By Ernest Rwamucyo*
Tomorrow May 18, President Paul Kagame will meet and interact with the Rwandan community in the United Kingdom.
The significance of these interactions and the President’s efforts to reach out to the Rwandan diaspora is often underestimated. This endeavor must be seen in the President’s broader vision of building a stronger, more cohesive and reconciled Rwanda where every Rwandan has a stake.
There are over 5,000 Rwandans in the United Kingdom; most of them are young, well educated and skilled.
As the Rwandan economy continues to grow at over 8 per cent, the need for high end skills, expertise and diaspora investment gets even greater. Rwanda recognises the importance of tapping into its diaspora as an important resource.
Remittances from Rwandans living abroad grew from US$42.8 million in 2005 to US$139 million in 2008, reaching about US$170 million by 2011. Transfers from Rwandans abroad are edging closer to the country’s foreign exchange earnings from tea, coffee and tourism which are the largest sources of foreign income.
While much of Africa has hemorrhaged from brain drain with many of their most skilled population moving abroad for greener pastures, Rwanda has benefited from a “brain gain.”
A significant number of Rwandan experts have returned over the last years to the country from Europe, North America and other parts of the world.
They have brought much needed skills, expertise, knowledge and innovation which has sustained the growth of the economy. This has helped bridge the skills gap that the country suffered in the aftermath of the devastating 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
But by proactively engaging with the Rwandan diaspora, the leadership of the country is looking beyond the immediate gains.
In the immediate aftermath of the Genocide against the Tutsi, when the county was an almost failed state, the Rwandan leadership took a stand that a new Rwanda would be built with all hands on deck. Every Rwandan had to contribute.
The government was determined to put in place the structures, institutions and the right environment for every Rwandan to play a role and be a stakeholder. Rwandans in the country and those abroad would equally make contribution.
The bigger prize in this effort to connect with the diaspora is to ensure they are effectively engaged and mobilised to take their rightful role in the development of the country.
Ensuring that every Rwandan, whether in the country or abroad, has a stake in the future of Rwanda is very important for the process of national healing, reconciliation and societal cohesion.
President Kagame, being the visionary leader he is, has always championed the role of the diaspora due to the broader gains that come with ensuring every Rwandan is contributing to the rebuilding of the country.
He has extensively connected with Rwandans abroad at every opportunity. High level events like Rwanda Day in Chicago, Boston, Paris, Brussels and now London have yielded productive engagement with Rwandans in North America and Europe.
The National Dialogue the President has presided over every year for the last decade has attracted cutting edge contributions to Rwanda’s policies. A case in point is the 2011 National Dialogue where diaspora members suggested the establishment of a sovereign wealth fund with contributions from Rwandans globally.
This led to the creation of Agaciro Development Fund in 2012 which has attracted millions of US dollars in contributions from Rwandan experts.
These engagements have also been a source of inspiration for many Rwandans. Many have returned to the country and assumed leadership responsibilities in the private, public and non-governmental sectors.
Others have invested in the country and set up business enterprises, creating hundreds of jobs. Even those who have not yet returned have developed a stronger sense of belonging and attachment to their country.
The youth have particularly been the biggest beneficiaries. Rwanda Day whether in North America or Europe, provides an occasion for young Rwandans who are born and raised abroad to know more about their culture, identity and heritage.
They get a better understanding of Rwandan values and develop a stronger sense of cultural belonging. This is very healthy for the future of the country. For this, the President must be given credit.
Rwandans in the United Kingdom and Europe should make optimum use of the opportunity to meet with the President to learn more about how they can play an active role in the transformation of Rwanda, while taking advantage of the opportunities that their motherland offers.
*Source The New Times.The writer is High Commissioner of Rwanda to India