What is the Diaspora all about?

On a world scale emigration has become the principal means of survival.Emigration forced or chosen, across national frontiers or from village to metropolis, is the quintessential experience of our timeJohn Berger

On a world scale emigration has become the principal means of survival.Emigration forced or chosen, across national frontiers or from village to metropolis, is the quintessential experience of our time
John Berger

The reasons for leaving one’s homeland are often compelling but, also, always different from person to person and community to community.

In Africa, and Rwanda especially, emigrating has almost always been a fact of life. Either you were born in the Diaspora or the pursuit of life’s necessities committed you to it.

The various reasons may either be the existential quest for “greener pastures”; or, as in the case of Rwandans in the latter parts of the 20th Century, may also boil down to simply  a matter of life and death.

For a great many of the Africans in the Diaspora life is not strictly about survival. We have vibrant communities in S. Africa, the U.S. and throughout Europe. The Rwanda of today has the imprint of the Diaspora all over it, in a positive way.

Many people might wonder, really, what life is like in the Diaspora. Well, life can definitely vary from individual to individual; here in the U.S. we have brothers and sisters that “hustle” on 125th St. Harlem, while others work the hallowed corridors of Wall Street.

There are ones that balance two jobs and school while others that are content in their ‘9 to 5’and with just getting by, having all but relinquished the elusive ‘American Dream’

Our heritage and Rwandan culture has not been lost on a great many of us, surprisingly. It is this cultural connection that keeps us going and reinforces our ideals about who we are in the vast and alien world.

Others however, even within the Rwandan community, are living in the exact opposite manner; they are just everyday ‘Romans’ going about their business in ‘Rome’, their connection to Africa erased.

Others wander about in these foreign lands, zombie-like, attempting to make sense of all they see, hear, smell and feel. Others are simply turning dreams into reality.

As paradoxical as it may seem we in the ‘Immigrant Nation’ have absorbed ourselves into every facet of American society.

The focus has shifted from basic survival to improving our socio-economic lot and that of our families. The onus is on getting those things, that you otherwise would not have been able to get, and having that translate to the good of your family first and community later.

That being said however, it is interesting to note how unskilled workers tend to send more money home; skilled workers in the Diaspora generate much more income than the unskilled laborers but are more likely to become permanent immigrants with broken links to their nation of origin.

The impacts of people living abroad, on the mother country, are as wide as there are diverse; they cut across cultural, political and economical lines. With the advent of communications technology and globalization, this effect has quadrupled.

Our influence on our home nations are at an unprecedented level. Sons and daughters of the Diaspora are the bread and butter of most Third World economies; especially in Africa.

The African Development Bank (ADB) figures show that Africans in the Diaspora remit monies to the tune of $13 billion on a yearly basis.

In Rwanda, the Central Bank notes that overall remittances from the Diaspora totaled $ 80 million-thus making up a large percent of our Gross National Product.

Much has been said with concern to the “brain drain” and not for nothing, because East Africa alone lost 19% of its skilled workforce in 2000.

It was with this in mind that African governments are began to take a closer look into recouping these losses or coming up with ways and means of channeling these remittances into a tangible developmental tool.

Rwanda is one such country; it has taken albeit late but necessary steps towards tapping into the booming remittance market, such as,  the setting up of a Diaspora Department in the Foreign Affairs office.

Furthermore, frameworks are actively being pursed so as to capitalize on this flow of revenue i.e. a savings and investment fund for the Diaspora.

Hard money matters aside, the Rwandese government has, and is, instituting policies that facilitates returnee benefits such as higher enrollment in tertiary education, “brain gain”  the transfer of knowledge and technology in addition to the creation of businesses, trade and knowledge pools.

This is the spirit behind the creation of organizations such Rwanda Convention Association (RCA), Rwanda Network Association (RINA), Friends of Rwanda and countless others.

The recently concluded ‘Rwanda Day’ in Boston aimed to do just that.