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A "taxi driver" from the Togolese diaspora balances his accounts

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Par Carpophore Ntagungira

Laré Ousmane is from Dapaong in northern Togo. In 2002, at the age of 26, he decides to immigrate to Florida, USA, with only an accounting technician diploma and a driver’s license. After two years, he lands his first real job: as delivery driver at a restaurant, for a net monthly salary of $1,950. This remuneration remains the same for six years until he gets a residence permit and, finally, American citizenship.

In 2008, Ousmane decides to leave Florida and moves to Chicago as a taxi driver. Four years later, noting he does not make decent enough living, he waives his employee status to lease, and eventually buy, a new five-seater taxi. As a self-employed taxi driver working 7 days a week, the monthly income he generated after two years of working for himself are described as follows:

Out of $10,126 of monthly operating revenue, $2,060 goes to the car lease and maintenance company; $1,536 in fuel costs; $360 to insurance companies; $348 in road toll fees; $332 to the taxi dispatcher; $480 to the online passengers dispatching service and $320 to the Chicago Tax Authority.

After deducting his operating costs, Ousmane remains with $4,690 of income of which $950 are devoted to monthly household expenses and $2,200 to personal consumption; $1,200 are transferred to Togo and he manages to save $340 per month.

In aggregate terms, 88% of operating income was reprocessed to run the American economy, and 12% wired to Togo for – among others to pay imported products (pens, books, medicines, etc.) to meet the needs of the rest of the family members in his home country.

Whatever income sharing between origin and host countries is, the $1,200 Ousmane sends home to his country remains far beyond the $20 transferred on average per month by each of the 1.5 million members of the Togolese diaspora (¼ of the total population of Togo).

Western Union USA charges a $30 fee on the $1,200 sent, the remainder arriving in Togo amounts to $1,170. Three days after the money is sent, Damigou, Ousmane’ s sister, is issued at a Western Union’s counter, the sum of 573,300 CFA francs – at the exchange rate of $1 for 490 CFA francs, called the “buying rate”. Worth noting, Western Union’s exchange rate, in the opposite direction, the said “selling rate”, is 509 CFA francs for $1. This 4% difference between buying and selling rates often prompts Ousmane to rely on the informal channels of money transfer. According to a study funded by AfDB in 2012, the transfer fees paid by the Togolese diaspora range from 7% to 20% of the amounts involved, thus diminishing the total money transferred before it reaches its destination.

Ousmane has never returned to Togo since he left in 2002 because he refused to submit to procedures for visa entry in his country. In fact, the Togo nationality code, which dates back to 1978, does not recognize dual nationality. In addition, Ousmane says that the loss of his rights to a Togolese passport is a barrier to his willingness to invest in his country.

His compatriot Kombaté Koffi, for his part, went to Washington in 2013 to file application forms for a visa, both at the Embassy of Ghana and Togo .The whole process took Koffi three days and he had to pay $350 for two nights in the American capital, $200 at the Embassy of Ghana, $140 at the Embassy of Togo (three-month visa, issued 10 days after the submission of the application) and $300 for a round-trip air ticket Washington-Chicago. His Chicago-Accra travel via Frankfurt (Germany) cost him $1,150 in addition to $30 to travel the 190 km road linking Accra to Lomé.

Wthin the framework of its strategy for inclusion, the African Development Bank (AfDB) has granted the Togolese Government, in 2012, a sum of $0.5 million to fund a program named “The Use of Skills and other Resources from the Diaspora”. The program culminated in March 2014 with national forums on the mobilization of the Togolese diaspora in Paris, Montreal and Lomé. Responding to recommendations from these forums, a special authorization from the Cabinet meeting of July 2, 2014 resulted in the exemption from entry visa requirements for every member of the Togolese diaspora holding a foreign passport.

Ousmane responded immediately to the good news by buying a ticket, allowing him to return to his native soil for the first time in 12 years. The Nationality Code of 1978 is also currently under review. The expected new code could allow him to get back all of his rights as a Togolese citizen. Now, Ousmane will no longer have excuses for not investing in his country.

Broadly, 90% of remittances from Togolese abroad are engaged in daily expenditures (food, health, education). The successful inclusion of the diaspora, which is underway in Togo, should lead to economic inclusion, in line with the Ten-Year Strategy of the AfDB (2013-2022). The Government and the AfDB intend to continue their joint efforts to further orient the funds from diaspora into productive and sound investments. Togo has the 5th most generous diaspora of Africa in terms of transfers compared to GDP. In 2013, remittances from the Togolese diaspora were $ 363 million, which represents 9% of GDP and one and a half times the amount of Official Development Assistance (ODA). Over the past decade, Ousmane saw his revenues increase by an average of 9% per year, a growth rate similar to that of transfers from the Togolese diaspora as a whole. –The resilience, generosity and hard work of diaspora members are sources of wealth creation that should be leveraged by both countries of origin and the host country.


A. M Wilson - United States 22/01/2015 04:41
Great article!
It is important to note that besides sending part of their income home to support family, there are many like Ousmane Lare who would like to return home to visit. Anything African governments can do to facilitate the visit will be a win-win for all.
I salute the initiative in Togo that allows the Togolese diaspora with proof of Togo Nationality to enter the country without a VISA. I would like to see this initiative across Africa. Kudos for those behind this initiative.
Godwill Tange - Togo 29/10/2014 21:15
This is a very interesting article which I think is quite important for the ongoing discussions on the development agenda for sub-Saharan African countries.
It is well-documented today that the diaspora of developing countries possess considerable wealth that can be tapped for the origin countries’ development. Nearly two thirds of the world’s 214 million migrants live in wealthy countries of the north and the global south. If current trends continue, the figure will rise to 405 million by 2050, according to the Geneva-based International Organization for Migration (IOM). But how much of the remittances from migrants are invested in savings and channeled into development? That, I think is where the problem lies and attention needs to be focused.
Diaspora saving as a share of GDP is estimated to be 2.3 percent in middle-income countries and as high as 9 percent in low-income countries (which is the exact figure for Togo, as noted in the article).
In fact, Ratha and Mohapatra (2011) estimate the potential annual savings of the African diaspora to be about US$ 53 billion, of which US$ 30.5 billion (approximately 3.2 percent of GDP) is attributable to the diaspora of sub-Saharan African countries. These savings are currently mostly sent to the host countries of the diaspora.
We effectively see from the article the generosity of the Togolese diaspora. Its diaspora, which is evaluated at about one million five hundred thousands, that is, about one third of the Togolese resident population transferred about US$363 million to Togo (that is, about 9 percent of GDP) in 2013.
The only unfortunate thing which we all deplore today and which is clearly mentioned in the article is that a great proportion of these funds is used for consumption and very little is channeled to productive investment.
Therefore the major challenge today for a country like Togo and many other sub-Saharan African countries when it comes to these transfers is how to channel the funds to productive investments. Could we envisage solutions like diaspora bonds, diaspora investment savings and collective remittances, drawing on the experiences of countries like Israel and India, which are quite advanced in that domain?
The fact that the Togolese authorities have started responding to these issues shows how far they recognize the contribution of immigrant workers in their development effort. Providing exemptions from entry visa requirements for every member of the Togolese diaspora holding a foreign passport and reviewing the nationality code are important measures and a good beginning. However, I think the authorities should also capitalize their efforts towards designing strategies that enable these foreign workers to invest the funds in their home countries, which as we all observe today are very huge and quite important for the state’s budget.


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