By Johnson Mujungu
Reading up on Madam Byanyima's presentation at UNAA Dallas recently and her reported plea for a ministry for the UG Diaspora reminded me of a presentation I made in London in 2010.
To begin with, I resent the term ‘Nkubakyeyo’ which she reported used over and over while at UNAA Dallas, just like many others have done and continue to do while referring to diaspora Ugandans. It is at best derogatory.
Only a ministry? How about a district? No, but seriously, Uganda Diaspora aspirations and challenges are way more serious. Like many others, I said something about it in November 2010.
Realising the important role Ugandans living abroad contribute to the country’s development, the Ugandan Government supported by the World Bank has set up a Diaspora Services Department (DSD) in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA).
The aim of the department is to coordinate Diaspora issues. The mission of the department is to provide an enabling environment and relevant services for the Ugandan Diaspora to effectively participate in Uganda’s development and to promote and protect their interests in the host countries.
The key strategic objectives of the Diaspora Services Department include but are not limited to:
1. Mobilise the Diaspora to transfer specialist knowledge, skills and technologies to Uganda for accelerated development.
2. Promote participation of the Diaspora in development of Uganda’s systems and processes of good governance.
3. Promote and protect the interests of Ugandan nationals in the Diaspora in line with best international practice.
4. Ensure timely and adequate availability of financial, human and logistical resources essential for cost-effective implementation of DSD’s approved work plans.
Supported by the World Bank, the Diaspora Services Department chose the UK to host the first outreach workshop on October 30, 2010. The theme of the workshop was: 'Mobilising Ugandan Diaspora for Uganda's Development: Opportunities for Ugandan Professionals in European Countries'
The workshop focused on the role Uganda professionals in the Diaspora can play in Uganda’s development and the opportunities current and future. The workshop aimed at professional talent identification in the Uganda Diaspora with emphasis on infrastructure.
I was honoured to be among the speakers as the President of the International Community of Banyakigezi (ICOB), representing a Diaspora Association.
I was asked to do a brief presentation on Uganda Diaspora Aspirations and Challenges.
Following are notes from my presentation at the Uganda Diaspora Outreach Workshop held in London, UK on October 30, 2010.
A Diaspora is “that part of a people, dispersed in one or more countries other than its homeland, that maintains a feeling of transnational community among a people and its homeland” (Chander, 2001).
Uganda Diaspora is not homogeneous. But diverse as it may be, perhaps two broad categorisations may help in looking at the Uganda Diaspora aspirations and challenges. There are those of us who wish to return home and those of us who would prefer to contribute from where we currently domicile and work.
Indeed some present-day members of the Uganda Diaspora aspire to achieve economic prosperity and/or professional qualifications, and then return home in order to participate in Uganda’s economic development. Others intend to stay either because they were born here or came when they were very young, or they doubt that the social, political and economic circumstances at home will suit what they have gotten used to while abroad.
But whether they intend to go back or not, almost all Ugandans in the Diaspora aspire to contribute to the development of the motherland in some way.
Undoubtedly, the enthusiasm evident in those gathered here today (the organisers in fact say this event was over booked) bodes rather very well for creating the atmosphere for more Ugandans to return and make a contribution through deploying their skills.
It also bodes well for building a brain-bank of Ugandans living abroad to assist in the process of investment and ongoing knowledge exchange and the acquisition of skills.
While there are many challenges faced by the Uganda Diaspora, I will highlight a few common and perhaps key ones:
i-What job opportunities are available for professionals in the Diaspora and how can we access information about these opportunities.
ii -Are there any collaborative relationships between the Uganda government, the organised private sector, multilateral agencies, professional bodies, civil society organisations that can be harnessed?
- Are there any mechanisms in place to connect Ugandans abroad with individuals, private companies, the public and civic sectors or other organisations at home seeking skills? Is it possible to make arrangements to have Ugandans in some of these positions being that they may?
- Are there dedicated resources/functions abroad disseminating accurate information about opportunities and conditions at home?
iii What physical incentives are available for members of the Diaspora that would want to go home
iv What is the state of health care?
Then there are the skilled and entrepreneurial Ugandans in the Diaspora who want to contribute from their positions of influence abroad. Below is a summary of some of the accruing aspirations and challenges:
- How does one get to spot opportunities in one country while living in another?
- What assistance, financial or otherwise, is available for potential investors in the Diaspora and how can these be accessed?
- How to establish credible infrastructure and joint venture projects between Ugandans in the Diaspora and Ugandans at home.
- What of Diaspora experts wishing to contribute through "virtual" technical assistance by using Internet, video conferencing and other information technology media.
- How to organise for experts to train Ugandan based professionals that can in turn serve as trainers to hundreds and thousands of other Ugandan-based professionals.
- Ease the cost of sending money back to Uganda - can make available an additional for investment and or relatives back home.
I am sure many of you cannot wait to hear what the Uganda Diaspora Office officials have to share with us.
I thank you for your indulgence.
The writer is the president of the International Community of Banyakigezi (ICOB)