Kenya: Engage Your Diaspora Now
One View to Consider Ahead of Obama’s Trip
By Ben Kazora
The Terminator, Rambo I, Rambo II and the rest was my first introduction to the United States of America. I was enamored by the tall sky scrapers, the scenes of perfectly manicured gardens, the stories of rugs to riches all in the land of milk and honey. This is the place I longed to one day call home. I remember the Saturday afternoon walks deep in the pineapple plantations in the Thika Township about 30 minutes from Nairobi (the London of Africa as Mwalimu Nyerere once fondly referred to it). My friend Andrew and I always talked about going to America during those treacherous walks in the scorching summer heat was going to America.
For a long time I was told that I wasn’t old enough to be allowed to come to the US lest I get “spoilt”. Fast forward to 2003, I am now done with high school and the once tight leash on me seems to have loosened up and I was free to travel far to my dream land. Several months later I landed in the US armed with the bold ambition of being one of the best soccer players in the US while also one of the top engineers the country was yet to witness. The American Dream at first seemed to be more of a nightmare; the harsh winters, the fast pace and everyone was indeed for himself and God everyone else.
Soon I settled, completed my undergraduate courses in Engineering from Purdue University one of the best engineering schools in the country. I was immediately hired on a consultant engineer at Verizon and while cementing my position in the middle class, I continued on to attain my graduate degree in engineering and later an MBA. More settled, more knowledgeable and well acclimatized; for the first time I began looking back to where I came from. Once known as the Dark Continent, Africa is now clearly on the rise. After recent rebasing of its’ GDP, Kenya has suddenly surpassed the likes of Ghana, Ethiopia and Tunisia to becomes the continents ninth largest economy and by definition a middle income country.
Looking back I began to notice the dearth of experts, shortage of clean water, lack of basic skills, children and adults dying if treatable diseases. Once I attained the things I dreamt off, a good education a good job and a comfortable living, life suddenly took a whole new meaning. The parable of talents found in Mathew 25 now seemed to have meaning. What am I doing with my talent, I began asking myself? My parents always told me that to who much is given much was required.
During the winter of 2012, a few of my colleagues from East Africa with shared passion and a unified vision entered into a lengthy discussion on how we can use our talent to economically impact our countries of origin. We wanted to be able to mentor, to help build capacity in our countries, facilitate transfer of the abundant knowledge and expertise we had amassed, use our developed relationships in America to link the solutions to the challenges back home, this was the birth of EADBC.
The most recent report shows that the Kenyan Diaspora remittances contribute to about 3% of the national GDP. To put this in context, the mining sector contributes about 1.08% of the GDP. This contribution has seen an increase of $137M between 2013 and 2014 and now stands at $1.4B. Remittances not only help create jobs through small start-up companies, but also impact education, health, and numerous other key sectors, which are all part of the poverty reduction process. This is among the reasons why the Diaspora should establish a presence in policy-impacting dialogue on initiatives such as the Millennium Development Goals.
30% of US based Kenyan Diaspora members aged 25 and above hold a Bachelor’s degree and about 16% hold master’s degrees, PhD or advanced professional degrees. This is more than the US citizens of whom only 11% hold similar qualifications. Reports show that the Kenyan Diaspora household median income of $61,000 which is higher than the national average of $53,891.
I recently learned of a transnational community of engineers from India facilitated the outsourcing of software development from California’s Silicon Valley to Bangalore and Hyderabad. This exemplifies the Diaspora’s role in bridging the technology gap between developing and developed economies, and encouraging international communication through strategic global partnerships that traditional government-to-government mechanisms are incapable of accomplishing. The Kenyan Diaspora is engaging in similar activities but at a lesser scale.
In light of the upcoming Global Entrepreneurship Summit, The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), an academic research consortium that analyzes entrepreneurial activities in developed and developing countries, has found a high correlation between higher levels of income, exports as shares of GDP, licensing receipts, R&D expenditures, spending on education with high opportunity-to-necessity entrepreneurship. Given effective policy frameworks that facilitate partnership and migration of innovative ideas and technologies, Diaspora entrepreneurs foster business development, competition, innovation, job creation, and business networks that energize transactions across the globe. The Kenyan-American is advantaged with access to financial and human capital to generate new opportunities of mutual (USA and Kenya) social and economic benefits.
Like South Korea, India, Taiwan and many other countries, Kenya needs to more actively engage and incentivize the Diaspora to participate in the economic development process. Even more, the US needs to redefine the US-Africa relationships and lay more emphasis on the Diaspora engagement as the true catalyst for change. No one can better articulate the Kenyan challenges to America than the Kenyan Diaspora themselves. Subsequently, no one can better communicate and prescribe more accurately the solutions to the Kenyan challenges than those in the US who understand Kenya best, the Kenyan Diaspora.