Life in African societies revolves around the community. Not surprisingly, Africans have transported this vital part of their culture to their countries of immigration. Here, their strong commitment to community is reflected in the astonishing number of groups they have created across the country. Every nationality has national, regional, professional, gender, cultural, and political organizations. People often belong to several, and the multiplicity of groups reflects the many layers of identity that Africans bring with them and are eager to maintain.
The organizations reinforce communities and create resource networks to serve them. Churches, mosques, associations, or simply compatriots are quick to pool resources to help people who have fallen on hard times. It is significant that very few Africans are buried in the United States. As a rule, fellow citizens pay to ship the body back to Africa, cover funeral expenses, and give assistance to grieving families here and in the homeland.
The many organizations fill a variety of needs. Some are mostly devoted to the maintenance of sociocultural traditions; for example, several Nigerian and Ghanaian masquerade groups hold dances and ceremonies that while providing entertainment also acknowledge their members' success, mourn the deceased, and welcome newborns into the community.
A large number of organizations are involved in development efforts in Africa, raising funds for a wide range of local and national programs. African immigrants and their communities at home have established a triangular system of sorts that somewhat replicates the old route of the triangular slave trade, but this time with Africa as the beneficiary. Thousands of projects throughout the continent are being funded by emigrants and managed by the locals.
The émigrés' economic impact on their countries of origin, whether at the familial, local, regional, or national level, is extremely high. But African émigrés do more than share their financial resources; they also contribute their time, know-how, and ideas. Their expertise is often called upon by political and social entities eager to use their networks and knowledge. The negative effects of the brain drain are thus being partially mitigated by the strong involvement - based on traditional community values - of the expatriates in the socioeconomic life of their home countries. Nevertheless, the West remains a net recipient of African intellectual and economic "aid."
Today, African immigrants count on information technology to counterbalance some of the effects of the brain drain. Thanks to the Internet, their skills, expertise, and the networks they build in the United States and other countries of immigration - where they have access to better professional resources - are becoming increasingly available to colleagues and users in their countries of origin. This, they stress, transforms a problem into a potential asset. The African Virtual University, founded by a Burundian working at the World Bank in Washington, is a case in point. This initiative of distance learning, based in Kenya and headed for a time by Malian-born Cheikh Modibo Diarra - a former NASA physicist, - has already reached 50,000 students in seventeen countries. They study at a virtual campus via the Internet, CD-ROMs, and videocassettes. The "brain gain" that Africa can get from its expatriates is a topic that is widely debated and generally viewed positively on the continent.
In the United States, Africans are linked through community newspapers, magazines, and radio and television programs. In addition, African Independent Television, a Nigerian channel, is available on cable. But the latest development in the communal life of Africans is their use of the Internet. Today, Africans from Los Angeles to Brooklyn can watch television programs and listen to radio broadcasts from their home countries on their computers. They can read their national newspapers online the same day they are published in Dakar, Nairobi, or Accra. Chat rooms link the Senegalese, Burundi, and Nigerian diasporas scattered across America, Europe, and the Middle East. Links with families are kept alive by telephone, letters, fax, and e-mail. Though a wide digital gap separates the United States and Africa, major cities and small towns on the continent have telecommunication centers that provide telephone and fax services. Cyber cafes have sprung up at an amazingly rapid pace, and the Internet is thus available to a wide spectrum of urbanites, who can keep abreast of the expatriates' activities through their online magazines, or send e-mail to their kin and friends in the United States.
African immigrants also take part in the political life of their home countries. Many Nigerians based in the United States have participated in the party primaries in Nigeria, as candidates or financial supporters. Senegalese citizens from Los Angeles to New York regularly vote in the presidential elections at home.