A recent incident has been widely circulated via social media among Kenyans living in the US.
What was meant to be a dream investment back home for a Kenyan living in the US literally sank before the venture could start paying back one entrepreneur’s hard earned investment.
Mr Sammy Maina, a resident of Lowell, Massachusetts, always harboured the dream of running a cruise boat business on Lake Naivasha.
After years of hard work and saving, he bought an 18-seater boat in Attenborough, MA, and shipped it to Kenya.
He hoped the boat would be the first of a future fleet under his newly registered company back home, Marions Lake Cruises that would provide tours of Lake Naivasha to families, friends and corporate clients.
Baby Amani, as the boat had been christened, arrived in Naivasha sometime in September and after signing the necessary paperwork and contracts, the boat underwent operational tests and was certified ready to begin operating on the 21st of last month as scheduled.
“I was born and bred in Naivasha and to own a cruise boat on the lake had always been my enduring dream,” Mr Maina said.
The cruise boat would have been the only one of its kind in Lake Naivasha.
However, Mr Maina’s dream went up in smoke when he woke up that morning to find that some people had sneaked into the boat’s docking spot during the night and drilled holes in its bottom, sinking Baby Amani.
When it was finally pulled out of the water, it had sustained extensive damages with the electrical units, engine, generator, television, sound and navigation systems completely damaged.
“It is hard to explain how I felt that day. As a man of faith, I prayed about it and asked God to take charge but I’d be lying if I say I wasn’t very angry.
I’m still mad because I know it was pure sabotage from people that I in fact know very well,” Mr Maina tells Lifestyle.
And, he is right to be very mad. After spending a total of Sh7 million to purchase, ship the boat and acquire the necessary licenses, anybody would be mad at such sabotage.
In fact, he is still smarting from the loss and he is not even sure he wants to continue with the business.
“Currently, I have neither the motivation nor the money to continue with the business even though I’ve not written it off completely.
Right now, I just want to make sure that the people who did that are apprehended and made to account for their actions,” he said.
Mr Maina, an astute entrepreneur who also runs an M-Pesa business in Lowell, and is also a partner founder of www.jambobostonradio.com, feels very discouraged in doing business at home.
“My goal was to create jobs by hiring youths and opening opportunities for business owners in the area. It is such behaviours that discourage the Diaspora from investing at home,” he said.
HOME’S NOT SAFE
This unfortunate occurrence has generated a lot of interest within the Diaspora community because it reinforces the perception that it is not safe to venture into business back home – or that one has to take many countermeasures against conmen and saboteurs.
But most of those in the Diaspora who still believe in home investments are opting to deal directly with reputable institutions which can safeguard their hard earned cash.
Banks, mortgage companies, housing development firms such as Housing Finance and stock brokerage firms have been advertising their offers on the Internet mainly aiming at Kenyan investors living abroad.
Housing Finance, for instance, has a section on their website dedicated to the Diaspora that explains how they can access their products and purchase or develop property.
The institutional approach is replacing the traditional method of trusting friends and relatives thousands of miles away and which has given rise to simmering tensions between Kenyans living abroad and those they trust back at home.
Remittances are the best known method which immigrants from developing countries adopt to contribute to their countries of origin.
Recently, remittances have become Kenya’s single largest form of foreign exchange, having surpassed traditional sources such as horticulture and tourism.
According to the Central Bank of Kenya, recent recorded remittances have averaged approximately Sh103 billion per year, which is about 10 per cent of the annual budget.
Total remittances are, however, estimated to be much larger given the various undocumented methods Kenyans use to send money back home such as travelling with cash when returning home or sending funds through mutual friends who are travelling home.
Indeed, only recently, an International Monetary Fund report ranked Kenya as the second largest recipient of foreign remittances in sub-Sahara Africa behind only Nigeria.
This feat is attributed largely to the growth of investment opportunities that have attracted the attention of the Diaspora as well as the creation of a somewhat enabling environment by the government.
It is also due to the aggressive marketing in the form of Diaspora investment conferences, meetings and exhibitions undertaken by the Kenyan government under the aegis of Vision 2030 secretariat.
The first major conference in North America was held in 2007 in Atlanta, Georgia, and brought together participants from places like Minnesota, Toronto and Ottawa. The second was held in Boston, Massachusetts.
While some members of the Diaspora have responded well to the call to invest back home, majority are still reluctant to do so citing among other things insecurity and issues of transparency and accountability.
In all the conferences, a lot of time was taken up by discussions of how the Diaspora could be assured that their investments back home would be protected.
Just like Mr Maina, personal testimonies and accounts of how some in the Diaspora had been swindled by even close family members abound.
Stories of major projects under construction that turned out to be white lies from relatives are very common abroad.
A resident of Philadelphia, Mr Winston Mwangangi, said he had fallen victim of such schemes from his own close relative.
“I used to work three jobs to raise money to set up some business back at home and so my brother who lives in Nairobi convinced me that the best business would be real estate,” said Mr Mwangangi.
He says that for three years, he worked almost around the clock to raise money to construct a four-floor two-bedroom apartment in Kayole.
“I used to send my brother on average Sh200,000 every two weeks.
That time, I used to hold two manoki (caring for people with mental disabilities) jobs and also as a security guard. Many times I slept in my car especially when I was transitioning from one job to another but I didn’t mind because I knew I was investing in my future,” he said.
Mr Mwangangi says that when he got his immigration papers right and was able to travel home, he quickly learnt that his brother had been lying to him all that time.
“When he knew I was coming home, he went missing. I learnt that the photocopies of receipts he used to send me and even pictures of a construction he said was mine were fake.
“Later on I learnt that he had used the money I was sending him to buy a plot in Kitengela and construct for himself a mansion,” Mr Mwangangi narrates.
Speaking to Lifestyle, Abubakar Rajab, a Kenyan resident of Newport, Delaware, said even though money is tempting and one could be conned anywhere in the world, there is, however, a lot of misunderstanding between the Diaspora and their compatriots at home.
“The perception of people at home about people in the Diaspora is that the Diaspora is privileged and can afford basic necessities and more. That is why they will always see us more as ATMs than brothers and sisters,” he said.
LIVING THE GOOD LIFE
Mr Rajab says this perception has been reinforced in part by the Diaspora’s behaviour when they come into contact with people at home.
“Most of us have created the impression that we have money and we are living a good life. In our interactions with folks back at home, we are seldom honest and sincere about our lifestyles abroad.”
Douglas Mkenya, a resident of Salem, New Jersey, shares this view.
According to Mr Mkenya, most Kenyans will never understand the Diaspora point of view.
“At the bottom of their hearts I believe lies jealousy of some sort but there is nothing to be gained by arguing with them,” he said.
Because of bad past experiences, experts say it would be advisable for one to relocate or travel often if one wants to invest at home.
“Clearly, there exists a crisis of confidence and past experience shows that there are very few people besides your mother whom you can trust to have your interests at heart.
That is why these days we advise the Diaspora to practically relocate if they are serious about investing at home,” says Mr David Amakobe, a Kenyan businessman based in Middletown, Delaware.