Opinion and Analysis
Bless the diaspora for taking up our talent
Posted Sunday, July 29 2012 at 18:49
Last week I left my office for a meeting at the Safari Park Hotel on Thika Superhighway. Expecting the journey there and back to be an all-day affair, I packed my bags (and a cheese sandwich). But I was back in an hour flat, with an uneaten sandwich.
I get it now. I get what they meant about transport infrastructure opening up an economy. It sure opened mine.
First, I didn’t have to use as much fuel as I would have done in the past. Those shillings saved were quickly spent on a pair of… ahhh, forget it.
Secondly, I didn’t have to curse, shake my fist or yell at some insane matatu driver who overlapped me on a non-existent lane missing my fender by inches. The highway is blissfully matatu-free — at least the short-distance kind. I, therefore, saved my positive energy, which was spent on… uuumh… never mind.
Thirdly, I had glorious, creative and business-related thoughts the entire way. I contributed in some small way to the Kenyan economy.
Infrastructure is the oil that greases the cogs of development; that makes goods move faster from their point of production to their point of consumption, thus generating cash that is used to purchase more inputs of production for the same to be delivered and consumed faster.
Which then gets one wondering out loud as to why the previous Moi regime did little to develop infrastructure, thereby holding us back in economic growth. Seriously, why?
While there’s no point crying over spilt milk, it does beg some consideration that were it not for that stifling, rudimentary political and economic space, we would not be having the human capital flight that happened in the 1980s and 1990s that has led to Diaspora remittances of just about $100 million a month as at May 2012.
Hence, by creating a negative socio-political climate, the former regime ended up —inadvertently —creating a positive macro-economic stabiliser in the form of steady foreign currency remittances.
The Central Bank of Kenya’s data on remittances indicates that on average, 50 per cent of the flows originate from North America, about 28 per cent from Europe and the remaining 22 per cent from the rest of the world (read Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa).
Here’s my absolutely pedestrian analysis of Diaspora demographics.
The North American flows are derived from Kenyans who originally went to North America on student visas, completed their studies (or maybe not) and integrated themselves into the working economy, generating positive revenues that allow free cash flow to be remitted back to relatives in Kenya every month.
The European flows are from Kenyans who took off to the “motherland” the UK and its Western European neighbours looking for greener work pastures. Again they integrated themselves into the working economy, some so deep as to form churches that created miracle babies.
A recent visit to the UK left me gob-smacked at the naïveté that continues to afflict a chosen few. Upon seeing my passport, the cashier at a retail store on Oxford Street identified herself as a Ugandan. She politely asked about how things were “back home in East Africa.”
Then I made a disastrous mistake: I asked her how she liked being in the UK. I might as well have gone bungee jumping at the Victoria Falls with a rubber band. The woman proceeded to tell me how she was a member of the “miracle baby church” and even though I was a Kenyan, she was going to tell me off anyway.