The ever-growing number of Malawians living in diaspora presents either a problem or an opportunity for the new Tonse Government. While it is common that most of Malawians who left the country, left in search of opportunities, be it academic or economic, there is no denial that Malawi has the highest number of diasporas now than it has ever been in the past. The new Tonse alliance government finds itself with a challenge of either ignoring this cohort of Malawians or embrace them with the possibility of exploring the many opportunities that they can bring to the country.
If the new government decides not to engage the diaspora in its policy formulation and other plans, it will be a slap in the face for a cross section of dedicated young Malawians who sacrificed much of their time in helping most of the parties in Tonse Alliance in their fight against the previous regime of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). It is now on record that both 2019 and 2020 elections in Malawi received the greatest diaspora involvement ever. It is during this time that we saw the activities of Malawi Congress Party, UTM and DPP Diaspora wings. These political activists delivered an impressive social media campaign for their respective parties as well as helping fund campaign activities on the ground. MCP and UTM Diaspora Wings for instance made a huge contribution of funds towards election monitoring to try cement the safeguarding of the votes.
As the Tonse philosophy pushes towards an inclusive government, the main question remains as how the new government will do it differently than the previous regimes in their engagement with the diaspora community. The diaspora policy that was drafted during the time when Dr Emmanuel Fabiano was the Foreign Minister provided so much hope in efforts towards inclusion of the diaspora.
Yes, in it, were detailed plans on how the government will engage with the diaspora. Sadly, just as many government policies, the story end with the final release of the policy copy. Nothing much happened and the diaspora soon found itself on the same position they have always been, that of sending remittances back home to their families.
Remittances themselves are a big boost to the economy, but the challenge now is that the diaspora demographic will need to be used more. The current crop of diasporas comprises of largely young, very educated and skilful Malawians. The growing interest in political activism that happened is a testament that many of them are ready to serve their country.
Finance Minister Felix Mlusu in his budget delivery, probably gave us a hint that the Tonse government wants to explore more ways of engaging the diaspora. In the budget, he made mention that government through the Reserve Bank will be exploring possibility of a “Diaspora Development Fund” aimed at helping those in diaspora invest back home. If this materialises, it might be a game changer.
Investment is one area that government will benefit from those in diaspora, especially at a time when it is aimed at accomplishing their flagship manifesto of creating of 1 million jobs. President Chakwera addressed investors through the Invest in Africa initiative recently. Attraction of foreign direct investment (FDI) is a necessary thing for Malawi, but what will be exciting enough is to see Malawians in diaspora investing back home. Many are ready to establish businesses back home.
At the same time, Diaspora are perfect trade ambassadors for Malawi, who through their networks can act as brokers to get investors notice Malawi. The country will also benefit a lot in its effort to develop tourism as those in diaspora are well placed to use word of mouth to get their friends, neighbours and work colleagues travel to see Malawi as tourists.
The diaspora skills are not only restricted to business. The healthcare sector is another area that can benefit a lot. Already we have a number of groups that fundraise to donate to Malawian hospitals which is a good initiative. What will even be good is the government understanding that Malawi has a lot of nurses, doctors, social workers and public health specialists who are willing to share their skills with Malawi, but only needs an avenue that should be led by the government.
Time has come when practically Malawi must engage with those in Diaspora. Globalisation has ushered the world into one single market and the presence of Malawians in diaspora provides the government an already capable network that needs to be tapped into. Their Skills, resources and willingness to do something for their country is the patriotism that will be on benefit not only to the government but to every Malawian.