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Why Kenya should emulate India in handling the Diaspora

By | February 9th 2010

By XN Iraki

In 2005, the Indian made it easier for its sons and daughters living abroad to visit home, but did not allow dual citizenship. In fact, contrary to the popular belief, Indian constitution does not allow dual citizenship.

The overseas citizen of India (OCI) categorisation allows Indians living abroad multiple entries to India, but does not allow them to vote, hold an Indian passport, be an elected member of either the state and national parliaments, hold constitutional offices, or hold jobs in Government.

The introduction of OCI may have been motivated by the economic power Indians abroad hold, particularly in the USA, where they drive the Silicon Valley, and hold other important positions particularly in science and technology.

India’s Government saw the strategic importance of this group, and gave them a window to contribute to economic growth. But it ensured there is a prize to pay for being a non-citizen, as the political restrictions are myriad.

Is this the position envisaged in the draft constitution? Why is dual citizenship so popular among the Kenyan elite? Is it driven by economics or politics?

Clearly there is a critical mass of Kenyans abroad who have an attachment to the Kenya. Some of these Kenyans left when political situation was intolerant to dissents. They changed citizenship, but the flowering of democracy and freedom now attracts them back; except that the law works against them.

Other Kenyans abroad are sons and daughters of influential or ordinary Kenyans. They automatically became citizens of the countries where they were born, but for cultural reasons, they feel alien in their adopted homes. Lured by the power and influence their parents hold in Kenya, they want access to citizenship and possibly power.

I have no statistics on where Kenyans work abroad, but I doubt whether Kenyans abroad are as influential as Indians, and if they work in areas as strategic.

So, it may be safe to conclude that the call for dual citizenship is driven more by politics, not economics.

That, however, does not stop us from finding out just how much Kenyans abroad, the Diaspora, can contribute and catalyse our economy.

According to the Central Bank, remittances are on upward trend, amounting to $600 million (about Sh47 billion) last year.

This is not pocket change. It is about 6 per cent of the annual budget, or about half of the budget deficit.

Two questions arise from this. Where does the money come from? And what is it used for?

Some 80 per cent of this money comes from USA and Europe, traditional work places for Kenyans, because of language and cultural affinity.

Twenty per cent comes from the rest of the world from Australia to Dubai, Qatar and other destinations.

So, if they sent home Sh47 billion, how much do they use in their adopted countries.

It must be more since they send money after eating, paying for utilities, rent and other needs. On average the Kenyans abroad contribute more to their adopted country than Kenyans themselves.

Some people would argue they would be unemployed here if they never left. But that is a just sideshow.

This is why India is made it easier for Indians abroad to come home. So they can spend that money at home, and transfer their know-how to India.

These citizens go beyond sending money home; they come home, and are behind India’s rise into computing super power, with clusters in Bangalore and

Research labs

What is more interesting is how big multinationals, like Microsoft and IBM, are following Indians back home, setting research labs that shame the call centers we are so eager to start he in Kenya.

We have a lot to learn from Indians, beyond their focus on one line of business in Kenya.

While Indians put their money in setting up global firms like Invesys and Winpro, most of our money is used in consumption, from paying school fees (investment) to paying for food, and in a few cases dowry.

Lots of Kenyans abroad yearn to invest at home and have tried, going mostly into real estate. But the local partners are often a let down, lacking integrity and appreciation of the hard times Kenyans abroad go through to earn their money.

An average Indians has a higher paying job than a Kenyan, works less hours because they focus on high-end jobs that require more skills, and are "insulated" from competition, by higher barriers to entry.

The areas include medicine, engineering, computer science, sciences and any academic area that is number friendly.

What is next?

Without investing this colossal amount of money remitted from abroad; it is dispersed and its effects fizzle away without much impact. This money could make a big difference if it was pooled.

I am sure our banks can come up pooling investment vehicles tailored for Kenyans in the Diaspora.

Such vehicles would be better than unreliable relatives who waste money sent for investments.

The Government can also go the Indian route, by coming up with Kenyan citizens overseas (KCO) categorisation. The people shall get unfettered access to Kenya to bring home their know how and money.

Kenyans living abroad are a self-elected group, risk-takers, motivated and ambitious. Like Indians we should loop them into our economic system.

After all, some of the countries whose economic growth we admire today, such as Japan, Singapore or Taiwan, got their impetus from their citizens abroad who returned with new ideas, new thinking and entrepreneurial opportunities, going beyond the need to be allowed to vie for parliamentary seats as carpetbaggers or enjoy the best of both countries without responsibilities. And we should emulate them to take our economy forward.

—The writer is a lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Schol of Business. [email protected]

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