This year, we need to seriously consider formulating a definitive public policy on the Ugandan Diaspora. The starting point is for the government to develop, as rapidly as possible, a comprehensive database on Ugandans spread across the globe.
The New Vision editorial of December 15, 2018 rightly lamented that ‘The government does not know how many Ugandans are in which countries doing what, how many are going monthly, how many are in distress, how many have been repatriated ….”
Clearly, it is only through a far-reaching policy that the government can be able to capture how many Ugandans are out there and to profile the opportunities they can explore to contribute meaningfully to national development. The situation right now is that much of their remittances back home go to family members and friends, who benefit from considerable purchasing power to spend on all kinds of goods and services available locally.
But there is a critical need for us to begin telling a Uganda-centric story that majorly opens the eyes of the world to who we really are and what we are capable of doing here and abroad.
That story must form part of the foundation of the policy on the Ugandan Diaspora. It must recognise that the Ugandan Diaspora does not waste time on unproductive pursuits. Our people out there have been exposed to cultures that promote frugality, saving and planning of personal finances. Government, therefore, needs to engage the Ugandan Diaspora more aggressively in the areas of investment, innovativeness and technology transfer. These are the key elements that now permit greater connectivity between a country and its citizens abroad.
Indeed, such connectivity makes it easy for the Ugandan Diaspora investors to have offices in Uganda directly linked to the offices where they live abroad. Every year, top government officials such as Cabinet ministers and the Speaker of Parliament are eager to attend the annual conventions of the Uganda North America Association (UNAA).
Clearly, contact between our policy makers and the Ugandan Diaspora in North America should not stop at going to attend UNAA conventions as some sort of holiday getaway. The key question that should preoccupy our policymakers as they interact with those people is: How can they be encouraged to awaken the sleeping villages across our country?
We must find robustly new ways of harnessing the potential of the Ugandan Diaspora to turn our economy around, especially by investing in value-addition productivity in their villages of origin. Our economy will be significantly boosted when remittances by the Ugandan Diaspora stimulate not only consumption, but also production of goods and services in the countryside.
The Ugandan Diaspora should be enticed to invest hugely in agricultural processing and other agri-businesses in the countryside. We are going nowhere with the rhetoric about our potential comparative advantage in production of food crops without adding value to such productivity. Potential is nothing without action. Look at the potential our idle youth have to awaken their energies in the creative economy. Kenyan Prof Ngugi wa Thiong’o has demonstrated how theatre can thrive in the countryside. How can we go to great lengths to enable our youth to develop skills in the creative arts?
Villages aside, the Ugandan Diaspora lives in planned cities. They can bring to Uganda a whole range of urban planning best practices in vital areas such as solid waste management. They should also be encouraged to tap into our real estate industry by bringing in new ideas that can enable Ugandans live in decent and affordable housing in both urban and rural settings.
On matters of tourism, there is nobody in a better position to market this country than the Ugandan Diaspora. They are the right people who can give the world a first-hand account of what we have here.
With the backing of a solid policy, it could be just a matter of time before diaspora money begins to be correctly seen as one of our largest foreign currency reserves. So, what are we waiting for?
Dr Akwap is the acting deputy vice chancellor for academic affairs at Kumi University.