It is now common knowledge that the remittance being sent home by Africans in the diaspora is huge. The latest official figures suggest the annual remittance in 2012 was around $60 billion. This is mind blowing and far exceeds what the continent receives from foreign donors in Official Development Assistance (ODA).
This really says a lot about Africans in the Diaspora: they do really care about the people back home, and not just in words but in deeds. We can confidently say they are putting their money where their mouth (heart) is. People send money back home to support their families, especially ageing parents, sponsor someone’s education, and help out people in difficulties.
Money is also sent for social reasons: to continue to maintain a sense of belonging, to show off, as well as presents and contributions at weddings, child births and expensive funerals. And yet a lot of people do it under family pressure, greed and exploitation as we all witnessed in the recent revelation by the footballer Emmanuel Adebayor on his Facebook page.
Nigerians living abroad remitted $21bn in 2014 —World Bank. Half of it was spent building village homes now occupied by lizards and spiders.
— Dr. Njakiri Damages (@DrDamages) April 16, 2015
While this is really commendable especially given that diaspora remittance is often channelled to specific individuals , I believe we need to ask questions regarding what impact the money is having on the continent and people on the ground. Yes, money can solve so many immediate problems like settle medical bills and provide the next meal.
However, diaspora remittance end up falling into the same trap as international aid: dependency trap. They do not solve long term structural problems. It is often one form of handout replacing or complimenting the other. The money is often sent as a gift or obligation and accountability is not demanded.
The belief that money grows in trees in Europe and America does not help the matter. Even when money is requested as a loan, the chance of getting it back is zero. Sometimes, money is requested for an unspecified “something” that needs to be resolved. Any attempts to get into a genuine business discussion and deal is frowned upon. This is a common story and Adebayor’s Facebook post confirms that.
The problems in Africa are far beyond the absence of cash, though it may be for specific individuals. The money lost in the continent in the form of corruption, mismanagement and incompetence far exceeds the diaspora remittance and international aid put together.
The lack of regular electricity, pipe borne water, security, quality schools and hospitals, good roads, security and so on has more to do with corruption and incompetence than the absence of money. After all, Africans, both the elites and the commoners who either borrow or save long term, are doing so much to subsidise European, American and Asian academic and health institutions.
A few years ago, while I was doing a masters degree programme and paying the home/EU tuition of £3,000, I was shocked to learn that my fellow Africans were paying 4 times that amount, in addition to all the other fees they had to pay. Yet, British universities are flooded with African and other foreign students. African government officials are also famous for seeking medical check up abroad as soon as they have the slightest headache or stomach-ache and paying exorbitant amount of money for these services. It is obvious the problem is not just money.
Africans in the diaspora can do a lot more for their people and continent than regular remittance. They work and often run these establishments providing high quality services that both African politicians and ordinary people envy and willing to shed so much money on.
They include doctors, nurses, engineers, project managers, and other experts. Even those working as waiters, chambermaids, bus drivers, and cleaners fully understand the demands of their establishments. They demand punctuality, dedication, honesty, continuous improvement, thoroughness, going the extra mile, and so many other qualities that could help the continent move forward.
It is these skills or rather the absence of their application that is responsible for the fact that in a major oil producing nation, people queue for hours to get petrols for their cars, don’t have regular electricity or drinking water, and can’t rely of services provided by the state.
Why would Africans in the diaspora be outraged by less than high class service in the West but look the other way while it is happening back home. Why are we happy to bribe a policeman back home but get embarrassed by any slight police harassment in the West?
Why would we expect a top notch service in any hotel or eatery in the West irrespective of how much we pay but suddenly become complacent with lazy and lacklustre service when we arrive home? There is nothing cultural about having a clean environment, good quality service, honesty, being punctual and showing dedication.
It is very easy to blame the politicians and the society for the lack of development in the continent. While it is true that it is the politicians that withhold workers’ salaries for several months and refuse to release funds to build and maintain infrastructure, individuals are accountable for their corrupt and incompetent behaviour. In any case, the Africans in the diaspora have more influence on the receivers of their remittance.
They include the reckless taxi drivers that violate traffic rules and dupe their passengers, the policemen that harass ordinary citizens for no reason, the lazy waitress that makes you wait for ages before bringing your food, the touts that sabotage the electricity infrastructure, and even the teenager that drops the ice cream wrap in the middle of the busy street. These are our recipients. These are our relatives.
We should seize every opportunity to teach people that these unhelpful behaviours are the cause of our hardship. We should find the time to talk and not just give. We need to demand that we are listened to. We have shown that we have enough economic power to make demands even at individual levels.
We should seize the opportunity not just to throw a party when we arrive, but to hold talks at schools and village halls. We cannot afford to be perpetual recipients of free money. It doesn’t matter where it is coming from.
Africans in the diaspora have clearly put their money where their hearts are. It is perhaps time to put the mouth where their money is. He who pays the piper should call the tune.