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Keys to tapping the vast resources in our Diaspora

By | July 21st 2009

By Dr Anne Chelang’at Mastamet

Acquisition of new knowledge is viewed as a route toward the competitive advantage of a country. Effective knowledge management systems is one way of realising additional benefits beyond the boundaries, which means reaching out to the people of the Kenyan Diaspora.

Tapping skills from the Diaspora creates economic competitiveness, because the global economy is knowledge-based. Thousands of Kenyan men and women are domiciled in foreign countries, where they live and work.

People’s educational qualifications, abilities, skills and competencies are their human capital.

Governments invest in this human capital through training and education, and expect a return on their investment when the individual becomes economically active, and starts paying taxes.

Migration of this highly skilled human resource to industrialised nations is on this investment.

Skilled Professionals

Use of incentives by the Government to offset the loss have not been very effective, because it cannot offer the highly skilled professionals the salaries and infrastructure comparable to those in developed countries.

The economic loss of these skills to Kenya is immeasurable, but is still largely ignored by the Government. Key resources, like the academics teaching in public universities are expected to drive the economy through research and development, and technological innovations, with meagre salaries and poor working conditions.

The conditions in local public universities are pathetic, and cannot support major scientific research. The laboratories, libraries and classrooms are equipped with insufficient and outdated equipment that cannot adequately address the research demands of the country.

This is a strong vote of no confidence in the quality of Kenya’s higher education systems as witnessed by mushrooming of what are at best Jua Kali, universities across the country, without proper classrooms and the basic equipment.

Kenyans’ desire for quality education pushes them to look for alternative education in foreign countries, where they find not only quality, but also employment because of their excellent performance.

The haemorrhage of skills and has slowed down economic development. It is evident that greed and corruption have been prioritised over economic development.

New thinking on the brain drain issue recognises the potential a country’s highly skilled Diaspora presents to its development. There are two ways of approaching the brain drain concept; namely the return option and the Diaspora option.

Implement Strategy

The return option means countries make an effort to encourage their highly skilled expatriates to return home. Regrettably, only a few countries — mostly newly industrialised nations like India, South Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan — have been able to implement this strategy effectively.

This cannot work for reasons previously mentioned. This makes the option of utilising the skills gained by the Diaspora the best bet.

The Government should view the highly skilled members of the Diaspora as a pool of potentially useful human resource, and mobilise it.

To promote and support the knowledge society, it should take the lead by tapping into the enormous technological and knowledge potential of its people in the Diaspora.

The Government should link up with the Diaspora through its embassies to exchange information and knowledge and transfer expertise and skills back to Kenya. In this way, the Government also gets access to valuable formed by the Diaspora.

One way is through "Homecoming Conferences". Establishment of such a forum will provide a platform for Kenyans to exchange business and academic notes, and for the Government to evaluate its global competitiveness strategies and develop policies for global trade.

The Government can also use the Conference to promote national business opportunities to a broader audience through Diaspora, which has the connections and capacity to influence international investors.

Global Opportunities

The data and information could then be used by the Government to develop a document for bilateral and multilateral negotiations with foreign governments, and international donor organisations. Kenya needs to develop strategic and competitive policies for the exploitation of global business opportunities and markets.

Like China and India, Kenya should tap the skills of the Diaspora for development. China and India have used their Diaspora population, not only to transfer business capital (read remittances and foreign direct investments) and technology, but also competitive manufacturing and software development to their countries from America and Europe.

For example, China brought their best talents ‘home’ to help the country stage the most successful Olympics to date – the 2008 Peking Olympics. China has recognised that global sport is global business.

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