Govt must treat its diaspora well

People prepare to fly out of the country at Entebbe International Airport recently. PHOTO/FILE 

What you need to know:

  • In order to avoid the above mentioned various hurdles, we must have an open debate about the diaspora contribution to our country.

Ugandans living abroad are sometimes referred to as ‘nkuba kyeyo’ (sweepers), a degenerating term used to imply that their work is not really admirable –it’s like a licence for people back home to look down on them. Those in the Middle East are referred to as ‘kadama’(whatever that means).

Ugandans started going abroad in big numbers during the 1970s when Idi Amin became president. Uganda has benefited immensely from such a group of people. 

Understanding the role of migrant Diasporas, especially how that role interacts with government’s migration and economic policies, is a critical issue. 

Unfortunately, Diasporas are often treated as foreigners in the countries where they are permanently settled, and as aliens in their country of birth. 

For instance, there have been a number of debates on social media and TVs in the United Kingdom on how immigrants have ruined the UK, particularly stretching the National Health Service. In South Africa, many migrant workers face xenophobic comments and attacks almost daily.

A good government would want children born to Ugandans abroad to pick interest in Uganda. Israel, for instance, sends emissaries (shlihim) to selected cities in the United States, to educate and encourage its nationals to pick  interest in their country; Algeria sends Koranic teachers to France to teach children about the Algerian culture and Islam.

The Ugandan government, on the other hand, introduced a law stipulating that children born of a Ugandan naturalised abroad cannot become citizens of Uganda until they are 18 years old. 

These children are instead given visas to travel in and out of Uganda yet their parents are born Ugandans.

This means our children need dependent passes to live in Uganda, but how does anybody expect such children to maintain a diasporic collective identity if they are denied citizenship while still young?  In Africa, Ghana is among the African countries where dual citizenship has no age limit, and they are doing well.

Additionally, there’s a lot of harassment and psychological pain at Entebbe Airport inflicted on Ugandans traveling out of the country.  Some Ugandans have missed scheduled flights because of how they are treated at the airport. 

On the other hand, Ugandans who have acquired citizenship of another country are required to pay $400 to regain their Ugandan citizenship which is, obviously, just an obnoxious money-making scheme. 

Honestly, why should someone pay money for something they were born with? These are Ugandans born Ugandans, but you want them to pay to become Ugandans again? We need to bear in mind that some of our people abroad are facing  huge financial constraints; some are in enormous debts due to the demands of people back home.

Also, Uganda doesn’t accept multiple citizenships. Dual citizenship in Uganda means only two citizenships of which one is Uganda. The possession of a third citizenship disqualifies one from holding or being a dual national of Uganda unless the third citizenship is renounced, but I think we are losing out on important people due to such sentimental laws.

For instance, a Ugandan who joins the US military usually gets a lot of benefits.  It would be ingenuous for a developing country to lose such a person in the name of ‘punishing’ the diaspora over multiple citizenship.

Further, it is striking to see that the government isn’t doing everything possible to protect the assets and money (savings) that belongs to the diaspora. For instance, the financial management Act – states that if a bank account has been dormant for two years, the money on it would be taken by the government. This is something I odd considering that a lot of diaspora, especially the ‘Bakadama’, leave the country after opening up such accounts as a way of saving their money. 

Such law not only affects the banking industry, as people will resort back to saving money in their houses instead of banks, but it also affects the economy in general. 

I am glad that Bank of Uganda and the  Finance ministry  recently came out to guide on this issue, but the situation won’t change until the law itself is changed. 

There are a lot of Ugandans abroad that influenced the world beyond their adopted or original countries. Their exposure, experiences and education overseas is something that should be utilised adequately. 

There are enough educated Diaspora Ugandans who are capable of starting big investments in the country if they are given the same privileges the government usually gives to foreign investors. 

Yes, what’s wrong with giving a tax holiday to a diaspora bringing in an investment of over  $50,000?  Recently, I read an article in the Daily Monitor where a Chinese investor was given 6,000 acres of land, and had become rich from Uganda. 

Ugandans abroad have become a major powerbase and source of funding for mainly opposition politics in Uganda, one of the reasons why the government is partly treating them badly. They are often depicted in policy circles as potential security threats, raising indiscriminate suspicion towards Diasporas in general. However, the government  should try and convince them to their side,

The impact of diasporas on their homelands is primarily economic, but Uganda like most African countries, the diaspora’s economic contribution is rarely talked about publicly. Remittance flows to Uganda were $1.4 billion (about Shs5.132 trillion) in 2019 and $1.1 billion in 2020.

In order to avoid the above mentioned various hurdles, we must have an open debate about the diaspora contribution to our country.

Abbey Kibirige  Semuwemba 
[email protected]

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