human development, social justice and sustainable social systems
A Dutch activist with an African heart
Interview with ADEPT Policy and Advocacy Manager, Luiza Soares
Luiza Soares was born in Cape Verde. At the age of 12 she moved to the Netherlands, where she later became the first woman of Cape Verdean origin to get elected at semi-national level in 2014. She has been involved in diaspora activism since 2003 and recently took this commitment to the EU-level by becoming Policy and Advocacy Manager at the Africa-Europe Diaspora Development Platform (ADEPT) in Brussels. In an interview with Caritas Europa to support our #whatishome campaign, she talked about her engagement and what keeps her motivated to make the diaspora voices heard and migrant contributions recognised.
You were born and spent your early years in Cape Verde before moving to The Netherlands, what motivated you to later invest so much of your time helping bring about positive change in Cape Verde?
Yes, I was born in Cape Verde and I moved to the Netherlands to be with my mother in 1987, at the age of 12.
My engagement with Cape Verde started after visiting in 2003. As a child I didn’t see the poverty or the difference in society, especially since I grew up in a highly-educated family. Visiting in 2003 was therefore an eye opener on the poverty and the inequality in Cape Verde. I found it difficult to remain indifferent to this situation. I decided to continue my studies in Business English and Operational Management and invest myself in changing the situation of the country and the continent.
Could you tell us about the Foundation you started ‘Água dos Anjos’?
In 2016, I was doing some research for the World Bank on Cape Verde from a diaspora perspective and I decided to start a foundation with a good friend of mine. The aim of the foundation is to help families that cannot afford school fees and material for their children. So far we have supported a local church in the village (Stancha Braz) by raising money together with other actors, as well as 5 other families. The name ‘Agua dos Anjos’ is a place in the village where our families come from and it means ‘Angels’ Water’.
You were highly involved with the Cape Verdean and wider African diaspora in the Netherlands. Can you tell us how?
In the Netherlands, I was part of the Cape Verdean diaspora but also the African diaspora in general. Not only from the political side but also by helping diaspora engagement by training them on how to lobby at the government level. I used to teach basic political knowledge to different people from the African diaspora at the foundation Umubano in collaboration with ProDemos (House for Democracy and the Rule of Law), and I was a board member of African in Motion and one of the co-founders of Diaspora United. To this day I am still a board member of NINSEE (The National Institute of Dutch Slavery History and Legacy). NINSEE is the knowledge centre of Dutch transatlantic slavery history and its legacy.
What inspired you to become a politician in the Netherlands and how did you use this position to help provide diaspora with opportunities to bring about positive change/contribute to development in the Netherlands and in their country of origin?
I was always interested in politics. My reason was very personal as I often would feel powerless to see the struggle of my mum (first generation of migrants), and my son (third generation). For me it was an obligation and a way of visibility for the African diaspora in the Netherlands. I wanted to make the wrongs right. It was also one of the difficult phases of my life. I had no experience and I was the first Cape Verdean woman elected at semi-national level in the Netherlands (Member of the Provincial Council of South Holland) from 2015 to 2018. I think there was a need to have someone in politics that people from diaspora could relate to. I was therefore the voice for those who could not express themselves. I gave lessons to the ‘new comers’ on basic politics and I engaged with different activities concerning the African diaspora.
What should governments do to further support the role of diasporas in shaping international development policies?
We are now in the year 2020, and there is still no equality. We migrants are still second-class citizens and sometimes considered a burden. Phrases like ‘migration invasion’, and ‘tsunami of migrants’ affect me emotionally and give me positive energy to move on in my mission on helping the African diaspora, and that is how I made the decision to leave my ‘home’ Rotterdam to move to Brussels and work for ADEPT. Most migration policies are one-way policies that only consider the wants, wishes and needs from all levels in Europe (local/national/EU authorities). There is not much space for dialogue and understanding. We are still treated as guests and not as citizens, part of European society. As long as we are treated as guests there will be no changes in the policies, discrimination and racism.
Local, national and EU authorities should facilitate the policy and include diaspora more in the decisions on migration and in better understanding the African culture and ways of doing things. For example, in the Netherlands, when you talk to a person you look that person in the eyes, but in a lot of African cultures it is the opposite, especially if you are talking to the police. Often this will be interpreted as not having respect, lying or hiding something, and there are cases where people have been arrested.
How do diasporas make important contributions to both their host and home countries?
Taking into account their experience, culture, customs and especially family ties, knowledge, expertise and best practise (the best of both worlds), the role of diaspora is very important for remittances. For example immigrants sent $46 billion to their home countries in sub-Saharan Africa in 2018, a 10% jump in remittances on the previous year, according to the World Bank.
Do you think diaspora have a duty to contribute to the development of their country of origin?
As duty? Yes, and no. It’s more not having a choice. If the choice is between letting family and friends suffer in the country of origin, while here in Europe we have the basic needs, we can’t really speak of “choice of duty”. It is not an option. So we work hard and we share our merit with our family and friends back home and pray for better days to come.
What, in your opinion, does it mean to be a development actor and how do you think migrants can be development actors?
Diasporas are one of the non-traditional development actors and have contributed enormously to the development of countries of origin and countries of destination. Common goals such as poverty reduction, improving health care and gender issues of the local population, are often financed directly by diaspora. This is often done by directly supporting family members and friends with (monthly) financial support (remittances), but also in promoting trade and investment in the country of origin. Carrying out voluntary work and transferring knowledge, skills and expertise and innovation from the diaspora is also of great importance. In addition, they promote repatriation and diaspora tourism. Despite their efforts and contributions, the diaspora is not being seen as a serious partner in the process of seeking solutions. They often operate in isolation and their contributions to the achievement of world goals and poverty reduction often go unnoticed. This needs to change so that migrants’ contributions can reach their full potential both in Europe and worldwide.