The Promota Magazine

By the time The Ugandan Diaspora Return Home the Gold rush will be over

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By Ross Anson


Conventional wisdom frets that the exodus of skilled workers—the brain drain—is bad for African countries. The share of Africans with college degrees who live outside their home countries is certainly high: nearly half of Ghanaians, about 40 percent of Kenyans, and about one-third of Ugandans.


The metaphor of the term itself implies that brain drain is a waste, as if all Africa’s most promising minds were being sucked down some global sink, leaving behind a parched continent. But a paper by William Easterly and Yaw Nyarko, published as a chapter in the new book Skilled Immigration Today: Prospects, Problems, and Policies, explores the arguments for and against brain drain, and builds on previous literature to argue four ways the benefits of brain drain could outweigh the costs to African countries.

Recently New York Times published an article about the increase of immigrants going back to their native countries to start up their own businesses. It is safe to say over the past decade the countries grouped in the BRICS have been fortunate to receive a brain-gain, as many of their best and brightest have seen their own countries as land of opportunities.
On one of my social media networks I spotted a comment that said “By the time Africans get featured in an article like this the gold rush will be over.” Of course you can easily interpret this statement in several ways but it spoke volumes about how Africans tend to always be last in everything.

Any Ugandan in the Diaspora would like to go back to pursue their own dreams but realistically you are faced with obstacles that cause many diasporans to become reluctant to return back to Africa to start up a business. I consider Britain and South Africa to be home to me, like most Ugandans I have met they are in no hurry to return back home. Here are my reasons why.

The Political Climate
The political climate in Uganda is one of the top reasons why the Ugandan Diaspora refuses to go back to Uganda. Despite a democratic society, the political system is still full of corruption and lack of transparency.

If we compare Uganda’s history to a developing country such as Malaysia you will see some similarity as both countries received independence not many years apart from each other from British rule. Even in the 1960’s Uganda was ahead of Malaysia economically wise and had vast more natural resources. If we compare both countries as of today, Malaysia has been able to pull ahead in terms of development. In Malaysia, a person can literally start a business in less than a week versus Uganda which is 30 plus days. Interestingly enough there is an increasing Ugandan base in Malaysia. In other countries, hard work can actually turn into a successful business like Sylvia Awori who has created a thriving publishing business or Patrick Bitature a well known business man in the country. In Uganda, there are many businesses thriving based off their own work, but as well just as many growing because of ties these companies have with the government.

Lack of infrastructure
It is 2014 and Uganda still does not have stable power for companies to run businesses. Many companies in Uganda use over 10% of their income to run power from day to night. In other countries, running power for the company is the least of one’s concern and normally amount to 1% to 2 %. Beside the power, roads are an eyesore and connectivity is still a problem among businesses. These issues have stifled Ugandans for decades who dream of building a business. Many Ugandans in the Diaspora have great ideas but are held back simply because Uganda lacks the infrastructure to turn their idea into a viable business.

Out of touch with Uganda
Let’s face it some people in the Diaspora are just simply out of touch. They have no clue what is taking place in Uganda and some do not even want to know. Other countries do a great job of connecting their people in the Diaspora to their home countries. In India a person from the Diaspora sits on parliament. Chinese have groups in the Diaspora that actually have influence in Chinese affairs. If we look at Liberia, they allow their citizens in the Diaspora to vote in government elections. Yes, we can say we have “people” in the government who are supposed to handle Diaspora affairs, but what can we say they have done. We have groups in the Diaspora who are there to help Ugandan entrepreneurs invest back into Uganda, but instead it becomes a power struggle of who will lead the group. In this area, the Diaspora affairs must improve in order to create a better bridge between those in and out of Uganda.

The comfort of being overseas
Time and time again, I meet Ugandans who continue to say I want to go back to Uganda one day and it never becomes a reality. I remember jumping in a taxi cab on my way to a meeting and coincidentally the taxi driver was a Ugandan. He was telling me his journey from Uganda and how he wishes to go back but he is just used to his routine in South Africa. Many people aspire to be entrepreneurs but some would rather deal with the comfort of 9 to 5 than going back to Uganda to deal with the headache. Ugandans who have left to go back to Uganda get there to discover a pile of empty promises. People who said they will connect them with so and so end up being dead ends. Staying in the Diaspora may not be the ideal route, but to many Ugandans, it is considered the safe route.

Despite all of these roadblocks to go back to Uganda, I am still moved by the vast opportunities to try my luck and move back to Uganda. There are many Ugandans who have gone back and have made a successful name for themselves. Uganda is growing by leaps and bounds ripe for development. It will be difficult to assimilate back into the country, but anything great is not easy to obtain. The challenges of Uganda should not discourage people in the Diasporas; it should in fact encourage us to transfer our skills to build up Uganda. As a wise man once told me, “Ugandans are walking on money; the opportunities are far too great to not see them”. I call on Ugandans in the Diaspora to migrate back to Uganda to take advantage of these opportunities. Do not wait for the gold rush to be over, tap into Uganda’s potential.

rossanson@consultant.com

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