Reflections on Moving Back Home
After being home for almost seven months, many have asked me how has the move being for my family and myself. So I thought let me put pen to paper and share some thoughts. I thank God for making the move possible for us, but also some necessary preparation helped the process. I do say it was the best decision we made. I should start with a disclaimer these are my personal experiences and observations.
Let me share some important facets I believe that one needs to do when preparing to move back home.
First, you have to be ready mentally. The decision has to be unanimous (both feet in Kenya, not one in Kenya and the other where you currently reside!). Second, if you can visit a few times to familiarize yourself with home, and as you do that, spread your visits outside just December which can provide a false impression. Visit in the other months where you can get a good feel of how life is in general. Even as you visit, while out there invest in time to keep yourself educated on what is going on back home by talking with family and friends back home, visiting a host of online sites and blogs that can provide useful information and attending the increasing Diaspora forums that are held abroad, catering to different sectors of the economy. Third, develop patience as the speed at which things are done is different, at times though you will get quick turnarounds. Finally, initiate savings, one by channeling monies in accounts that can earn favorable returns or investing in the several sectors that can provide a good return and residual income. For many you have an advantage of the currency strength and finances will enable you to settle without financial hardships. Financial institutions back home have created platforms to make it easier to open investment accounts and at this point are providing favorable returns. Furthermore once you start sending monies back home they are assured of remaining at home and earn you a return (unless emergencies come up and you have to tap into those funds).
Now to my experience, before I moved I had re-connected with my networks and started applying for jobs. When we landed I embarked on networking and applying for jobs, to get a feel of what was available and how the economy was trending. I already had in mind what I was looking for so that made it easier. The process of networking/job hunting takes longer, the average time to tarmac is six months, but it varies just plan for about six months. If you are fortunate and you find a job before you move the better!
Understanding the way of life and differences is important and useful in your settling. In my experience the US has conveniences that I was used to that are not here at home, however even here at home there are conveniences that are not in the US. You have to be aware and decide whether you will allow the small things to influence your settling or adapt and make the best of it. Furthermore some rational thinking is required here, before we go off and condemn everything and how things function back home! It is important to acknowledge and understand some of the differences could make the settling process slower or faster, but maintaining a positive mind frame and working hard should keep the process on course. In this regard do not compare the US and Kenya for the purpose of aiding the negative feedback…there are significant differences economically, socially and politically. Critical thinking and understanding of your country is important. And this thinking can aid in helping you determine where you can add positive value.
While I was job hunting, my wife and I kept ourselves busy working on some projects, that way you are able to utilize your time wisely. It is important to have something you are working on as you seek employment (if your plan is to seek employment). For those who are starting a business, the due diligence needs to be done before you get here so as to facilitate a faster start up.
So our move has been good and we are making progress in settling. As I study and talk with friends and family, it is a ripe time for people to move back home, especially for the young. Our country is going through a metamorphosis of emergence…outside our politics, the country is making strides. In big and small ways the young can make an impact and contribution to the economy. Many times we are fed with the negative side…but there are many examples of individuals who have made a difference and continue to make a difference.
Outside our move some observations I have made as I continue to research and understand what is happening in Kenya and the continent at large…
Eric Kacou puts it well; there are ways to think about the potential of the available market in Africa. First, the “bottom of the pyramid” has a negative connotation, but it’s high time we look at it differently. It is not a static market to be tapped into, but rather a place where we can empower the citizens who live within these conditions to do better for themselves – because if they do this then they represent an opportunity. Second, we have to view the base of the pyramid as opportunity for growth in different sectors. In 1997 we had 9 million people with cell phones – in 2007 there were 400 million. In Kenya the mobile platform M-PESA that has revolutionized small cash transactions, the numbers went from 900,000 subscribers in 2007 to 12 million in 2010 (Business Daily, 2012)
Also the concept of micro-insurance has improved lives of many especially women who are now able to protect their health and be able to provide for their families. Many countries have realized that providing savings and micro insurance products to women can be the bedrock of improving lives. Uganda is a leader in offering micro insurance products in Africa. But there are other countries like South Africa and Kenya who are pioneering the micro insurance sector.
Micro finance is another concept that is providing banking products customized to the African markets. After reviewing models pioneered by Muhammad Yunus (Grameen Bank) several African countries have created micro finance banking models that are providing products that are helping individuals and small business owners improve their lives and lift themselves from poverty.
SME’s are shooting up in many countries like Ghana, Nigeria, Botswana, Rwanda etc…they have realized that a significant percentage of their economies are driven by SME’s, so investing in them and provide enabling environments for them to thrive is a sure bet!
These few examples above for me point to opportunities that are tailor made for the African markets that have been very successful. A clear understanding of the environment and risks is paramount in order to understand how to apply appropriate business models that work. And incidentally these are being spearheaded by the young business owners and entrepreneurs.
What continues to be at the core of our problem is governance. This trickles down to many other thorns in our path to growth – corruption, weak institutions, impunity, governance structures and resource management. The new dispensation will help with some of these issues, but it has to start with the common mwananchi. I believe that as the new laws are implemented…albeit at a slow pace they will make a difference in the near term. In the meantime let us do what we can to make the change where we are!
For those who watch Seinfeld, I remember the episode where Elaine was getting tired of the endless birthday cake celebrations…here it’s the endless cups of tea/coffee…learning the culture in corporate Kenya! If you missed having a cup of tea/coffee in the AM before heading to work…have no fear plenty of tea/coffee waiting for you at work!
By Geoffrey Thande
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Wow!, nice piece of writing and informative!