“…you understand that as we deal with our own problems back at home of unity, of development, of disease, of education, giving our people skills and employment, creating an environment where business can thrive, it doesn’t stop in Rwanda, in that small geographic space of Rwanda. The idea behind these actions, this thinking, is big; it goes beyond Rwanda,” President Paul Kagame addressing Rwandans and friends of Rwanda during Rwanda Day in Atlanta, USA, September 20, 2014.
For some time now, it has been abundantly clear to many of us that as long as there are Rwandans living, working and studying beyond our country’s physical borders, then by virtue of our goals and thinking mentality, Rwanda stretches to many parts of the world; from Abuja to Abu Dhabi, Berlin to Bujumbura, and New York City to Nairobi. This way of thinking is in line with the grand idea to make it possible for all Rwandans from bakers to bankers, cleaners to clinicians, students to scientists, to be able to contribute to the development of their nation from wherever they are located using various means.
Incidentally, one of those many ways through which Rwandans in the diaspora have collectively and individually contributed to the development of this nation for many years has been through remittances – money sent to Rwanda by relatives or friends working in foreign countries. On a micro level, many of us have at one time or another benefited from this form of assistance whereby relatives and friends living abroad have sent us money to supplement our regular income, pay for unexpected bills and sometimes invest in family businesses. In short, remittances are an informal welfare system to many Rwandans. On the other hand, remittances are increasingly viewed by governments including ours as an important source of development finance mainly because they significantly contribute to Gross National Product, which measures output from citizens and companies regardless of whether they are located within boundaries or overseas. The Economist magazine, for instance, revealed that in 2013, African countries received $32 billion in remittances, and that figure is expected to rise to $40 billion next year.
Remittances, however, are far from being the only major vehicle for diaspora contribution to their countries of origin. As hinted by President Paul Kagame during Rwanda Day in Atlanta, last year, Diaspora communities can be part of the solution to local problems. How, you ask? During a 12 months internship at the UK Parliament where I facilitated the establishment of the first ever Diaspora All-Party Parliamentary Group dedicated to promote parliamentary and public understanding of the key issues affecting diaspora communities in the UK, and to expand and enhance their contributions to the international development agenda, I learned that some countries mainly China and India looked beyond remittances and designed strategies to maximise diaspora potential.
China focused on attracting Foreign Direct Investment
It is believed that today, 80 per cent of China’s Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) comes from its diaspora communities. It is also true that FDI was a major factor in the emergence of China as a manufacturing and trading powerhouse in the 1990s and noughties, whereby an estimated $48 billion in FDI alone flowed into the country in 2002, all of which came from Chinese diaspora.
Similarly, development practitioners believe that large numbers of Chinese diaspora communities alone do not explain the large volume of investment China receives. They explain that Chinese diaspora are well positioned to do business back home because of their widespread entrepreneurial experiences, specialised knowledge and relationships which allow them to overcome language, cultural and legal barriers which seem to frustrate non-diaspora investors. When it comes to non-diaspora investors, returned Chinese are bridges for, and initiators of, Western investment at home.
India focused on the transfer of technology
Contrary to what many believe, past Indian governments were not always keen to involve the diaspora in the development of India. However, in the late 90s there was a shift in policy toward India’s worldwide diaspora whereby recent governments have actively sought their involvement particularly in the area of technology transfer, taking advantage of over 300,000 Indians who work in the ICT sector in America. Development scholars from the University of Nottingham believe that for over two decades now India has greatly benefited from her countrymen and women working in the San Francisco Bay Area of California, commonly referred to as Silicon Valley, because Indian diaspora, who constitute a large percentage of Silicon Valley’s tech executives, have extended their contributions beyond engineering expertise to networks they have established in America and Europe with customers for software developed back in India.
This factor alone is believed to have contributed greatly to India’s position as a global tech hub and home to call centres, and software start-up SMEs.
Overall, it is important to acknowledge efforts made by the government thus far in terms of galvanising Rwandan diaspora efforts to contribute to development. In addition, various communities have also contributed in many ways; however, in the spirit of learning from those who have succeeded where we are yet to excel, there is a lot we can learn from countries such as China and India. Our communities are capable of going beyond remittances by tapping into other areas of development to become bridges to knowledge, expertise, resources and markets for our country. In any event, to get the most out of Rwanda’s ‘sixth province’, we must be ready to multiply our current efforts.