In 2016, my Aunt visited Cameroon for the first time in 13 years. One particular day, as we drove around town running some errands she said to me, her eyes looking out the car window, “it seems money transfer is a very lucrative business here. Everywhere I go, I see money transfer offices.”
“Oh, you have no idea,” I told her “and what you see are the bigger brands who have the resources to place bigger ads everywhere. There are even more of them that people here do not know of. It is quite lucrative. Business has been good thanks to you and the $100 you send from time to time.” She laughed loudly at my joke.
As an African, I don’t know if ‘business is good’ was the right way to qualify my thoughts at that moment. If anything, the booming industry of remittances from abroad uncovers one of Africa’s biggest challenges – Africa’s incapacity to keep its youngest and brightest people at home, right here on this vast, beautiful and multi-ethnic continent.
It shows how slow economic growth, political upheavals, deficiency in industrialisation, difficult investment environments, shaky institutions (or lack thereof ) and just generally the fear of the unknown have led to mass exodus and brain-drain over the past 30 years. And this population living outside the continent is usually the financial crutch for their immediate and sometimes extended family. I look around me and basically everyone I know has some direct or fairly-extended member of their family abroad. And this person is usually responsible for the financial stability of members of his direct and extended family too. And most often, the remittances they send goes into the trio of what is perhaps Africa’s biggest financial wormhole – Education costs, Health costs, and Funeral costs.
The Africa Rising narrative may not have held the promise it proclaimed it would hold but if, again, I have to look at my immediate environment, I would say my generation’s outlook on the world and its vision for Africa is markedly different from that of our parents.
When our parents and relatives left the continent in the 70s and 80s to search for greener pastures, the political and economic landscape of Africa was different. It was marred by coups and fragile regimes that were succeeded by one dictatorship after the other. They were disillusioned and they wiped their feet on the doormats of Africa and boarded planes, with no plans of ever returning.
Today the context is a lot different. We look at Africa and we see hope. We see a bright promise. Most of the people about my age who left for studies abroad in the early to late 2000s are coming back to establish themselves. We travel more, even within the continent, and the internet has opened the world to those who have never left their countries. We are in touch with other Africans we haven’t met and have built friendships over digital bridges. We are educated, we are cultured and the Africa we see is one of opportunity and not one that is destitute.
A prime example of one of such Africans is my compatriot, Diane Audrey Ngako. She left Cameroon at the age of 12 for France. She returned in 2016 after quitting her job at a prominent French media outlet. She moved to Douala and opened her communications Agency (Omenkart) under whose umbrella she organised the very first Douala Art Fair in June 2018. Today, I’d confidently say she is one of the most prominent faces in art in Cameroon.
WorldRemit understands this narrative of Africa beautifully; that the Africa of tomorrow lies in the hands of young movers and shakers today. It seems, ironically, to understand this more than even most African governments.
The face of remittances has also changed. More and more of that money sent to Africa isn’t just family aid but also payment for 3rd party services done by African professionals and freelancers; content writers, network administrators, translators, consultants, engineers, marketers etc. Some of it is put into investments and some of the people who hitherto sent the money are coming back to change their countries.
And WorldRemit positions itself not as just as a facilitator for sending money across the world and Africa, but as a champion for its cause. Its website and other digital channels are full of stories about the changing face of Africa and some of the young and bright Africans (like Diane Audrey) who are doing that. It seems to say that it is more than just a tool you use to send money, but that its brand also understands you, where you come from, what your dreams are and then it gives you something that inspires you to achieve that shared dream for Africa.
Its Twitter page for example champions education and shows us how many children could benefit in education from the money sent to Africa by those in the diaspora, thereby highlighting the importance of the diaspora to the intellectual growth of the continent.
I would have expected no less, its founder and CEO, Ismail Ahmed, after all, is from Somaliland. The company understands that talk is cheap and that they need to run the mile to show the way. It’s no doubt because of this that their platform champions digital transformation and allows Africans to receive remittances via Mobile Money, which is growing rapidly on the continent.
What WorldRemit is doing is not only beautiful but important. It flips the story of remittances upside down. It challenges that notion that money is sent to Africa because of war and poverty and economic failure. It says instead that it is more than just money being sent. It says instead that it is the hand of a new generation that is molding the continent into the beautiful piece of pottery that it wants it to be.
If anything, I only wish it would make all these stories more prominent on the homepage of its website.
Daniel is passionate about Digital Branding and creative writing. In his free time, he likes thinking out loud and reading. An avid fan of “Game of Thrones” and John Grisham, he has been a Manchester United supporter since he was 10. You can follow him on Twitter as well for more marketing insights as well as his innermost thoughts.