The global economic downturn is hurting Africans in the Diaspora. It’s harder for them to send money home, and that leads to problems for those who depend on the funds.
Remittances to developing countries are expected to fall from $305 billion in 2008 to $208 billion for 2009, according to the World Bank. The severity of the problem is seen in the fact that in many developing countries, remittances are reported to bring in even more money than direct aid.
Millions of Africans depend on their relatives in the Diaspora to send them funds for their daily livelihood, including food and other essential commodities.
Many of them do not know about the intricacies of global finance. “They are not aware of global financial trends and how they impact them,” says Nassi Agaba, a young African woman living in the United States. She is sending less money back home after being laid off from her job as a consultant with a local firm.
Few African economists foresaw the downturn. A few months into the financial crisis, Rwandan finance minister James Musoni said he was optimistic that his country and indeed the whole East African economic bloc were sheltered from the pitfalls of any global crisis.
Among those having trouble supporting family members at home is Robert Kayinamura, the legal advisor and public relations officer for the Rwanda International Network Association (RNIA), based in Washington, DC. He has had to cut back on the amount of money he sends to support his extended family in East Africa.
“The prices of commodities in the USA have gone up. If you used to purchase groceries at $100, but today it is $200, that means it has affected how much you can send home,” he says. It means, he says, that “in one way or the other it is affecting you here, but at the same time it is affecting people back home.”
“New immigrants from Africa usually work for small- and medium-sized companies, which are closing today or are laying off employees,” Kayinamura says. Many recent arrivals work in these small companies and “if these small companies lay off or close, guess who is affected first? It is the immigrants,” he says.
And it’s especially hard for them, he says, because most don’t qualify for unemployment benefits.
It’s also difficult for college or university graduates. Thousands of African students graduate each year from American colleges. They expect to enter the job market locally or return home to their countries to find work readily available. But statistics show the jobless rate among college graduates has more than doubled from a year ago to 4.3 percent.
The job applications of many African students are rejected even by the few companies that are willing to hire new college graduates. Most companies are reluctant to hire an African graduate because of the H1-B, (temporary worker) visa requirement. The process is often long and costly to the company, so they prefer to hire Americans in order to avoid the process.
In Africa itself, many young people depend on relatives abroad to fund their education, and they, too, are taking a hit.
Reports show that in 2007 sub-Saharan Africa received almost $12 billion from Africans in the Diaspora. Remittances usually make up a significant chunk of the local economy.