Jeffrey Haynes, my former lecturer on globalisation said this of poor countries: when you are a small, landlocked and resource poor country the odds are stacked against you and your best hope is to export people to other countries to work and send money home. Of course Professor Haynes did not mean reversion to slavery neither was he encouraging people trafficking, he was emphasising the importance of the diaspora, as a source of revenue via remittances and direct investment to their countries of origin.
Indeed, the shrinking time and space between national boundaries, a phenomenon widely referred to as globalisation, has not only contributed to the rising diaspora communities but, crucially, it has also allowed easier financial contribution by the diaspora to their countries of origin. Statistics indicate that in some instances remittances exceed Official Development Assistance from donors. In Uganda, for instance remittances were valued at $732.83M annually.
However, the downside of this phenomenon is its contribution to brain drain phenomena as most developed countries have immigration conditions that mostly attract skilled labour, especially in financial and health sectors.
This has left developing countries with insufficient skilled, and in many cases crucial workforce. Both developing and developed countries have recognised the importance of striking the balance between exporting labour and retaining critical workforce in developing countries.
It is a complex issue and by all means not a straightforward one, Curbing the brain drain and leveraging diaspora skills involves a lot resources on the part of home countries. Lack of resources means that there is very little to incentivise the workforce to remain in their home countries when they have better conditions of service and pay in developed countries.
In some instances this has led to home country initiating policies that do not necessarily make it easy for diaspora to engage with their home countries in any areas of development and mutual interest due to lack and breakdown of trust.
In her 2013 – 2014 budget speech, Ugandan Finance Minister and Economic Planning, Maria Kiwanuka observed that one way of mitigating levels of unemployment and skills shortage amongst the youth in the country would be to tap into skills that exist amongst the diaspora. She further noticed that the diaspora could potentially impart technical skills, transfer knowledge as well as lessons learned in job creation.
This is a clear area of mutual interest between the two. Yet the Ugandan government does not have a comprehensive list of its diaspora nor their skills set. Up until recently Uganda did not recognise dual nationality and whilst that policy has been changed, those Ugandan diaspora seeking a dual nationality visa have to pay a prohibitive fee of $500, and even then the rights of those in diaspora are still limited.
Whilst the Minister of Finance recognises the need of tapping into the diaspora skills set, Uganda’s policy in this area remains rigid and unfavourable for diaspora that surrendered their Ugandan passports and not yet in possession of the dual nationality visa. Such people are still treated as foreign nationals, which means that companies looking to hire these people have to justify hiring such a people over Ugandan Nationals.
Therefore whilst Uganda recognises the value of its diaspora, there are no robust policies in place to harness this value. This is contrary to the findings of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) 2012 report on The Least Developed Countries entitled Harnessing Remittances and Diaspora Knowledge to build productive Capacities
The report argues that for LDCs to benefit from their diaspora, they must know where their diaspora are as well as the skills they possess, and how such skills can be mobilised for development of their home countries.
In particular the report focuses on the mobilisation of diaspora knowledge through knowledge transfer networks. Beyond these diaspora knowledge networks, LDCs can benefit from informal diaspora networks and so long as they can commit to uncovering such networks as well as putting them to good use.
In my own experience, I met Teddy Ruge online and he introduced me to the Women of Kireka .The Women of Kireka are internally displaced refugees who survived Joseph Kony’s war . Following their escape from Northern Uganda, the women ended up on a quarry in Kireka, a suburb of Kampala’s Uganda’s capital, where they sold quarry stones to the construction industry for a living.
One of the women had been disabled during the course of the war, which made work on the quarry very hard and at times impossible especially on days when there was no help available to get her to the quarry. In some instances this involved the more able-bodied women and children carrying her to the top of the hill where the quarry was located. The women earned $1 each day that they worked at the quarry and often this was not sufficient to neither put food on the table nor pay the bills.
As well as their work on the quarry, the women were also made a living form making and selling beads. I am so far helping with sales of their beadwork through an online retail shop called Ethnic Supplies
However their single most wish was to have access to and own sewing machines. In 2012 the women were one of the groups we supported to acquire tools and equipment through the Charity Let Them Help Themselves out Of Poverty.
The women have since set up a workshop, and now an experienced seamstress works with them on technique and design; the women have also been subcontracted by a local designer to take on the work that is beyond their capacity to accomplish. This has meant that the women no longer have to do the heavy work of breaking and selling quarry. Hadijah Nankya is coordinating this work, again this is someone I met through an online contact.
Beyond remittances, diaspora have mobilized around issues that impact home countries with a view to seeking solutions, bypassing restrictive and rigid government policies. Among such forums is the Ugandan Convention here in the UK.
Now in its third year, the convention focuses on promoting investment opportunities in Uganda; the Ugandan government has recognised its importance and it is now sending government ministers and technocrats to attend the annual gathering.
This is also the forum through which the diaspora learn about ways they can go back home and the opportunities that are available to them. Increasingly those wishing to return as well as invest back home include the Ugandan Asians.
One such family are the Nagrecha brothers who went to Uganda following last year’s convention with a view to exploring the investment opportunities they had heard about at the convention. The outcome of their visit was a donation of tractors to small scale farmers worth and estimated $50,000 and $34,000 to regenerate a run down school in South West Uganda .They further pledged to invest between $10-$20M in a maize mill in rural Masindi North West Uganda.