vital to ensure that the engagement is impactful and sustainable. Sudan’s needs are immense, and diaspora support during the transition phase is critical, including financial, skills, knowledge and as diplomatic allies. These are some of the recommendations for the Government of Sudan:
Learning from others: Diaspora engagement is not new; governments across the globe are reaching out to diasporas. In Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, and South Africa have launched several plans to incorporate their diaspora communities as partners in development projects. Several African countries (among them Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, and Uganda) have established institutions (at the agency or ministerial level) to interact with the diaspora. There has been a shift in the discussion from seeing diaspora as a loss, to viewing them as an essential untapped resource that provides opportunities in terms of remittances, trade, investment projects and new knowledge.
Diasporas as partners: Diaspora engagement should be two-way, with partnerships built on foundations of trust, communication, respect and reciprocity. A diaspora policy has the potential to benefit Sudan and Sudanese people both at home and abroad, but can only make a significant impact by ensuring mutually beneficial strategies. Engaging with the diaspora should not be based only on only financial remittance, but also on building a future that can be of benefit to Sudan and the diaspora themselves.
Multigenerational engagement: Ensure engagement is not limited to the first-generation diaspora but ensure that it considers the needs and ambitions of the second and subsequent generations. Thus, multilingual platforms, opportunities for volunteering in different parts of the country and such are important.
Protection for vulnerable migrant and diaspora communities: This became much more apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic, with those who lost their livelihoods, got stuck in different countries as borders closed.
Develop a diaspora policy: Develop a cross-governmental policy, led by SSWA, that accounts for diaspora engagement and protection, and that looks beyond traditional financial remittances and development frameworks. Instead, focus on engagement in social and cultural remittances to build trust and relations; also, engagement should consider diaspora response to humanitarian crises.
IOM defines diasporas as “migrants or descendants of migrants, whose identity and sense of belonging have been shaped by their migration experience and background.” (IOM World Migration Report, 2018: 305) and the African Union defines the diaspora as “People of African origin living outside the continent, irrespective of their citizenship and nationality and who are willing to contribute to the development of the continent and the building of the African Union”.