image from http://thetropicalist.press/2016/09/the-problem-with-diaspora-diplomacy/
The importance of diasporas in public diplomacy is increasingly recognised. Diasporas are ‘natural representatives’ of countries that significantly shape the national image abroad and are ‘living links’ between the host and home states which may play a decisive economic and political role in the relationship between countries(Rana,2013). According to the World Bank 247 million live outside their country of birth and the ‘digital revolution’ as well as cheaper travelling costs enable them to retain close connections with their home land. States can tape their public diplomacy strategy in these transnational networks to ‘influence and inform’ as well as to increase economic interaction with the diaspora as well the foreign state.
This blog briefly examines why and how states engage with diasporas abroad and what impact the the emerge of international communication technologies has had on states and their relationship with diasporas.
Diasporas are communities living abroad while retaining strong connections and remembrances of their country of origin (Rana, 2013:70). However, diasporas are difficult to conceptualise. On the one hand they have left their country of origin for very different reasons and on the other already ‘naturalise’ in the first generation while in other cases there is a strong sentiments of belonging also in the second or third generation(Beine et al., 2009). However it should be reminded that they are not per se political actors and diasporic organizations do not legitimately represent ‘the’ diaspora as whole and thus may be prone to misrepresentations (Ragazzi, 2009).
Rana ( 2013:75) argues that diaspora diplomacy should entail economic, political or cultural elements but ultimately must be seen in its entirety, though warns that political engagement should be approached cautiously, since it might be viewed as an inference in domestic affairs.
Traditional consular services and diplomatic protection play an important role for migrants, but also other institutions such as religious organisations or language classes are usually set up. Diaspora organise themselves and retain connections with their home state also without governmental involvement. These non-govermental diaspora organisations enjoy greater credibility, however lack a coherent message that a government might want to portray abroad. Levitt (2001) has argued that how individuals determine their belonging depends to a large extend on the degree of ‘institutional opportunities’ that the host state or the diaspora community offers. If the latter is widespread a state may cooperate with these institutions. Vice versa through additional programmes by the home state they may encourage political loyalty and economic interaction (Levitt, 2001).
Culturally, diasporas are natural representatives and through the daily interaction with their host society shape profoundly the national brand abroad. For example the importance of gastrodiplomacy has been stressed several times and relies heavily on migrant communities and chiefs to open up restaurants. Even though its political importance may be disputable, it is evident that food can shape perceptions of a country and that the nation brand, at the very minimum, is a crucial factor for tourism.
The economic potential of diasporas cannot be overestimated. For some states remittances – money sent to the country of origin – is of eminent importance for economic stability. Haiti for example receives 24% , Moldova 23% of its GDP in remittances by its expatiates making up nearly 10 times the direct foreign investment. It is the most direct development aid and over time develops into sustainable trade links beneficial to both states. Moreover, through sustaining transnational networks they open markets which is of in the interest of all states regardless of remittances.
image from (Global Remittances Guide, 2016)
So what does the digital revolution mean for the engagement with diasporas?
Manor has presented two contradictory trends in digital diaspora diplomacy. Due to the growth of diasporas they become more relevant to bilateral relations, however through increased connections with the ‘home’ country the local diaspora community has lost in relevance and consequently is less relevant in bilateral relations (Manor, 2016). However, especially because they sustain deeper transnational networks they have become more relevant actors and for states there are more legal and legitimate ways to engage with these networks.
Overall it can be concluded that diaspora networks offer a wide range of opportunities for states to build on their PD strategies. The digital revolution has opened new channels and platform of interactions and thus made diasporas a key actors and target groups of transnational two-way public diplomacy.
Beine M., Doquier F.&Özden C., (2009), Diasporas, The World Bank Development Research Group, Policy Research Working Paper 4984
Global Remittances Guide (2016) Migration Policy Center available at http://www.migrationpolicy.org/programs/data-hub/global-remittances-guide last accessed: 03.05.2017
Levitt P.(2001) Transnational migration: taking stock and future directions, Global Networks 1, 3
Manor I. (2016) “The Ties that Bind: Front Line Diplomats and Digital Diaspora Diplomacy” Paper presented at the BSIA Workshop on frontline diplomacy, Waterloo available at
Ragazzi F., (2009) The Invention of the Croatian Diaspora: Unpacking the Politics of “Diaspora” During the War in Yugoslavia, Global Migration and Transnational Politics, Working Paper no.10
Rana, K. S., (2013) Diaspora Diplomacy and Public Diplomacy. In R. S. Zaharna,A. Arsenault & A. Fisher (Eds.), Relational, Networked and Collaborative Approaches to Public Diplomacy: The Connective Mindshift (pp. 70–85). Oxon: Routledge.
World Bank,(2016) MIGRATION AND REMITTANCES FACTBOOK THIRD EDITION, available at https://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTPROSPECTS/Resources/334934-1199807908806/4549025-1450455807487/Factbookpart1.pdf last accessed 03.05.2017