Diasporas can play an essential role in their countries’ social, economic, political, and technological development. Beyond their well-known role as senders of remittances, diasporas can promote, create businesses, foreign direct investment, trade, spur entrepreneurship, and transfer new knowledge and skills back home.
Although some policymakers see their nationals abroad as a loss, and there has been lots of academic research on the negative impact of migration, especially when it leads to brain drain, there is an increasing realization that an engaged diaspora can be an asset — or even a counterweight to the emigration of skilled and talented migrants.
The impact of diaspora contributions may be challenging to assess because of the exertion of disentangling correlation and causation, as well as quantifying the impact of what we can describe as elusive goods such as skills and knowledge transfers. That said, there are many examples and evidence where governments have often done more in their engagement with the diaspora to the extent that they have removed obstacles for diasporas to engage in developing different spheres of the country.
Several countries lead in this respect. India, which has had an elaborate diaspora policy since 1948, and Turkey, which has worked very closely with its diaspora since the mid-2000s, saw thousands of Turkish citizens, particularly those who had gone to Germany, return home. Pakistan has benefited a lot from its diaspora in the nuclear program. In contrast, countries such as Japan, Israel, South Korea, and Armenia have made good use of their citizens living abroad.
Some of the actions the governments have intensely focused on include mapping diaspora location, identifying their skills, establishing a relationship founded on trust with the diaspora, identifying their common goals, maintaining sophisticated and frequent communication between government agencies and the diaspora, and establishing policies and plans with the needs of the diaspora in mind to encourage them to participate and be part of national development.
The issue of Somalia’s diaspora is a unique case. Most of the Somali diaspora left their country in the 1970s and 1980s. However, the emigration rate increased after the 1990s mainly due to the war. Between 1990 and 2018, the population of individuals born in Somalia but eventually living outside the country increased two-fold from approximately 850,000 to two million people.
The percentage of Somali living abroad grew tremendously between 1990 and 2018 by about 36%, according to estimates from the United Nations. At the same time, the population of people living inside Somalia has grown by about 71%, from an estimated 6.3 million in 1990 to about 10.8 million in 2018.
That means that the diaspora is an essential segment of the Somalia population, even by human capital. Today, the Somali Diaspora contributes significantly to the national economy and livelihoods through remittances, humanitarian support, and involvement in reconstruction and recovery efforts. Politically, Somali Diasporas are highly visible in holding leadership positions in the political institutions of Somalia as all the former federal prime ministers were from the Somali Diaspora, and previously at least 60-70 % of cabinet ministers and 60-70% of the Somali parliament. Economically, remittances sent by diaspora back to Somalia have significantly impacted the country.
Most Somali remittances are used for direct consumption by the household, including the costs of education and health. Indeed, expenditure on consumption is followed by investment on a much smaller scale and is sometimes distributed to additional community members via loans and charity. According to the United Nations Development Program, UNDP has surveyed between $130 million and $200 million is provided every year by diaspora to family members. In contrast, private remittances contribute an even greater share to the country’s economic development.
The Somali Diaspora ‘s support for humanitarian assistance has increased dramatically over the past twenty years. In the early 1990s, the Diaspora lacked the financial means and the technological capacity to remit money to victims of war, famine, and displacement.
The context of the humanitarian crisis in Somalia has changed dramatically since then as the availability of telecommunications and internet-based news sources increased; the Diaspora is now able to track with great accuracy and speed developments inside the country as well as communicate with their relatives.
The few examples given above show just how vital the diaspora can be. However, even by Somali standards, where the diaspora has done a lot for the country, much work still needs to be done. Today, men and women of Somali origin are occupying strategic positions in different countries across the world. Without insinuating that they should abuse their offices and favor Somalia, many things can be done to not only strengthen the relations of these countries. Strengthening relations with some of the countries that host the Somali diaspora can go a long way in benefiting the two countries.
Furthermore, there is a lack of strategic coordination of diaspora activities, so they look at Somalia as their motherland and channel their support for nation-building in a coordinated manner. That means Somali embassies worldwide will need to be the starting point of a much more extensive network that will connect the diaspora with Somalia and the diaspora among themselves. Of course, there has been some negative image of the diaspora locally. For example, there are concerns that local people believed the diaspora was taking jobs, be it in government or NGOs.
There other concern from local people claims that the diaspora came to the country with money and university degrees but do not understand the politics and realities of residing in current-day Somalia. Such concerns can be dealt with through robust efforts to connect the Somalis worldwide so that we can build the country together.
It is also worth noting that the highest leadership positions of the current government are held by local people, including the President, Prime Minister, and Speakers of the Lower House and Upper House of the federal parliament of Somalia. As a result, many local citizens have welcomed the move widely and noted that it could lead to a lasting solution to the current political stalemate as elected leaders have solid experience and better understand Somali politics.
Dr. Mohamed BINCOF is a Ph.D. in Political Science and Public Administration, a university lecturer, and a Specialist in governance, strategy, and politics. you can reach him at email:email@example.com