Kenya has a largely untapped resource that until now has remained mostly off the radar: the diaspora.
This community regularly sends money to family members at home to pay for food, education, necessary medical services and other day-to-day expenditures.
However, these remittances are rarely invested into our economy in a more than superficial way. This is partly due to lack of awareness by Kenyans in the diaspora about how investing in Kenya can yield high and secure returns. Another reason is that the government has not had strong enough “pro-diaspora policies” to attract their assets,” according to Shem Ochuodho of the Kenya Diaspora Alliance.
This is gradually changing, however. There now seems to be an effort by the country’s leadership to reach out to Kenyans abroad. The Building Bridges Initiative, for instance, engages with them by calling for more inclusivity of Kenyan citizens, no matter where they reside. It is surprising that it took this long for this recognition to be publicly made by the government, but better late than never. It is yet another testament to the kind of forward-thinking that we have seen in the BBI taskforce findings.
Kenyans in the diaspora have increasingly expressed their interest in getting more involved in local issues, whether that be through politics or the economy. Partnering with them to finance Big Four development projects is a great way to begin.
One idea that is already in motion is a green bond, which will allow Kenyans living abroad to directly invest in affordable housing, food security, local manufacturing and affordable healthcare programmes. The money could also be used to invest in agribusiness ventures and new healthcare facilities - such as cancer research and treatment centres.
The current account deficit in Kenya was reduced from five per cent of gross domestic product in 2018 to 4.6 per cent in 2019. According to Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) Governor Patrick Njoroge, this was partly due to diaspora remittances. If Kenyans are working hard to send money home, why not help them grow their money while at the same time contributing to the prosperity of the country?
Using this logic, the CBK is working to lengthen the maturity period of Treasury bonds. The bonds are a safe and reliable source of income from interest payments every six months.
According to the Kenya Diaspora Alliance, around 75 per cent of remittances are spent on daily family consumption, while only 25 per cent is invested. Typical investments include real estate, land and savings. The government is only now beginning to develop a structured strategy to reach out to the diaspora and inform them of good ways to invest their money in public projects. While real estate is widely seen as a relatively safe investment all over the world, not a lot of information has encouraged people to invest in growth at the micro level. For example, President Uhuru can mobilise the diaspora community to finance part of the SGR from Suswa to Kisumu.
The original plan was to draw the funds from China, but this offers us a great opportunity to be more self-reliant.This is precisely the kind of unity that Uhuru and Raila Odinga sought when they shook hands in March 2018. It was something more transcendental. It was building a sense of community for people who have felt inadequately represented and and wondered about their role in the larger framework.
- The writer is an architect and comments on topical issues.
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