Kenyan diaspora can do more than just remit money


As Kenyans prepare to go to polls in 2012, hopefuls for the high office have already started globe trotting to woo votes from diaspora who will for the first time vote under the new constitutional dispensation.

Political analysts say that Kenyans abroad estimated at more than three million with at least half of them eligible voters would significantly influence the outcome of the next General Election.

The diaspora community, though politically ignored in the past, plays various political and socio-economic roles in the country’s affairs. Other than participating in elections, sending remittances to their families and providing guidance and soft landing pads to immigrants and visitors, they could also boost local entrepreneurial activities.

It is estimated that more than 200 million people are living in a country other than theirs across the world. This translates to three per cent of the world’s population — a large number by all standards. If they were to form a nation, it would be the size of Nigeria and Kenya combined.

Immigration has been happening over the decades at various rates. However, modern transport, communication technology and globalisation make it a force that could be harnessed to yield great economic benefits not possible in the past.

Although these people are not found in one area, fit to be called a market niche, they have certain elements that could be commercially exploited. For instance, consider an aspect of network of kinship and language that could facilitate cross-border business.

Chinese and Somalis are classic examples. It is estimated that there are more Chinese living outside China than the French in France. This has created a strong network that has boosted China’s international business.

These networks speed up the flow of information and trust that are key to entrepreneurial success. A Chinese resident in Kenya who spots an opportunity for a Chinese product may alert his kinsmen in Guangzhou or Hangzhou cities to source for the commodity for export to the local market.

Wherever they are around the world, they open a Chinese restaurant to cater not only for their own community but also the host residents who have a taste for Chinese dishes. This provides a stable overseas market for their home suppliers. But Kenyans in Chicago, US or Brussels, Belgium would most likely think only of sending remittance to their relatives. We are so happy to receive remittances that even the government proudly records as a source of forex inflow.

It is time we train our sights on this window of opportunity waiting to be exploited from our ties with our kin abroad, the remittance we receive is just a tip of the iceberg. We can get more.

In absence of strong laws in many countries and poor cultural knowledge coupled with hostility of some communities, it is easier to penetrate them through our kin abroad since they foster trust and loyalty. This is why so much foreign direct investment in China passes through the Chinese diaspora.

Migrants into rich countries such as Europe and the US should not just send us money. What we need more is the opportunity and ability to make money. Let us learn from the old saying that don’t give a hungry man fish but teach him how to fish. That way you make him independent and prosperous. Help local entrepreneurs penetrate market in your host country.

Many people see immigration as something negative, especially when it involves highly endowed people whether academically or financially moving to richer and better countries. That is why we talk of brain drain and capital outflow with nostalgia. But in today’s global economy we cannot change it. We need to harness its goodness to prosper.

Mr Kiunga is the author of Common Reasons why Start-Up Business Fails and What you can do About it and Challenges of Starting a Business.





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