Prof Lindah Mhando champions diaspora engagement

Lindah (1)

What you need to know:

  • She says the diasporas can promote trade and foreign direct investment, create businesses, spur entrepreneurship and transfer new knowledge

Before Prof Lindah Mhando was a renowned Senior Legal Scholar with her footprint in academia, she was another young Tanzanian lady with ambitions to attain the highest level of studies.

After she completed her bachelor’s degree in Tanzania, in 1993 she went to the United States for her master’s degree in Human Development and 7 Peace Studies: 

“I have been passionate about statecraft, so naturally I was drawn to the aspect of Mediation and Arbitration and this could only be attained through Peace Studies during that time.

After graduating, the experience opened the door for me to pursue further studies and obtain my Ph.D in sociology, she remarked. 

Like other immigrants in the diaspora, her dream was to return home as soon as she finished her studies. She didn’t anticipate staying much longer, but opportunities arose as she was finishing her master’s.

She worked at Cornell Cooperative Extensions, engaging in lots of Community Mediation Programmes, among other things. 

“My husband had already completed his master’s degree at that time. And I had just returned from Beijing, China, from the Fourth Women Conference. I was invited to the TV station, and there was also my story in the newspaper, so naturally, the university president was curious about this Tanzanian young woman and the stories about women’s empowerment.

One day, during the university president’s opening hours, the stars were aligned for me. I dared to make an appointment to see her, so during the conversation, I dared to pitch in the idea of funding for my PhD, and to my amazement, she offered me the full-ride scholarship,” she pointed out.

She was also offered her first teaching position before her graduation.

Moving to the US was relatively easy for Prof Lindah. 

In Tanzania, she worked as a director for a non-governmental organisation, where she was accustomed to frequently travelling across the world, which opened her up to different cultures and protected her from any cultural shocks once she moved to America.

The big cultural shift came with having children in the US. Contrary to Tanzania, where a mother has relatives at her disposal in case she needs help raising a child, in the US that responsibility rests on the parents’ shoulders with little or no help from next of kin.

Prof Lindah, like other women in the diaspora, had to ask her mother to come to the US and help look after the kids, and whenever she left and returned to Tanzania, it was upon her husband and her to take care of the children with no maid.

“I must confess that parenthood is an incredible journey full of joy, challenges, and countless responsibilities. We quickly had to learn time management and better communication skills, especially communicating feelings and needs. Seeing beneath our children’s behaviours, we learned to be consistent, never to ask anything more than once, and the importance of Diaspora community engagement. It takes a village to raise a child,” she insisted.

Though Lindah’s children are Americans, she has always been keen to make sure they grow up with Tanzanian values, “Indeed, they can be Americans outside the house, but once they walk into my house, where I have my Tanzanian flag, they are Tanzanians,” she laughed.

The challenge of instilling African values in children born in the diaspora is a common battle, one that Lindah is proud to have won.

“We tried our best to decondition from harsh parenting and brought them up with healthy parenting practices that we thought could make a positive impact on our children’s overall well-being, but also on our own.

“We figured that, when we cultivate healthy parenting practices, we would be more likely to experience less stress, improve communication, and have positive relationships in the long run.” 

Some values that have helped them are emotional regulation and impulse control. Here, we taught them to simultaneously have respect not only for their elders but for themselves and everyone else.

 This teaches them to express their feelings, not to be judgmental but also to respect others. Work ethics that have helped them are emotional regulation and impulse.

Here, we taught them to simultaneously have respect not only for their elders but for themselves and everyone else.

 This teaches them to express their feelings, not to be judgmental but also to respect others, work ethics, which is different from their peers who aren’t African, the importance of family and particularly what true love looks like?, love books, and also the biggest was/is to have faith in God.

I would say they adopted some of these standards that we modelled after and became who they are today, even if they are rooted in American culture on the surface,” she added. 

Before making the US her residence, Prof Lindah worked extensively in the private non-governmental sector in Tanzania.

She worked at the Tanzania Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (TANGO), which is the largest and longest-standing national umbrella organisation serving the Tanzanian NGO community.

Years later, she is still proud to serve her country. “Just because I am in America, it doesn’t mean I stopped working for my country,” she insists.

During the late Magufuli’s tenure, for example, she was among the professionals in the diaspora who helped share their knowledge and expertise. “They wanted the consultant to work on the gender policy in Tanzania, and I boldly applied,” she said.

Prof Mhando believes there is great potential within the Tanzanians in the diaspora—a lot of untapped wealth of knowledge and resources that could be utilised to develop our country at a faster pace if Tanzania chooses to engage the diaspora.

“If you look at what the folks in the diaspora have achieved, it’s mind-blowing! Beyond their well-known role as senders of remittances, diasporas can also promote trade and foreign direct investment, create businesses, spur entrepreneurship, and transfer new knowledge and skills.

They can also directly provide rigorous professional development and leadership training programmes.

In the same vein, they can also be powerful advisors to governments, helping to improve the quality of public institutions and advocating for foreign businesses looking to expand.

 Prof Lindah Mhando is one of many great Tanzanian minds who are abroad. Though they currently call other countries home, they are willing and ready to jump at opportunities to impact our country. All we must do is reach out and, if need be, reinstate their connection to their motherland.

“Here in America, they saw my talents and what I could offer, and they allowed me to deliver, but back home, there is that aspect of not acknowledging what skills we have and how capable we are. There are some serious talents here, and there is a lot that can be done by people in diaspora.

If folks are given opportunities to run institutions, for example, because of their emotional connections with the motherland, they could also become a source of knowledge sharing and technology transfer to the homeland—a game changer for brain gain in real-time.” she reiterated.

Prof Lindah’s journey started with a Master’s in Human Development and Peace Studies. Her interest has been in arbitration and mediation, and she has been doing that in US communities. That paved the way for her to be accredited, as she also took advantage of an arbitrator and mediator in Tanzania. Where she is also credited.

At some point, brain drain (the loss of Africa’s intellectual capital) had a devastating impact on African countries, but Prof Lindah believes that apart from the sense of national identity and emotional attachment to the homeland, there has been an embryonic growth of interest in strengthening trade and investment ties in Africa as a whole.

In Tanzania, for example, in terms of synergies in the tourism industry and social innovations, some of the strategies to reduce brain drain include one, mobilisation of Tanzanians in the diaspora through virtual participation; two, formulating a national diaspora policy; three, economic share ship going back home, or as a global village, a Tanzanian anywhere in the world can still contribute to the country; and four, connecting the diaspora productively through temporary engagements in Tanzania. Instead of spending millions of dollars per year to employ Westerners, the concerted efforts must be to recruit Tanzanians abroad to reconnect with their motherland.

“People are contributing in different ways, so hopefully, with the new efforts put forth by the government, we shall see more ‘brain gain’ shortly,” she pointed out.

“However, the incentive to involve the Diaspora should be apparent, as we know knowledge is increasingly becoming the crucial determinant of countries’ long-term growth and international competitiveness,” she concluded.