‘’ I am tired of being a wage earner, I want to go back and start my own business in The Gambia’’. ‘’Next season I will start to build on my land in Serrekunda’’. ‘’It is not even 15th of this month, and I am already broke’’. During more than 13 years living with migrants, I have heard these kinds of wishes and complaints uncountable times. What is clear is that most of the migrants do not want to spend the rest of their working-age abroad; they have ambitious and beautiful plans to finally go back to their beloved country.
Gambia is one of the countries with a higher rate of migration in Sub-Sahara Africa (SSA), which implies a very important flow of remittances, i.e., $181.057.007,7 (22% of Gambian GDP) in 2016 according to World Bank. But will this money improve the situation of both, migrants and relatives, in the long run? How does this income streams affect the economy at large? I will try to give an answer to the latter question in another article.
In this article, I want to point out some problems that migrants face and are stopping them making their dreams come true, and give them some tips and recommendations in order to improve their financial situation and make a sensible use of their hard-earned wages.
1. Learn to say NO!
Once you make it to Europe or US, it is not possible to avoid big responsibilities even if you are very young. You become the hope of your family, and this can be a very heavy burden to bear. Unlike people back home, you know how tough things can be, so do not try to solve all the problems back home, it is simply impossible.
On average the SSA migrants in Europe make between €900 and €1300 per month, those lucky enough to have a stable work. With this income, it impossible to resolve all the demands coming from home. So you have to be rational and categorically accept that not all financial can demands can be resolved. It is not easy because you know the troubles you have left back home, but in the long run bearing something heavier than your capacity will not benefit you or those you are trying to help.
2. Invest in human capital.
Many of the migrants, especially the ‘’back way boys’’ are still in the age of learning when they make it to Europe. Very often they are offered different courses, from learning the language to courses to improve their employability, for free.
Recalling from the first point many of the migrants do not want to take this courses because it is ‘’a waste of time’’ they have many responsibilities and issues to fix back home. My recommendation is to invest your first months or even years in Europe in improving your skills and knowledge, which surely will yield very good results once you hit the labor market. It is an excellent way to improve your employability, differentiate yourself from the rest of unskilled workers, and most importantly it is a good signal that you are willing to learn and be integrated into the new society. This investment can make a difference, i.e., can allow working as a waiter instead of a dishwasher in a hotel.
Furthermore, many jobs require the applicant to have a driving license, how can you do that if you cannot read or understand the language?
There are unavoidable expenses such as healthcare, food supply, when things are very bad at home; educational expenditures for our kids or brothers. However, some expenses are unnecessary and financially irresponsible, and it is you and only you who must differentiate them and dedicate your money to what you consider necessary for your relatives and friends. To put an example, we all have bought a fancy smartphone for a beloved one (i.e. mother, fiancé, brother, wife or whoever). Why struggle to buy a €300 Samsung Galaxy for someone if the person cannot read or lives in a region with huge network problems, why not sending her a €50 smartphone which can do the similar job?
4. Save, save and save again!
It is something obvious, but sometimes SSA migrants seem not being aware enough of the importance of savings to accomplish the ambitious plans they have got. To be able to save you must have an absolute control of your incomes and expenditures; try to not deviate from your expenditures mean. Another important thing to be a good saver is being realistic; do not try to save more than what you are capable of.
In the case of the Gambia, there are financial institutions with good interest rates on savings accounts. For instance, Reliance Finance’s Premium Saving Account with a minimum operating balance of D1000 pays 7% per annum (p.a). GTBank savings account pays 5% p.a, and interest is calculated on daily balance average and paid monthly, and Trust Bank with a rate of 4%, paid for balances of D5.001.00 and above.
It is also a good option investing, on Gambian Treasury bills, but it has the inconvenience of a minimum amount to invest fixed on D25.000.00, which can be an excessive amount for some migrants. You can find more information about Gambia Treasury Bills here.
5. Create Passive Income streams in The Gambia.
Most of the migrants only rely on their monthly wages, this is a big mistake if you are planning to go back. It is vital having another source of income, engaging in small businesses could be the solution to that. A very simple example is buying goats or rams and selling them for Tobaski. It is a very simple business that everyone could do. We all know how crazy prices go the days before Eid so the profits can be huge.
You do not have to be there to engage in business, many people running a business in The Gambia would be more than happy to partner with someone living abroad, and that could boost his business. It is time for the migrants to use their remittances wisely and this is a very good way, although it is yet to be explored.
6. Use the new technologies in your favor.
Communications with our relatives have become very easy thanks to the technological revolution, this is good news, but at the same time it can increase the pressure on migrants and force them to send more money. I remember the days when my relatives living abroad used to send letters, or call once or twice a year. Obviously at that time, not every expenditure at home where covered by them, that allowed them to save and invest their hard earned salaries in meaningful things. Nowadays, it as simple as sending a WhatsApp message.
Migrants can use these communications tools to reduce the information asymmetries they face. Many of them complain that their money is not used as they wished; even though it is not possible having an absolute control of the money you send to your relatives, it has become easier to enforce your wishes.
Moreover, the Gambia now counts with financial technologies (Fintech) enterprises that make it easier to send money (Supersonicz) or even buying food, credit or providing electricity for your relatives directly from Europe with Baluwo, which is the easiest way to make sure that your money is used as you desire. I highly recommend Gambian migrants to be on alert for these innovations, explore them and make a good use of them.
7. Create a Personal Financial Plan.
Finally, all the points above are useless if migrants do not set a clear and realistic goal. It is true that many of them want to go back and live in The Gambia in the middle/long term, but it is essential to have a clear agenda and go through all the steps needed for it. To that, you have to be very rational, be honest with yourself and avoid bearing burdens that are too heavy for your financial situation.
In conclusion sending money to our relatives is essential, and is the most important motivation for most migrants to take a very hard and risky journey to Europe or the United States, but it is also necessary to be realistic and know the limits of our financial situation. Furthermore, it is important not let the relatives back home depend absolutely on our remittances, they should be aware of how hard it is for migrants to make money far from home.
To those who are planning to go back to The Gambia, it is important to have a clear agenda and follow all the steps needed to achieve their goals, from investing in human capital to acquiring good saving habits. Migrants have a very important role in our society, but it is clear that there is a need to improve their financial management in order to have a stronger impact on our development agenda.
About the Author
Sharif Bah is a young Gambian studying Economics at the Pompeu Fabra University of Barcelona. At the age of nine, he moved to Spain with his family; it was the perfect opportunity to accomplish one of his dreams, going to school. He is passionate about African development, especially in the financial sector.