The Underrated Economic Value of the African Diaspora

Last week I had an interesting discussion on Twitter, the subject being whether it is unpatriotic for the diaspora to decide not to come back home and "give back" after making it abroad. Opinions on the matter varied, with others saying because of Botswana's socialized education system, those who go abroad are obligated to come back as payment for all the "free education" they got from the country.

I was on the rebutting side, arguing that it was not obligatory for the diaspora to come back home after they had "made it" abroad and not doing so shouldn't have them being labelled "unpatriotic". I had a couple of reasons for my stance, the first being that pulling the "free education" card was silly because this supposedly "free" education that the diaspora got was as a matter of fact funded by their tax pulas so saying it was free was blatantly untrue.

The other reason I brought forward, which I am going to expound on in this blog post, is the fact that the common notion that the diaspora can only contribute towards the economic development of their homeland only after they immigrate back is wrong and extremely problematic because of the "unpatriotic" tag usually placed on those who decide not to come back home.

A few months ago, I was reading "How To Build A Multi-Billion Dollar Business In Africa" by Zimbabwean businessman Strive Masiyiwa. In the unputdownable autobiography, Strive chronicles his journey in business from humble beginnings in Zimbabwe to eventually building a multi-billion-dollar multinational company. Of the many lessons that I learned from the book, one which really stood out was the success ECONET, his company, endured abroad compared to at home.

To start with, Strive got his first licence to operate a cellphone network not in his homeland of Zimbabwe but in Botswana. Reasons why he could not get one in Zimbabwe were the usual African government bureaucratic red-tape and corruption so Strive, seeing that he was not going to succeed if he was to only confine himself to his motherland, spread his wings.

Today ECONET, despite getting its first break in Botswana and being headquartered in South Africa, remains a proudly Zimbabwean business trading on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange and Strive, despite not having spent much of his professional life in Zimbabwe, remains a proud Zimbabwean contributing significantly towards the country's economic growth through both his various businesses and philanthropic efforts.

Had Strive decided to be "patriotic" and went back to Zimbabwe despite the evident barriers to success there, he wouldn't have companies that have over the years contributed so significantly to the Zimbabwean economy or the fortune to share through his philanthropic efforts. Strive's story is an example of how much the diaspora can contribute to the motherland despite not being at home and operating from abroad.

Operating multi-billion companies that contribute a significant lot in taxes and donating fortunes to charity is of course not the only way the diaspora contribute towards their motherland's economic development. Other ways include bringing in foreign currency by way of sending money back home, learning skills which they can impart to citizens back at home,  inspiring those back at home to advance the motherland, etc.

Just because the diaspora decides to stay abroad instead of coming back home does not make them any less patriotic than citizens at home. If governments fail to provide an environment that makes it "worth it" for the diaspora to come back home, would it wise for them to risk their livelihood and professional growth all under the guise of patriotism? I say no.

Everyone, including the diaspora, should have the liberty of choosing where to advance their professions without being shamed for it. Just because they chose foreign lands to do this advancement does not mean they cannot or are not contributing to the motherland's economic growth. What should be shamed, instead, is a government's inability to provide an enabling environment for the success of its people at home to a point that they have to resort to moving and staying abroad.


  1. I would wish to invite you for a discussion...what is your email address?

    1. Hello me on

  2. I hear you. Alotta times they come back to Borswana and end up working jobs in which they're technically overqualified or underpaid for, given the salaries they would've received abroad. Like imagine someone studying Aerospace Engineering or something. If my memory serves well, Botswana doesn't even have an aerospace industry so where would such an individual end up? In the banking industry?

    Another point could be remittances they send back home periodically. They're a significant economic contribution no? especially if you consider that they're sending foreign currency $/GBP/EUR back home.

    But i def agree with your point on the bureaucratic red tape and corruption holding certain startup ideas back. It's one of the main factors behind BRAIN drain.

  3. Just came across this in my email. Very insightful and beautiful read.


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