Mobilising the Senegalese diaspora (Part 2): What are the Institutional Mechanisms behind?

Samuel Lietaer – ULB (IGEAT-CEDD), MIGRADAPT, Brussels, 29th of October 2018


In a ‘triple-win’ perspective benefitting the origin countries, destination countries, and the immigrant, there are many reasons for both the developing and the industrialised countries to support initiatives from the diaspora. This brief explainer aims to understand how – through which major local, national and international mechanisms and systems – the Senegalese living abroad are mobilised for ‘development’ policies.



Remittances, what migrants send back to their home community, individually or collectively, materially and non-materially, have a huge impact on living conditions for the beneficiaries. The Senegalese diaspora is estimated to contribute to 2,338 billion US Dollars per year to the national economy (12,8 % of GDP), which is around one third of the State budget for 2017 and 5 times the amount of Foreign Direct Investments (World Bank, 2018). And this is just for the financial and macro-economic aspects, while there are also many other material, social, cultural and political effects. When and how did policymakers start the ball rolling?


Already more than a decade ago, the influence of development actors, both bi-and multilateral and local and international NGOs, appeared to create dynamics for more systematic cooperation with the diaspora. Especially the Senegalese policy makers have been remarkably supportive of the idea of ‘diaspora as a driver of development’. As a result, supportive policies are flourishing, encouraged by funders. Also, the environmental aspects – being a major direct cause or an underlying factor for migration – receive increased attention.


From autonomous village associations to co-development


Since more than forty years, many Senegalese abroad, especially those who are active members of their village association or an association of nationals, finance community-based development and solidarity projects. In the Mid-Valley of the Senegal River, for example, diaspora members usually seek development partners for this endeavour.


Village associations in Senegal, which initially took form as mutual aid funds, were the first recognised ‘actors’ by decision-makers in the 1980s. Even small-sized, they may be structured in a way that allows for larger-scale projects, for example by participating in calls for state projects for large achievements such as dams, high schools or centres of vocational training. With the decentralisation policy, initiatives must fit into local development programs, to avoid the double financing to local authorities of the same projects by other entities (decentralized cooperation, World Bank, etc.).


The sharpened policies started with bilateral impetuses at the turn of the 2000s. As part of a reviving co-development approach, France started to set up a federation of NGOs (PAISD) through bilateral collaboration with Senegal to facilitate access to funding for projects in communities of origin. For example, the French government co-finances local community projects while at least 15 per cent of the project cost is covered by migrant associations. Several European Member States followed suite with various projects, such as Spain and Italy, as well as international and European development actor’s projects (a.o. UN organisations, the World Bank and the EU’s development cooperation). These latter player’s policy documents were at the origin of the global ‘diaspora turn’ in the beginning of the 2000s.


New structural initiatives


Very recently, several structures ‘by and for the diaspora’ emerged, such as Diafrik Invest and the Diaspora Guarantee and Investment Fund (Fongad-Invest). This latter structure, for example, is still voluntarily managed by volunteers and “aims to participate in the structuring projects of the Plan Sénégal Emergent”, Senegal’s masterplan for development launched in 2014 (cf. Forum on Senegalese savings orientation mechanisms for development, Dakar, November 2017). While there has been obvious political and media coverage, it remains to be seen how these initiatives will be effectively integrated in the official policies.



Why is the diaspora still not systematically integrated into development policies? 


Political competition


Besides the lack of an implemented National Migration Plan (in progress since 2015), one of the major hypothetical reasons would be the political competition between dynamic and engaged diaspora members on the one hand and vested politicians in Senegal on the other. In some cases, actions are decided too unilaterally by the migrants, which has led local authorities to demand more consultation before initiating projects (cf. Maggi et al, 2015).


Polyphonic channels: further potential for synergies in development efforts


Many institutional venues are related to migration issues, including at local, national, regional and international (bi-and multilateral) level.


Senegal is a pioneer in setting up migrant management structures. It was already in 1983 that, for the first time, a Minister in charge of the Emigrants was appointed. Though, between 1993 and 2003, it was rather the Minister of Foreign Affairs who managed the fate of migrants with its Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the African Union and Senegalese Abroad – through the Directorate of Senegalese Abroad. With the presidential change in 2000, the Superior Council of Senegalese Abroad was suspended due to political backlashes between politically engaged diaspora members and the newly elected politicians. The return in 2010 to a ministerial structure specifically charged with migrants is the result of the urgent demand of the associations of the diaspora (Fall, 2010). 


Yet, within the actual Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Senegalese Abroad, it is one of its ten Directions, namely the Directorate-General of the Senegalese Abroad, with its very present Director Sory Kaba, that is at the forefront for diaspora matters. In 2017, the National Assembly voted to add 15 extra parliamentarians from the diaspora. However, Senegalese living abroad have never been surveyed, and the numbers vary significantly from 2,5 to 3 million (DGSE) to 0,5 million people (IOM).


