The journey may be long, and sometimes tedious, but Africans are increasingly being drawn to the the Philippines, not only to study, work or do business, but some are just infatuated by the Asian nation. Tom Sykes reports on this new-found love between Africans and the Philippines.
After recent visits to Africa and Asia, it is clear to me that the two continents are growing ever closer. In Ghana, I met so many Chinese, whether overseeing a building site in Kumasi, dining in a five star hotel on Cape Coast or playing roulette in an Accra casino. In Côte d’Ivoire, young people were obsessed with Japanese manga and Korean horror films. During that trip, I heard that, in Southern Africa, kids rarely miss an episode of their favourite telenovellas from the Philippines. A few months later, I was in Manila, the capital of the Philippines, and surprised to find Africans everywhere: Kenyans, Nigerians, South Africans, Egyptians, Moroccans, and Senegalese. I had lived in Manila in 2009-10 and couldn’t recall seeing a single African at that time, although I did meet a number of Filipino intellectuals who loved the novels of Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka and other African luminaries.
Underlying this cultural exchange is economics. According to Bloomberg, trade between Africa and Asia is set to rise from around $300bn at present to over $1.5 trillion by 2020. Already thousands are migrating in both directions for work, study and travel. Now the third fastest-growing economy in Asia, the Philippines has enjoyed an almost 50% increase in trade with Africa over the last two years. In the 2010 census, 2,573 people from African countries were resident in the country and now the figure is thought to be closer to 3,000.
While in Manila, I wanted to understand how African expats find Philippine society. What sort of work do they do? How well have they assimilated? What are the differences and similarities between where they have come from and where they are now?
Japhet E. Miano Kariuki is a Kenyan consultant who encourages foreign investment in the Philippines. I asked him what professional opportunities there are for Africans here:
“When recruiters look to my continent, they see a wealth of underused talent: guys with master’s degrees in business or engineering except they’re driving a taxi! It makes sense to bring them to the Philippines where everyone will benefit from their expertise. The recent growth in business process outsourcing (BPO) here has created a demand for French speakers, so now you have people coming from all the Francophone African nations.”
But isn’t there the danger of brain-drain, with Africa losing the skilled workers it so badly needs for its own development? Japhet thinks not, especially if you look at the evidence of the continent’s “amazing growth. In Kenya right now, there is a new government and a new constitution, and a lot of new investment. My friends tell me that if I went back to Nairobi now, I wouldn’t recognise it.”
Furthermore, migrant labour is a two-way street. “There are many OFWs [Overseas Filipino Workers] who go to Africa with transferable skills related to the main industries there: health care, the service sector, mining and agriculture.”