Stories of anguish behind rising diaspora remittances
Posted Friday, April 13 2012 at 22:00
- Kenyans living abroad have been sending more and more money back home to invest in their future or support loved ones. For some, however, broken family ties are the only reward
Kenyans living abroad have been sending money home in record amounts of late, and the remittances are expected to rise even more in the coming years.
According to estimates provided by the Kenyan Embassy in Washington DC, there are about 500,000 Kenyans living in the United States while the Foreign Affairs ministry says there are about three million.
These remittances are intended for investments, school fees, hospital bills and providing a cushion for relatives back home against the rising cost of living.
Kenyans in the diaspora remitted $103.98 million (Sh8.65 billion) in February this year and, according to figures by the Central Bank of Kenya, those abroad sent in a total of $891 million (Sh75.7 billion) in 2011.
Most of the remittances are used for their intended purposes, with development projects springing up in almost every major town. In fact, the Kenyan diaspora was credited with aiding in the rapid rise of Nairobi’s luxury real estate prices, according to the World Wealth Report 2012.
However, it is becoming increasingly evident that not all the remittances are being used for the purposes originally intended.
A good number of Kenyans living in the diaspora have fallen prey to their own relatives, who have taken to swindling them.
Deep resentment has resulted, with some in the diaspora severing communication with those they once held dear. These include cousins, uncles or aunts together with fathers, mothers and siblings who seem to have found themselves an easy way of milking those abroad.
It is, therefore, not surprising that many in the diaspora have a good reason to believe that money trumps family relationships in some cases.
Ms Wangari knows this only too well. She is a registered nurse in Texas, USA, and a single mother of one boy. She has been in the US for 16 years. In 2009, she felt it was time to return to Kenya.
However, before she could move back, she needed a house for her and her son. She discussed with her father the idea of constructing a house on a piece of land she already owned in Ruiru, near Nairobi. They agreed that her father would send her a list of building materials required and the estimated cost, and she would send him the required money.
To make sure she had enough money to fund the project, she hired a live-in babysitter for her son and got a second job with a nursing agency. She started working on weekends, spending less time with her son as he would be asleep when she returned home from her shifts. It was all worth it as they would have more time when they moved back home, she thought to herself.
Construction of the house started in earnest in June 2010. Her father estimated that she would need to send him at least $1,250 (Sh100,000) a month to ensure uninterrupted construction. Wangari wanted to make sure her father had the money every month.
For the next three months, her father would send her photos of the house as construction progressed, and she was satisfied that everything was going according to plan.
Her father made sure the photos emphasised the size of the kitchen and the boy’s room as she had requested that the rooms be specially done to her specifications.
In December 2010, her best friend, who lives in New Hampshire, informed Wangari that she would travel to Kenya for Christmas holidays.
The two friends had met while they were in high school in Kenya, and had been in constant communication. Wangari shared photos of the house with her friend every time her father sent them.
Since the two friends had gone together to see the plot the last time they were in Kenya in 2009, Wangari asked her friend to take some time and go over to the construction site and take more photos of the house.