By Sharon Kinyanjui
February marks the annual observance of Black History Month in the US and Canada. Black History Month began in the US in the 1970sas a way of remembering important people and events in the history of the African diaspora.
Although its observance was initially limited to academic institutions in the US, it has evolved through the years into a global movement amid growing recognition of the immense contributions that Africans around the world have made in different fields. Today, Black History Month is officially recognized by the governments of the Republic of Ireland and the UK, who both commemorate it annually in October. It is also observed in different forms in many other countries across the globe and has garnered significant attention from top global businesses keen on demonstrating their commitment to racial equity and diversity.
It is impossible to talk about the contributions of Africans in the diaspora without mentioning the pivotal role that Kenyans and Africans with Kenyan roots in the diaspora have played. There are many examples of Kenyans or people of Kenyan descent who have left their mark in the diaspora. Some familiar names include: Barack Obama Sr., the father of the first black US President and Lupita Nyong’o, the multiple award-winning US-based actress.
Beyond these well-known examples, we also have many unsung heroes who continue to fly the Kenyan flag high around the world. These are the millions of everyday Kenyans living and working in the diaspora. Though most of their work goes unnoticed in the public eye, the impact they have abroad and back home cannot be gainsaid. Kenyan migrant workers represent an important part of the labour market abroad. At home, the billions of shillings they send as remittances each year are a key driver of economic and social progress.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs estimates that there are more than three million Kenyans in the diaspora. Despite their number being less than ten percent of Kenya’s fifty million citizens, they sent home a record $3.718 billion (Kshs. 421.6 billion) in 2021, according to Central Bank of Kenya data. In comparison, Kenya earned Kshs. 146.5 billion and Kshs. 136 million from tourism and tea respectively last year. This makes Kenyans abroad the largest source of forex, bigger than tourism and tea combined, despite the latter two being the main exports. Of note, Kenya’s annual diaspora inflows have hit a record high each year since 2016.
The continued growth of remittance inflows into Kenya bodes well for the economy and the society. At WorldRemit, we’ve conducted multiple surveys over the past five years to understand the uses of remittances in Kenya. Our findings indicate that one of the main uses of remittances in the country is education, which has a well-documented long-term developmental impact. Another main use of remittance is medical bills and healthcare related spending, which helps support many families’ economic and social welfare by reducing out of pocket medical expenses.
Indeed, the diaspora community is made up of heroes that we need to celebrate this Black History Month. Many of them stay for months and even years without physically seeing their loved ones back home, yet the connection is never lost but only grows stronger. We saw this at the height of the pandemic when remittances grew despite the economic impact of lockdowns, defying predictions from institutions like the World Bank.
We must support Kenyans in the diaspora to continue benefiting from the social and economic impact they have back home. A good starting point is advocating for safer, more reliable and more affordable digital channels of sending and receiving money that allow them to get the maximum value from their hard-earned money. We should also address the cultural, social and political barriers that make it difficult for them to reintegrate with friends and families when they relocate back home.
Although the world we live in today has gotten more globalized than ever, heritage and culture are still among the most defining values for many Africans living in the diaspora. During this Black History Month , let’s spare some time to check up on friends and family abroad. They may be thousands of miles away, but their hard work and sacrifice continue to make a difference in our lives and the progress of our country.
The writer is the director Europe, Middle East and Africa Receive Markets at WorldRemit