The curse of dishonest relatives

Thursday December 27 2012

By FRANCIS AYIEKO [email protected]

“I have been ripped off and cheated by family and neighbours, whom I gave small tenders, so many times that I would need psychological help to dare believe in Kenyans, including my own kin, again,” a reader wrote after reading my article in this column titled, “Ten Ways to Attract Those Idle Diaspora Dollars” on December 6, 2012.

And that was not all. “I have decided that I am better off investing here in Denmark than back in Kenya. If only we could trust Kenyan institutions and our families, Kenya would leapfrog as we would use all our savings, pensions, and investment money in Kenya. But people back home are greedy and short-sighted,” the reader added.

I had always known that some Kenyans living abroad shy away from investing back home because they have been conned by relatives and friends. I have heard of cases where money meant to buy a piece of land or construct a new house was “personalised” or used to do half the job.

However, I did not know that things were that bad until I saw responses to my article from Kenyans in the diaspora. Most of them are bitter, not only with relatives and friends, but also financial institutions and other organisations that are supposed to assist them.

If you do not believe me, then read this one: “Sorry, we have been cheated a lot by friends and family; they have torn our hearts into pieces. Most of us have lost a lot of money trying to invest in Kenya but end up being conned, losing everything.

Very sad and disappointing for we don’t get our money from heaven, we also have to work very hard and to sacrifice. But they (friends and relatives) seem to be very corrupt and ignorant… very sad for our country Kenya.”

It turns out that when it comes to investing in property, it is not only family members who swindle their relatives living abroad, as this reader noted: “More needs to be done to help diaspora investors trust property developers, agents, banks, builders.

Most of us can’t trust family members with building projects. We need the professionals to be trustworthy and establish a system that holds people accountable for ‘conning’ others. The fear of being ripped off is why I have not invested in Kenya personally.” 

One reader accused Kenyan banks of not “changing with the times”. “Honestly, can you imagine a Kenyan living in China, the United States, or Australia trying to open an account with a Kenyan bank, and he is asked to come over, sign paper documents, and provide notarised copies of his identification documents?”

Another added: “That requirement dissuaded me from trying to invest with Kenyan banks. They need to find a secure system to receive and verify official documents!”

According to another Kenyan in the diaspora, the dishonesty displayed toward Kenyans living in other parts of the world does not end with money:

“Diaspora investors do not get impressed by some generic images of a property they are buying. You see an image of the greenest golf course for a holiday home in an area where the best commercial farms resort to green houses. Guess why? This is an area with little water (never mind how many boreholes you have) and has high evaporation, typical of a semi-desert. I am not a party spoiler, but a diasporite is torn between believing me — who is familiar with the golf course area, and the holiday home which says the golf course is for real.”

And mortgage providers need to hear this: “Why not get us dollar accounts and make all transactions in dollars or euros to cut down on transfer fees and fluctuating exchange rates? We are a market that nobody is serious to tap. Most of us in the diaspora can afford to pay their mortgages in less than four to five years.”