Demands by Kenyan diaspora are patronisingBy JOSEPH MAGUTT | Tuesday, May 29 2012 at 11:01
The Kenyan diaspora is an idea whose time has come. Largely based in Europe and North America and estimated at three million, the community is, so to speak, Kenya’s 48th county and an economic and political juggernaut that merits attention.
This is one of the most educated, dynamic and independent middle class. It enjoys international networks, influence, orientation and expertise that Kenya needs.
Some have made their mark in entrepreneurship, academia, sports, ICT and other specialised fields. This go-getter spirit and disposition, often wrapped in hard work and honest means, has distinguished the Kenyan diaspora from those of other African countries.
They cannot, therefore, be anything else but Kenya’s ambassadors.
But life is not that hunky-dory for some ‘diasporians’. A number lives in the underworld, unable to come back home or make a decent life for themselves.
Some have to make do with multiple odd jobs to make ends meet. Others have fallen into modern-day slavery, especially those who found their way to the Middle East.
Besides the pitiable house orderlies who reportedly endure insufferable brutality from their employers, some athletes who have settled abroad are no better.
As a prerequisite to acquiring new citizenship, they are compelled to adopt new names whose meaning they do not understand, and which they cannot even pronounce correctly.
The recent rush by the diaspora to invest in Kenya is informed by the new constitutional order that guarantees the sanctity of private property and dual citizenship, aggressive government efforts to attract investment, accessible remittance technologies, a liberal political environment and the incontrovertible reality that Kenya is among the most attractive investment destinations in the world.
The Central Bank tracking system indicates that the annual total remittance by the diaspora is now north of Sh70 billion — competing with tourism, tea, and horticulture. These remittances target real estate, stock market equities, infrastructure bonds, and ICT.
Going by the demands, one can conclude that it is this scale of investment or remittances which makes the diaspora behave like European “donors” — pontificating, patronising and threatening sanctions.
This group should realise that investing at home is a demonstration of patriotism, and they are not doing anyone a favour.
A raft of proposals has been made by the diaspora. Some are reasonable while others have been moving from the ridiculous to the absurd.
I will focus on two proposals. First, there is no gainsaying the need to enfranchise Kenyans abroad. But it is ridiculous for some to demand that the IEBC should station polling centres within “walking distance”.
Take, for example, having polling stations in all 50 US states, staffed with IEBC-hired electoral officers as opposed to, say, using embassy staff in Washington and the consulate in California.
This demand is not logistically and financially feasible, despite its advocacy by Foreign Affairs assistant minister Richard Onyonka.
A key argument is that Kenya’s missions abroad cannot play neutral umpires in an election. This is baloney! Established democracies such as the US have historically made use of its embassies, consulates and military facilities abroad to enfranchise its citizens successfully. Kenya can use the same model.
Another demand is that Kenyans who have renounced their Kenyan citizenship in favour of other countries do not need to re-apply for citizenship due to what they call their “birth right”.
This argument is infantile and amounts to intellectual dishonesty. If that is the logic, then resident Kenyans would not really have to bother applying for national identity cards or passports by virtue of being Kenyans by birth.
The Immigration ministry should not bend rules to accommodate, this warped demand. Dual citizenship as guaranteed in Article 16 of the Constitution, while laudable, must not be abused.
Mr Magutt is a lecturer in politics and international studies, Kenyatta University. (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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