Last week I left my office for a meeting at the Safari Park Hotel on Thika Highway. Expecting the trip there and back to be an all day affair, I packed my bags [and a cheese sandwich for the trip] and said farewell to all. I was back in an hour flat with an uneaten sandwich beside me. I get it now. I get what they meant about transport infrastructure opening up an economy. It sure opened mine in the following way A) I didn’t have to use as much fuel as I would have done in the past. Those shillings saved were quickly spent on a pair of….ahhh forget it. B) I didn’t have to curse, shake my fist or yell at some insane matatu driver who overlapped me on a non-existent lane missing my fender by inches. The highway is blissfully matatu free…at least of the short distance kind. I therefore saved my positive energy which was spent on….ummm…never mind. C) I had glorious, imaginative, creative and business related thoughts the entire way and back. I contributed in some small way to the Kenyan economy.
Infrastructure: the oil that greases the cogs of development. That makes goods move faster from their point of production to their point of consumption, thus generating cash that is used to purchase more inputs of production for the same to be delivered and consumed faster. Which then gets one wondering out loud as to why the previous Moi regime did little in the form of infrastructure development thereby holding us back in economic growth. Seriously, why? While there’s no point crying over spilt milk, it does beg some consideration that were it not for the stifling, rudimentary political and economic space that our former President put us, we would not be having the human capital flight that happened in the eighties and nineties that has led to diaspora remittances of just about $100 million a month as at May 2012 and climbing. Hence, by creating a negative socio-political climate, the former regime has ended up –inadvertently- creating a positive macroeconomic stabilizer in the form of steady foreign currency remittances. The Central Bank data on remittances indicates that on average 50% of the flows originate in North America, about 28% from Europe and the balance 22% from the rest of the world (read Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa).
Here’s my absolutely pedestrian analysis of Diaspora demographics. Your North American flows are derived from Kenyans who originally went to North America on student visas, completed their studies (or maybe not) and integrated themselves into the working economy, generating positive revenues that allow free cash flow to be remitted back to relatives in Kenya every month. Your European flows consist of Kenyans who took off to the “motherland” the United Kingdom and sprinkling dispersed into its Western European neighbours looking for greener working pastures. Again they integrated themselves into the working economy, some so deep as to form churches that created miracle babies. A recent visit to the United Kingdom left me gob-smacked at the naïveté that continues to afflict a chosen few. Upon seeing my passport identification, the cashier at a retail store on Oxford Street identified herself as a Ugandan. She politely asked about how things were “back home in East Africa.” Then I made a disastrous mistake: I asked her how she liked being in the United Kingdom. I might as well have gone bungee jumping at the Victoria Falls with a rubber band. The lady proceeded to tell me how she was a member of the “miracle baby church” and even though I was a Kenyan, she was going to tell me off anyway. “You Kenyans have punished our leader and his wife, and that is why God cursed you and sent post election violence your way, the devastating drought last year and the floods this year.” I couldn’t do anything; I was frozen to the spot in disbelief at the gall of the woman gall plus she was still holding my passport so I couldn’t make the quick escape that this bizarre scenario warranted.
Well, Uganda is definitely the richer for having such talent working in the diaspora and not at home. When I finally managed to galvanize myself into action, I grabbed my passport and my retail therapy forthwith, and fled from the shop like a bat out of hell. When the receptionist at my hotel later that evening mentioned to me that she was Ugandan, I clammed up and didn’t offer any chitchat thereafter. But that’s Europe for you, it offers great respite to those that may not be able to get jobs at home in East Africa, and creates the enabling environment for creative businesses, sorry miracle churches, that generate revenue that trickles back home in the form of remittances. Back to the pedestrian analysis of diaspora demographics: the rest of the world can safely be assumed to have a large percentage based in the Middle East, and the East Africa Community states. Forget the horrific stories of slave drivers in Saudi Arabia, the Middle East is host to many Kenyans in the retail and hospitality industries. From the airport coffee shops to the hotel lobbies in Dubai or Qatar,
Kenyans stand out amongst their imported colleagues with their relatively good English, polite smiles and genuine warmth. To be fair to the Moi regime, the rest of the world diaspora demographics have increased exponentially over the last ten years since the 500,000 jobs a year promise vanished with Anglo leasing speed, and the respective [Kenyan talent recipient] businesses and economies grew faster than their populations could service. So bless the rest of the world and its economic growth. Bless North America for educating our children and keeping them thereafter in productive jobs. Bless Europe and our colonial master the United Kingdom for absorbing greener pasture seekers. We are poorer for the able bodied productive bodies but the richer for the money they send back.