A role for “honorary Africans”?

Lee Yee Cheong: Seeking recognition for "friends of Africa"

Lee Yee Cheong: Seeking recognition for "friends of Africa"

It’s relatively rare for a non-African participant to receive a warm round of spontaneous applause from an audience gathered to discuss African solutions to Africa’s problems — a key idea behind the concept of an Africa “renaissance”.

That was the response, however, to a suggestion from Malaysian Lee Yee Cheong that individuals who had lived and worked in Africa should be accepted as honorary members of the African diaspora, even if they do not have blood relations with the continent.

Lee, an engineer by training, is a familiar figure on the “science and technology for development” scene. He was co-chair of a Millennium Project task force which issued a report on the topic four years ago, and also a driving force behind the creation of the International Science, Technology and Innovation Centre for South-South Cooperation (ISTIC) which opened in Malaysia last year.

But, as he reminded his audience, he is currently acting as an adviser to the Kenyan government. He suggested that this entitled him (and others in similar situations) to consider themselves part of an international community dedicated to helping Africa solve its problems.

“Please extend the term diaspora to those who love Africa,” he said. “I suggest that you include those foreigners who have worked and lived in the continent, or generally consider themselves to be ‘friends of Africa’, not just those who were born here.”

His remarks, based on his own experiences  on the support that non-Malaysians have given his own country, went down well in the room, to judge by the warm round of applause with which they were greeted by other participants – almost entirely African.

“It’s a good point,” says Nigerian-born Patrick Ezepue, a researcher in quantitative modelling for business at Sheffield Hallam University in the United Kingdom, who is setting up an organisation through which African scientists currently based in Britain can contribute their skills to African development. “We don’t want to be parochial about this kind of thing”.

David Dickson, SciDev.Net

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