In recent years, Senegalese authorities have been heavily relying on the diaspora to drive development which is reflected in several national plans, such as the Plan Sénégal Emergent, Plan d’Urgence de Développement Communautaire, and the Plan National Migratoire du Sénégal (in progress).


At local level, talks started in 2018 to integrate the migration dimension in the local development plans.


At national level, institutional state structures mainly aim to mobilize the diaspora towards sectors with high-growth prospects. This is done through the Guarantee Fund for Priority Investments (FONGIP) created in 2013 with its new funds FOGAMAC for investments in agriculture and FONGARISE a guarantee fund for the financing of productive investments by Senegalese abroad.   Other instruments include the Investment Support Fund for Senegalese Abroad (FAISE), the Support Base and its one-stop-shop (BAOS). Created in 2013, FONGIP’s mission is to guarantee the development of Senegalese companies by facilitating their access to credit from private financial institutions.


For example, in terms of productive investments and structural support in agriculture, the Fund to Support Investments for Senegalese Abroad (FAISE) excludes the following popular sectors for support: transport, commerce and real estate (housing).  Yet, productive investments in agriculture, for example, do not seem appetizing, because of several barriers, amongst which the perceived and so-called ‘politicization’ of these funds (Lietaer, 2018 and forthcoming).


In line with the Migration Partnership Framework introduced by the EU in June 2016,  Senegalese government sovereignly stated that, “Fixing people in their regions of origin“, is one of the 11 objectives of the “National Migration Strategy of Senegal” (PNMS) in progress since July 2015. This policy was launched and supported by the IOM Fund for Development. We also retain among these objectives, the desire to 1. better value the contribution potential of the Senegalese diaspora; and 2. establish a system for the prevention and management of natural and man-made disasters.


The EU’s ambiguous development policy


For instance, the projects of the European Union’s Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (EU ETF)reflect the political priority of boosting economic and employment opportunities,  as a tool for discouraging illegal migration” (Bernardini, 2018: p. 19). While three (out of nine) programmes of the EU ETF aims at integrating internationally mobile persons, the EU ETF still connects development aid with increased migration control. This has strong negative impacts on household’s livelihood diversification strategies. Several EU Member States, such as Germany, Spain and Italy, push their border externalization policies further through ‘enhanced’ bilateral ‘development’ projects.


Whereas for Senegal its ‘diaspora’ and thus international mobility is an obvious driver for development and vice versa, it is less put that way by and for European countries. For Senegal, more development means more migration. Since it means more resources for more people to move internationally (also to Europe). This will remain true as long as the socio-economic gap remains significant between the EU and Africa. Yet, this so-called ‘migration hump theory’ – empirically verified throughout human history – doesn’t appear in the EU’s discourse. The EU rather focuses on development to avoid migration to the EU by ‘fixing populations’. This latter response to ‘public opinion’ seems to become the EU’s major objective, rather than contributing to sustainable development.

Co-development might also be considered more perniciously as a means for industrialised countries to alleviate public funds towards Official Development Aid and ‘Climate aid’. Indeed, although very controversial, they could trigger initiatives with various public support tools to count the ‘mobilized’ climate-related initiatives as ‘international climate finance’ under the UNFCCC, broadly defined by the OECD (Lietaer, forthcoming).


In sum,

Using only strictly selected ‘entrepreneur migrants’ combined with tighter border controls and restrictive migration policies ‘to fix populations’ seems an erroneous idea in the short- to medium run.  The transnational support systems for the Senegalese diaspora will ultimately lead to more social networks and financial means to potentially – but not necessarily – move to the EU. Temporarily or ‘permanently’, legally or illegally, if no legal options exist. Consequently, integrating the diaspora in development policies implies to create more safe and legal migration options (including innovative social security aspects), in as much as possible regions in Africa and in the world. Allowing more circular mobility seems a reasonable and coherent way forward to effectively seizing transnational opportunities.





  • Fall, P.D., (2010). « Diaspora et développement durable au Sénégal : un état des lieux de la politique gouvernementale de 2000 à nos jours », Rapport préparé pour ADPC, Institut fondamental d’Afrique noire, Université Cheikh Anta Diop de Dakar, Sénégal, 84 p.


  • Lietaer, S. (forthcoming). “Reviewing the Senegalese Diaspora mobilisation mechanisms: evolutions from post-war till the climate era” (preliminary title), Working Paper, Centre for Sustainable Development, ULB.                            
  • Maggi, J., Sarr, D., Green, E.G.T., Sarrasin, O. et Ferro, A. (2013). « Migrations transnationales sénégalaises, intégration et développement. Le rôle des associations de la diaspora à Milan, Paris et Genève », Genève, Département de sociologie: Sociograph – Sociological Research, Study n°15, 230 p.