Hopeful beginnings for Tanzanian diaspora

By Salimah Kassamali

Times are challenging for immigrants in Canada. Recent announcements indicate that it is becoming increasingly difficult to become a Canadian citizen. Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Chris Alexander, discussed potential changes to citizenship in the National Post on Dec. 27, 2013. Changes being proposed include extending the three-year qualifying period for residency to obtain Canadian citizenship. Another potential change includes eliminating the automatic grant of Canadian citizenship to those born in Canada to non-citizens. The government may implement these changes some time in 2014.

Those who believe stringent policies against immigration will protect jobs during economic recession should realize that allowing immigrants into a country opens new doors of global prosperity. Immigrants bring with them vast networks of contacts. Networks of kinship open up new trade and business alliances between countries. Twenty-two per cent of Canada’s population is immigrants.

Canada’s success was built on the backs of immigrants. This diversity has helped build bridges with India, China, Europe and even Africa. Business relies on trust — knowledge of language and culture is an important factor when deciding who to trade with. Diasporas also serve to transfer ideas, and of course, money.

Diaspora refers to a population of expatriates who concentrate themselves in specific areas, often to preserve cultural roots. The Tanzanian diaspora, framed after the success of the Chinese and Indian diasporas, is building a bridge to Canada, although they have joined late in the game.

In 2005 the Tanzanian government implemented strategies to engage with Tanzanian citizens living abroad. Bertha Semu-Somi, an official of the Tanzanian Foreign Affairs ministry, now in charge of diaspora co-ordination, believes the Tanzanian diaspora will successfully bring growth and opportunities to Tanzanians and Canadians. In 2009, she was tasked with overseeing the diaspora engagement process and coordinated a team of officials from ministries and agencies.

“Diaspora also appeals to the patriotic sense of most individuals who want to give back and have their contribution and success recognized. The diaspora has been able to bring in a number of fields [of employment] where Tanzania and Canada can collaborate,” Semu-Somi says. She believes that the diaspora will provide an avenue for the Tanzanian government to grow provincial ties as opposed to the current focus on federal ties.

Last year, the Tanzanian diaspora conference convened in Edmonton for the first time. This conference spawned the formation of the Canada Tanzania Business Council and Tanzanian ministers and department officials were introduced to the business leaders in Edmonton and Calgary who have hereditary ties to Tanzania.

While the diaspora seems promising, there are major roadblocks ahead. Tanzanian immigrants are scattered all over the globe; as a result very few countries have been able to establish a comprehensive database for them. Tanzania is a newcomer to international markets and its government will have to first build confidence and earn the trust of potential investors.

Despite these challenges, the formation of a cross-continental network seems the best path forward. Globalization has highlighted the need for diasporas in the developing world. Business ventures and investments in infant economies can help the growth of established economies.

Besides, native elites and the highly educated often end up moving to Western countries. Diasporas offer them the opportunity to give back to their countries of origin.


Leave a comment