I recently held a hearty discussion with fellow Kenyan diasporans about the tonnes of investment opportunities back home and asked them if they had any existing investments or interests.
From one to the other, the response was same; No! Upon further inquiry, the common response was related to horror stories of swindling and the buck always stopped with the government.
The main question they asked me was: “Why should I invest in the country if even the government does not recognise me as a Kenyan and does not acknowledge my constitutional right to vote? I would rather just send some money to the family, then invest elsewhere – here in the US or other developing countries like Rwanda.”
The diaspora is the fourth highest income earner for the country. It could easily be the highest if the government moved to rebuild relations with the 48th county after decades of sidelining it.
The diaspora’s right to vote is the greatest concern at the moment, as it is a right enshrined in the Constitution. There are still fresh wounds after the IEBC used the term “progressive” in the Constitution to register only 3,000 out of approximately three million diaspora voters, of whom only about 1,000 (.03 per cent) voted in the last election. There is nothing progressive about that.
Another key area of concern is engagement between the foreign missions and diaspora communities. Relationships have been at an all-time low, with the majority in the diaspora dissatisfied with treatment meted out by many embassy staff, as well as a perceived lack of interest in matters involving the same communities, such as a rise in suicides, domestic violence leading to death, and other such problems. This outreach role is being left to local deejays, promoters and community pastors.
A third high-level area of interest is investment in Kenya, and this seems to be the main one the government is focusing on while ignoring the other two.
Sadly, asking for investment from oppressed citizens is akin to slapping someone, then asking her to dance with you.
Over half a year ago, at a London meeting, the President described the diaspora as his 48th and richest county. He guaranteed us voting rights in the next elections, and as we enter 2014, we in the diaspora believe the President has an interest in and concern for the diaspora, but they have little faith that the greater administration shares the same interest.
One year into the new administration, we have a new Foreign Affairs Cabinet secretary who is yet to formally tour the diaspora to meet the communities.
The closest the diaspora has been towards any government acknowledgement is the creation of a diaspora representative role in the Office of the President, only that the post was awarded to an individual who has never lived in the diaspora, and who is clueless about its interests.
Instead, he spends most of his time on social media fighting unrelated battles. Because such individuals are the face of government, their actions are what we in the diaspora are using to judge the new administration.
As with most incoming administrations, there is a transitional period in which the new government is getting adjusted and acquainted with day-to-day operations.
It would have, therefore, been more effective to appoint a diaspora advisory transition team in the Office of the President that can serve as a think-tank to identify key diaspora interests, needs and ways to cross-engage.
Mr Kerre is a New York City-based co-convener of the Kenya Diaspora Alliance as head of Aktive Advocacy Group. He is also a cyber-security expert. (firstname.lastname@example.org)