There’s an article on Global Voices discussing the role of the Diaspora in Madagascar’s development. It’s good to see discussions like these going on in developing countries. In order to properly engage the Diaspora, there has to first be an open discussion on what their role is going to be. But even before such a discussion starts to form, attitudes also need to be adjusted in the host country on how to receive the Diaspora when they do decide to come back.
As a member of Uganda’s Diaspora, I know it’s often frustrating task when you try to get involved in development projects. There’s the perception that you don’t care, or are not serious. As in the article above, even the simple task of trying to find a job is frustrating. You are either viewed as over-qualified or a threat. Think about that for a second. Of course we may be over-qualified, but we are certainly not a threat. You have to look at the underlying reason as to why we are sliding our CVs across your desk. No one is forcing us to come back, we are doing so out of our own volition. It is a silent testament of individuals hearing the call to come home and make a difference. Therefore, it is incumbent on developing nations to view their Diaspora as assets, and of those select few of us that are “reasporans” to be welcomed, and have our various “over-qualified” talents deployed.
It is in recognizing the Diaspora as an immeasurable force for development and social change—assets, even national intellectual property—that developing nations will truly start to increase local, home-grown, employable capacity. Besides, you can’t build anything properly if you are not using your best tools. You can not win a war when you are not using your very best soldiers.
The Diaspora should be counted among the number of talented, educated individuals able to be called upon to rebuild capacity in any sector. It’s not enough to say that there are only “X”-number of PhD-holders in Uganda, or Kenya, or Zambia, but that there are “X”-number of Ugandan, Kenyan, or Zambian PhD-holders globally. To ostracize us or disregarding us is to hurt any chances of measurable, sustainable growth. As such, the ability for us to fully engage shouldn’t be limited to matters of commerce. The Diaspora should be allowed to express displeasure on matters of public policy in our home country. Citizen media and the omni-present forms of communication have ushered in a new era of always-on awareness, therefore near-instant feedback on social-political missteps. African governments and dictatorships can’t operate in vacuums anymore, and this is a good—albeit slow—thing for political development.
The world is getting smaller—the global village if you will—and the distances blurring that it’s like we never left. Gone are the days when it took letters months to arrive and even more months for replies to reach. Gone are the days when remittances through these means were confiscated at the Post Office. Now days, I can communicate instaneaously with my mum in the village by mobile and text messaging and check up on my sister at Kyambogo University via email. Likewise, my remittances are securely retrieved at Western Union or bank transfers. We are closer now to our home countries than we ever were.
If we are this close, should the governments be increasing their efforts to capitalize on our talents? Shouldn’t we be called upon first instead of foreign assistance using foreign capacity? You can’t truly call it development, if nothing material is developed. It should be called dumping, if it’s not rooted in planting seeds of growth and development. I hate to go out on a limb and say that we are the prodigal sons and daughters of our countries, but it’s not too far off. The only difference is, we coming back with treasure chests full of knowledge and experience, and billions in cash. Pick an industry, any industry, and I guarantee you, there’s one of us ready and willing to slide our CV across your desk.