We have recently had a heated debate about the role the Diaspora plays in our development. It quickly descended into a partisan name-calling, the Diaspora were just brainwashed mental slaves scared to come home, the locals were just jealous they never got a chance to live in the heaven that is the West. Many in the Diaspora point to the remittances they send back, indeed the Diaspora would be our biggest aid donor if it were a country. In this globalised world we are lucky to have Rwandans abroad to represent us, speak for us, and send some money home to help grandma pay the bills. I was most impressed by Nigerians in the West, the sense of having to help each other, even though they were sometimes criminals they had a sense of responsibility. “When you climb over the wall, you need to throw a rope over to help others.” A beautiful metaphor, trailblazers should make it easier for the next pioneers. Rwanda is not alone in having a large Diaspora in the West, where it lags is how it uses this 200,000 strong Diaspora in development.
We don’t want your pennies, we want trade, there must be more than just running to Western Union. The Diaspora is the key to unlocking all opportunities denied to us. Take the example of Coffee. EU slaps a 350% tariff on non-EU goods, so we often sell at a low price to avoid the high tax. A second company buys at rock bottom then resells to its parent company at a much higher price. This is fraud but they call it free trade, it is how our exports are undervalued at 10% of their true market value. Rwandans with dual-nationality can set up coffee trading companies, bring in their goods at low tariffs then export back the money earned at a higher price. When Israelis export to USA they do it via an Israeli owned company based in USA. However, we send mostly academics to the West, to study dry, boring courses in admin, we never send hustlers. If we sent hustlers we would see the corresponding growth in exports. We can never produce western manufactured goods but we can have customized manufacture in crafts. Our Baskets sell for hundreds of dollars in New York, our style is renowned, but not our story. What makes a product is a story, the process, the history, the meaning, all combine to make a product. Take a Japanese Samurai sword, an ancient method is used, one million tiny sheets of metal layered on top of each other. It takes 4-6 months to make a good one, so it costs $30-50,000 for a sword, the more you use it, the sharper it gets unlike other blades. African goods can also sell if they have cultural significance, a ritualistic creation process, and a story.
Other countries use their diasporas to help develop their economies, not creating a dependency via remittances, but by encouraging wealth-creation back home. The irony is, we don’t need your money, we need your expertise, ideas, work ethic, connections and dual-nationality. The world economy is structured to keep whites on top, people with dual-nationality are nominally white, so their status allows them to do what trade barriers stop us from doing. Telling the Diaspora to simply come home is missing a huge opportunity, we are better off selling our coffee and tea directly to Rwandans, our minerals should make Rwandans abroad rich so they can invest back home. We need technology and skills transfer, each Rwandan must ask what they are doing in that regard. The vision we have for Rwanda outlined in Vision 2020 will need thousands of doctors, nurses, engineers, technicians in the thousands. Returning Diaspora can never fill that gap, we must do it with locals. What we need from the Diaspora is their legal status, ideas, and connections. We should understand that our poverty is structural, the global economic system was designed to have the vast majority at the bottom fighting for scraps. This poverty is not as a result of our laziness, it benefits many to keep us poor, the West puts on a plaster on a gaping wound called aid but it is not meant to make us richer, just to suffer less. So we will have to find a way around or maybe over our problems. Diaspora will be our secret weapon in that, they can’t throw crumbs over the wall, they need to send a rope to lift us up out of this.