Strengthen cultural ties to tap into diaspora potential

Thursday, September 5th, 2019 00:00 |
Diaspora. Photo/Courtesy

Joseph Waithaka

A friend who lives in the United States of America once called with a peculiar request. His son was coming back to Kenya and he wanted me to pick him up at the airport. 

He  was worried that having spent over 10 years in the US, the son may need help to find his way around.

I understood where he was coming from, having personally spent 16 years in  US.  Some  colleagues, however, could not fathom the possibility that one can lose touch  under such circumstances. 

Decades ago, Kenyans typically left the country either to work or study, with the intention of returning to  settle.

In recent years, this scenario has changed, with most   in the diaspora  building   life away from Kenya. 

This state of affairs has taken  a toll on  the second-generation diaspora who   left the country while too young, thereby forming  new identities abroad.

This generation tends to assimilate to the host country’s cultural matrix,making it difficult for their parents to return home.

 Kenyans in the diaspora play a significant role in propping up the economy.   Recent  World Bank  data shows Kenyans   abroad sent home Sh280 billion in remittances in 2018, outpacing earnings from tourism, tea, coffee and horticulture exports. 

The  remittances from Kenyans  were also higher than in   East African countries combined.

 Whereas the cash is critical in supporting relatives  meet  numerous obligations  well as   investments, most Kenyans working abroad are increasingly opting to make long- term investments abroad. 

A cursory look into this  trend  reveals it has more to do with the aspirations of the second-generation Kenyans  which may not tally with those of their parents.

For their parents, staying abroad is a temporary phase. But for the second-generation, abroad feels like home.  

The early 2000s brought with it an economic boom that coincided with that of western countries. Home ownership became  easy due to easy access to mortgage financing and low interest rates.

At the same time, increased economic opportunities in Nairobi and real estate markets attracted many  to invest back home.

The result has been a unique situation, where many Kenyans living abroad have significant investments in both countries.

These are the Kenyans that can loosely be described as the “sandwich generation”, with roots anchored in the immediate family and a strong attachment to the home country.

However, in many cases, these Kenyans are bringing up children who do not share   same attachment for Kenya.

As they grow older, they are grappling with the issue of ensuring a smooth transition in matters succession especially for investments made in Kenya.

One of the reasons that succession is becoming thorny is  differences in experiences between  Kenyans living abroad and their children who have grown up in   host countries.

Lack of  exposure to the Kenyan culture and way of life additionally poses a significant challenge in re-integration.  

As such, they  often lack a strong Kenyan identity and may struggle with the idea of returning to a ‘home’ they can barely relate to.

To spur interest in investments back home, parents should keep their Kenyan ties alive by ensuring children visit their ancestral homes frequently mingle with extended family.

These initiatives  allow them to build identity and  connection with  motherland.

Parents should also  show such children all investments made at home. This will give them  an appreciation of the value and potential of these investments  and how things work in Kenya.  

There are   initiatives  such as  teaching kids born abroad Swahili and vernacular languages. 

The Constitution allows for dual citizenship. Parents should   encourage their children to take a Kenyan passport, and to enjoy  dual nationality. 

Finally, to avoid squabbles over inheritance parents should consider the use of revocable trusts, ran by reputable institutions, to secure assets.

These assets can assist to ensure a smooth transition in the event of transfer of ownership of assets. Writer is ABC Bank Head of Diaspora Banking

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