Kenyans living abroad send home billions of shillings every year to support their families and invest in income earning ventures such as properties. Last year, they remitted Sh195 billion — much more than China, the World Bank or any development partners can lend Kenya in one year.
In the first six months of this year, they had banked a record Sh138 billion, according to Central Bank of Kenya statistics. If the trend continues, remittances for 2018 could hit a new record that could be 40 percent over the 2017 figures.
This has lifted many families out of poverty and improved economic prospects in health, education and housing. While the diaspora is recognised as an important agent of economic and social change, the investment is largely targeted at improving the livelihoods of their families and investing in assets, such as residential and commercial properties presumed to offer quick returns.
An important aspect of the diaspora that has lagged behind is how to harness the knowledge and skills gained in the West to spur enterprise. Essentially, there’s a need to address the gap between how Kenyans abroad invest their resources back home and how much more they could do if viable opportunities are available.
The Sustainable Blue Economy conference to be hosted by Kenya from November 26 to 28, provides a unique opportunity for the government and the private sector to explore how to tap the money, knowledge, skills and innovation of Kenyans abroad to support the sustainable exploitation of marine resources — oceans, inland lakes and rivers.
A side event organised by the Directorate of Diaspora in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs seeks to link Kenyans overseas to the Blue Economy investment opportunities. They include tourism, fisheries, maritime transport, renewable energy, climate change and waste management.
The activity, which does not even feature in the conference’s main programme, focuses on how to tap the knowledge and skills that Kenyans have accumulated, working and living in the most developed economies. The emerging theme is to consider how the Kenyans and Africans living in the diaspora can be integrated in the most important pillars of development. They have acquired knowledge and skills in engineering science and technology that can be utilised to improve domestic skills and production.
The National Diaspora Council of Kenya, the University of Nairobi and the United States International University-Africa see the importance of leveraging diaspora networks to facilitate the exchange and transfer of knowledge, skills and innovation to improve local enterprise. Sustainable use of marine resources can make a significant contribution to economic and social development. Studies show that investment in the Blue Economy can reduce poverty, enhance food security, create jobs, expand and diversity economic output and exports. The concept paper for the conference and materials from the annual World Ocean Summit, an initiative of the Economist Group, highlight the challenges and opportunities of developing the marine economy.
Kenya has a great opportunity to partner with the diaspora to use marine resources as an instrument of fighting poverty and inequality. Scaling up fish processing, tourism, marine transport and other economic activities around the Indian Ocean, Lake Victoria, other lakes and rivers would improve the livelihoods of the poor and improve equity in income distribution.
The Blue Economy would also help to diversify its domestic output and export base. The export sector is in urgent need of high-growth, high-value products to reduce the rising international trade imbalance that continues to stress foreign exchange reserves and payment obligations.
Mr Warutere is a director of Mashariki Communications [email protected]