By Ansu Opa Dualu
No, Liberians abroad are not internet citizens nor are they insignificant when it comes to national issues – they shape the direction of the country for good for the most part. It is even fair to say that they actively influence every crucial decision that is made in the country. Furthermore, what the diaspora is capable of bringing to Liberia is far greater than the sum of the fears some local Liberians have towards their compatriots abroad!
Apart from responsible governance, Liberia’s greatest opportunity for economic revitalization rests with its diaspora citizens! If Liberia is truly serious about its growth, it must employ every strategy to harness the capabilities of its citizens abroad, not necessary in government but especially to promote trade, increase its human capital and local investments. Given the shortages of local resources and expertise required to generate the kind of meaningful growth and revenue we need to develop, the authorities must design a master plan directed at Diaspora Liberians, like is being done with our brothers in Ghana where billions are pouring in from overseas. Liberia needs its diaspora capital, its best and brightest to help ignite a developmental revolution!
Contrary to what most Liberians who fear competition in the job market believe, enterprising Liberians abroad do not come home to take political positions; most come to create jobs and contribute to the social, cultural, political and economic innovation of the nation! The Diaspora Liberian role should not be restricted to sending remittances. They can also promote trade and foreign direct investments, spur entrepreneurship and innovation, transfer skills and knowledge, serve as the nation’s eyes and ears to the outside world, but most importantly, could drive the economic development of a country if the right local policies decisions are implemented with heightened degree of sincerity.
Moreover, increased diaspora participation in the public sphere has tremendous economic and social benefits to local operations. Their presence could also discourage corruption given that they are mostly used to doing business in a corruption-free way. There is no suggestion that these benefits are automatic, however. Citizens abroad especially those in more developed countries are in a higher socio economic bracket when compared locally, and hence, typically oppose to doing business “under the table” and have a greater reach and more “doors” opened to them than locally based Liberians.
The presence of more affluent Liberians usually enhances every platform in the country, creates a new form of positive thinking and a higher standard of living. Nevertheless, a multifaceted government strategy targeted at diaspora efforts can magnify overall national vision like what we are seeing in Ghana, Nigeria, Rwanda, etc. These strategies can help develop networks, open new lines of communications and partnerships on both sides; encourage investments by relaxing legal and other barriers thus increasing cash flow across borders. This further institutionalizes and eases money transfers efforts through consultation with local government, lowering remittance costs and strengthening the integrity of our financial and investment systems.
Given what we know about the Liberian Diaspora especially those who live in the United States, the Liberian Government can get a whole lot more from its overseas citizens if it formulated a plan with calculated intentions to increase government intake.
What do we know? There are approximately 1.2 million Liberians and people with Liberian Heritage scattered all over the globe, with the bulk of them calling the United States home. The average Liberian in these developed locations to include Australia, United Kingdom, parts of Western Europe, and South Korea make about $40,000/year – compare this to the average $600 per capita income in Liberia!
This amount equates on average to about $24B (Twenty four billion United States Dollars per years – 600k*40k! Note that six hundred thousand was arbitrarily chosen as an example and because not everybody works or has an income – this number could be much higher however; this is just a conservative estimate and to give the reader an idea)! This $24B/year is twelve times our entire GDP (Gross Domestic Product – Liberia’s is roughly $2B/year). Why is the government satisfied with a pittance of $400M in remittances when compared in the grand scheme of things? Why are there zero strategy to drastically increase this amount?
The diaspora potential is huge. Although Liberia is on the high end of contributions from the diaspora given our very small economy – Liberians abroad send home about 25% of our entire GDP! The potential exists to contribute a hell of a lot more. The government just have to devise a plan to get more. See comparison below:
Here are some steps the Liberian Government can initial to increase remittances and diaspora investments in their country of origin:
a) Constitute the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs that focuses exclusively on diaspora investments, exchange of knowledge, remittances and making available what this group of Liberians has gotten accustomed to
b) Target skilled Liberians and incentivize them to move back home through this ministry
c) Grant Dual-Citizenship to people of Liberian Heritage without restrictions
d) Grant overseas voting privileges and attach an annual fee to maintain the privilege
e) Counter the malevolence towards Diaspora Liberians and make them feel at home
Also, the Liberian Government could encourage initiatives proposed by Diaspora Liberians like the ones listed below: “Liberia’s One Billion Dollar Challenge”; https://frontpageafricaonline.com/opinion/liberia-the-one-billion-dollar-challenge-synopsis/;
Or “Why Should Liberians Invest their Money in the $1B Challenge”; https://frontpageafricaonline.com/opinion/why-should-liberians-invest-their-money-in-the-1b-challenge/
Here are additional engagement strategies laid out by various international bodies:
Key Diaspora Engagement Strategies Recommended by Diaspora Ministerial Conference:
Finally, given our very small population, shameful educational system and the lack of adequate local expertise in almost every crucial area, a country that ranks on the bottom of nearly every single Human Development Index, Liberia needs all of its citizens more than ever. We cannot afford to alienate any one of us, especially those with the most resources and the capabilities to fast track our developmental endeavors. One might ask: Why spend all this effort on the diaspora? The answer is simple: Liberia needs $20 billion dollars to build its infrastructure and truly begin the developmental process; Diaspora Liberians have approximately $24 billion dollars every year, the connections and expertise! Who else is best positioned to change Liberia for the better if not this group of Liberians?
Mitra, Pritha (2016) ‘Addition by subtraction: How Diasporas can boost home-country growth’, IMFBLOG, Insight & Analysis on Economics & Finance, Available at: https://blogs.imf.org/2016/05/18/addition-by-subtraction-how-diasporas-can-boost-home-country-growth/ (Access August 20, 2021).
Diaspora Ministerial Conference, (2015) ‘IOM’s 3E Strategy to engage and empower diaspora”, Available at: https://diaspora.iom.int/ioms-strategy-enable-engage-and-empower-diaspora (Access August 24, 2021)