Implementing the Kenya Draft Diaspora Policy Without Key Changes is Futile

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In analyzing the Kenya draft diaspora policy, it is important to observe one thing. This is that the Kenyan diaspora population overseas has been perceived by the Kenyan population in two ways. One is admiration for their remarkable success in foreign countries. The other view is skepticism over their real motives and agenda. The draft diaspora policy paper is a first step in bridging this chasm in perceptions and reality. In my view, it needs several major changes.

I want to begin by appreciating the effort that has been expended to come up with this noble idea. The issue of voting rights is critical in engaging the diaspora population estimated at over 3 million. Unfortunately, the diaspora draft policy paper does not offer any realistic process or timeline through which Kenyans in the diaspora can get their universal right to vote for their representatives in Kenya. The term “progressive realization” is amorphous and unsubstantiated. It does little to realistically offer Kenyans in the diaspora a chance to vote. It needs to be replaced with “immediate realization” if any serious efforts are to be made in getting voting rights to Kenyans. In addition to this, diaspora policy paper needs to address the diaspora’s specific right to be Kenyans and afford those that lost their citizenship a simple and clear way to regain it.

After creating such an ambitious plan, the overall tone and policy recommendations of the diaspora draft policy paper are government centric. They are top down rather than bottom up. The policy paper needs to focus on the diaspora moving the agenda forward because they are outside Kenya and know best what their needs and concerns are. I think the decentralization of the many Kenyan groups as it currently stands is not ideal. However attempting to centralize their operations will not be practical. Instead, quarterly or semi-annual conferences need to be organized coordinate their affairs and establish networks between them.

I have also observed that in relation to leadership, the draft policy paper avoids the reality of poor leadership in Kenya that has resulted in millions of Kenyans living away from home. The policy paper needs to focus on how the diaspora can contribute to an issues based dialogue in Kenyan politics. One way this can be done is by working with the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) to reduce hate speech and ethnic balkanization of Kenya in Kenya and on the internet.

The engagement of Kenyans in the diaspora and the consular representatives is another major concern. Kenya embassies in the United States suffer from a trust deficit from the diaspora. In addition to this, there is poor coordination between the embassy in D.C, the consulate in Los Angeles and the representative office in New York. The draft policy paper should address how information will be quickly, accurately and effectively communicated to the Kenya embassies. Specific mention should be made of the support to be provided to recent green card arrivals from Kenya to the United States. This is because these are the newest members of the diaspora.

The issue of remittances is best channeled through the private sector banking system with the government providing incentives to the banks to enable the diaspora send hard currency home. The government should focus on providing private sector channels for remittances to be directly transferred to Kenya at a low cost. Specific focus should be made to afford Kenyans in the Diaspora easy access to opening and maintaining foreign currency accounts in Kenya. Increased foreign currency flows to individual foreign currency accounts will broaden the government tax base and increase its foreign currency reserves.

As far as tourism is concerned, the draft policy paper needs to specifically address the rising level of insecurity in Kenya including random killings and terror attacks. The approach at the moment seems to be reactive with no long term policy crafted to reduce these attacks. Terrorism and insecurity are a major deterrent to the tourism sector. With rising insecurity in Kenya, members of the diaspora can opt to vacation in other countries or remain abroad. In addition to this, direct flights from the US to Kenya need to be established as soon as possible. This will boost tourism and facilitate low air travel costs for Kenyans in the diaspora to visit Kenya. The draft policy paper needs to address specifically when this will happen.

As the largest unrepresented constituency in Kenya, the diaspora population can do a lot in the field of tourism. The policy paper should address specific methods to tap the market of cultural tourism. Countries like Ghana have offered citizenship to African Americans who are a billion dollar pool of human and financial capital Kenya can exploit. In addition to focusing on game parks, beaches and safari’s, more effort needs to be made to draw the cultural links of Kenya not only to the Kenyan diaspora but to the wider African American diaspora in the US. Grandma Obama’s Kagello home, archeological sites in the Rift Valley and slave forts like Fort Jesus are some specific sites that can be marketed alongside traditional tourist attractions.  

Perhaps an area the policy paper should look closer at is that of human resources. The draft policy paper should clearly address the issue of lack of employment, training and business opportunities in Kenya. Kenyans in the diaspora may not want to move back to Kenya permanently but would be interested in short term employment, philanthropic and business opportunities. These opportunities are available but not accessible in the diaspora. An online database of this information can be set up on the Kenya embassy website.

My other observation is related to social security transfer. This is one idea from the draft that is not feasible and should be removed. The social security administration in Kenya (NSSF) is not accountable in protecting and investing the pension funds of Kenyans in Kenya. It is laughable to expect Kenyans in the diaspora to think their pension funds will be treated any differently.

There is also the need to rethink the idea of a diaspora database. This is another idea from the draft that is not feasible and needs to be discarded. Members of the diaspora have a concern about the protection, security and use of their private information collected by government agencies.

As far as the coordination of the policy is concerned, the focus of the coordination mechanism needs to involve 2-3 key ministries (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Finance and Justice). Having too many ministries involved will create coordination and logistical challenges.

Lastly, the National Diaspora Council of Kenya’s (NADICOK) formation is long overdue. This council needs to be formed by the Diaspora to represent Diaspora issues to the government. It should involve a team of members covering nations where Kenyans are heavily concentrated. This team should meet regularly address diaspora concerns to the government in Kenya.   

By Professor David O. Monda
Associate Professor of Political Science - Ashford University
Email: david.monda@faculty.ashford.edu | PHONE: 424-232-1792

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