The Diaspora is failing us, no more crumbs



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.



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4 Responses to The Diaspora is failing us, no more crumbs

  1. tgatete says:

    Good piece. It is not for me to say though, because we are usually on the same page…

  2. Aimable Rwiliriza says:

    Very very true Rama, honestly our Diaspora is one wasted lot. I have bn having trouble with my own kin trying to point out this fact but , they are so brain washed all they think is we need their pennies. Pls research on Pakistani and Egyptian Diaspo and see how impeccable Diaspora is an economical tool to any country.

    • Serupyipyinyur'impyisi Mbur'undeba Wa Mbur'umbonye says:

      It would rather have been kind and helpful of you, if you had taken the trouble and your time to state clearly or at least, give more than three concrete examples, of what the Pakistani and Egyptian Diaspora do differently and obviously positively; that other african diaspora, or the rwandan diaspora isn’t/ aren’t doing and are failing miserably to do, to be, in your own words “an economical tool to any country” instead of the non informative “Pls research”. This way, at least, you have demonstrated that you know what you are talking about and, it seems, are passionately preaching about.

    • Serupyipyinyur'impyisi Mbur'undeba Wa Mbur'umbonye says:

      Copied and pasted below, is an interesting article about a section of the Pakistani diaspora in Europe; their views and attitude are obviously not reflective of the seemingly glorious general image you paint of the “Pakistani diaspora”
      A Long Way From Home
      BY HUMA YUSUF MAY 8, 2012 8:45 AM

      AMSTERDAM — On a recent visit to Amsterdam, I settled down to enjoy a cheese sandwich in a café along the famous Prinsengracht when a teenager at a nearby table asked me where I was from. I assumed he was intrigued since I’d just signed off from an animated phone call conducted largely in Urdu.

      “Pakistan,” I replied. The teenager started laughing and slapping the back of one of his peers, who blushed and hunched low. The exchange spoke volumes about the Pakistani diaspora’s evolving engagement with its native country.

      The Pakistani diaspora in the Netherlands is small, numbering less than 20,000 in 2009 according to Dutch statistics, but closer to 40,000 by Pakistan’s count, perhaps owing to illegal immigration. (The total population of the Netherlands is close to 17 million.) While it’s difficult to generalize on the basis of a few, short exchanges, the consistent tone of my encounters with these and other Pakistani-Dutch people left me with the strong feeling that the diaspora is increasingly disillusioned with its cultural heritage, and is looking to distance itself from Pakistan.

      At the café, I asked the teenager why he was laughing, and reminded him that there’s nothing wrong with hailing from Pakistan. By way of reply, he started pointing at his embarrassed friend and told me that he was from Pakistan, too.

      “His name is Butt! He’s going to grow up and make bombs!” As the jibes continued, the young man of Pakistani origin became increasingly uncomfortable and insisted that he wasn’t from Pakistan. “My parents are from there,” he clarified. “You know I hate that place.”

      I wouldn’t have made much of the teenager’s shame if I hadn’t run into another young Pakistani man the next day, this time at a tacky souvenir shop across the road from Amsterdam Central Station.

      Faisal was born in Amsterdam; his parents migrated from Pakistan in the 1970s. He works in his father’s shop and returns home each evening to enjoy his mother’s Pakistani cooking. Many of Faisal’s friends are Pakistani and he’s happy to sing the latest pop songs out of Lahore at the slightest opportunity.

      But he is ashamed of his parents’ homeland. “I hate telling people I’m from Pakistan,” Faisal confessed. “They’ll assume I’ll cause trouble, so I wish I had nothing to do with it.” Insisting he had no interest in traveling to Pakistan, Faisal mocked me for choosing to keep up ties with the country. “There’s nothing there — no food, no electricity, no hope. Everyone who can leave, should.”

      Notably, the young Pakistanis I met in Amsterdam are not enamored of their lives in the Netherlands, and in my conversations both young men complained about the high cost of living, the lack of social mobility and growing racism. Their grievances seem common in the Pakistani-Dutch community.

      “But anything,” as Faisal put it, “is better than living in Pakistan.”

      Faisal’s sentiments are a damning indictment of Pakistan’s image abroad. But they also spell real trouble for the country’s economy.

      Pakistani coffers depend heavily on foreign remittances: at the end of this fiscal year, Pakistan will have received a record $13.5 billion in remittances, a 21 percent increase over last year’s $11.2 billion. Government officials laud these impressive figures as a sure sign of overseas Pakistanis’ growing confidence in the state and national economy. But given the vitriol of young Pakistani–Dutch people, this confidence seems to be waning.

      First-generation immigrants like Faisal’s parents may still feel a sense of allegiance to Pakistan. But Faisal and others of his generation are likely to be less generous with their earnings in coming years.

      It’s time for the Pakistan government to take stock of its spiraling reputation, and to plan both how to rehabilitate its image abroad and stabilize its economy without banking on foreign remittances.

      Leaving Amsterdam, I met an elderly train conductor of Pakistani origin who was excited to meet someone from his home country. On hearing I’m a journalist in Pakistan, he said, “Move here, daughter, where life is good. There’s no point wasting your energies in a place that’s going nowhere.”

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