U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit define the African diaspora

Panelists and officials distinguished different interpretations of the African Diaspora at the 2022 U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit.


Ben Solomon/U.S. Department of State

Vice President of the United States T.H. Kamala Harris during the Plenary 3 at the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, December 15, 2022.

Lillian Stephens, Foreign Affairs Correspondent

According to the United Nations Environment Programme, 30 percent of the world’s mineral reserves, up to 90 percent of its chromium and platinum, as well as the largest reserves of cobalt, diamonds, platinum, and uranium are all in Africa. 

Sixty-five percent of the world’s arable land and 10 percent of the planet’s internal renewable freshwater resources are in Africa.

The presence of these resources has resulted in specific attention to the continent to control and distribute these resources to their respective people or for profit, including the United States. 

U.S. President Joe Biden invited nearly 50 African leaders to attend the 2022 U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington D.C., in December 2022.

The summit held multiple forums and  panels, to present networking opportunities in business, economic, social, political, and educational endeavors. The days preceding and following the three-day summit were filled with summit-related activities such as networking events and a gala. 

“Often, we see members of the Diaspora return to the countries to which they’re connected and empower people there,” said Antony J. Blinken, U.S. Secretary of State, during the African and Diaspora Young Leaders Forum. “The diaspora is an unparalleled asset for people on both continents.”

Blinken spoke of the African diaspora as a single group made up of African immigrants and Africa’s surviving posterity from the transatlantic slave trade. Certain speakers from the African continent defined the African diaspora differently.

Gilbert Khadiagala, a panelist in “Africa’s Future: University Partnerships, Business, Tech & Open Diplomacy,” is a professor at the University of the Witwatersrand and the director of African Centre of Study for the United States. He spoke openly of two African diasporas.

“A distinction we are trying to make is there is a group of Africans who came here in the 60s, and even some in the 50s, who can be distinguished from the ‘older diaspora,’ ” said Khadiagala. “Whether that distinction is problematic, we could talk about it — but there is just that assumption that there is a population of newer Africans.”

Khadiagala observed two diasporas: African immigrants who immigrated outside of the transatlantic slave trade were members of the “new diaspora;” descendants of the transatlantic slave trade belonged to the “old diaspora.”

Ervin Massinga, the principal deputy assistant secretary of the Bureau of African Affairs in the U.S. Department of State, shared Blinkin’s rhetoric and combined Khadiagala’s “old” and “new” diasporas as a single African diaspora.

“From my standpoint – from our standpoint – the diaspora includes a lot of different elements. It includes those who are first generation or second generation, African immigrants and African American immigrants, and then it deals with folks in the Black community who have been here a really, really long time,” said Massinga. “Both of those groups, and everyone in between, is what we consider the diaspora.”

These conflicting ideas of how to define the diaspora can also have clear, present ramifications on any talk regarding Africa’s resources or actions taken regarding those resources. If there is an old and new diaspora, who’s to say the African Union will include the “old diaspora” in these discussions at all?

Chris Emmanuel, a member of the African Diaspora Development Institute, attended the U.S.-Africa Summit in its entirety. He saw the interpretation of “old” and “new” African diasporas as inherently divisive.

“All my life, I’ve known the diaspora to be all Black people from around the world,” said Emmanuel. “At this conference, I’m hearing a different definition, which is that the diaspora is Africans who left the continent and are living in America. That, to me, is a different definition from the general diaspora and I feel that it is leaving out and cutting out the formerly enslaved Africans.”

Emmanuel said African officials seemed to exclude the transatlantic slave trade’s surviving posterity in order to court the Western gaze, “and that is very dangerous.”

Imani Countess, founder of the US-Africa Bridge Building Project, both attended and hosted a forum in the U.S.-Africa Summit. She recalled several iterations of the African Diaspora’s definition prior to the summit until convening officials settled on one definition.

“The way the African Union defines diaspora includes new African immigrants, folks who’ve left the continent for economic or education reasons … [it] includes the children of immigrants who maybe migrated 50 years ago [and] the descendants of African enslaved people. It also includes people who love Africa, who are concerned about Africa,” said Countess. “That really opens up the definition to people of any ethnic descent who are interested in the development of the continent.”