When Ambassador Zachary Dominic Muburi-Muita was appointed as head of the Directorate of Diaspora Affairs, not many Kenyans noticed.
In fact, few knew that such a post existed within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
By appointing a seasoned diplomat to the post, the President must have been trying to send a subliminal message to his critics that he is serious about engaging with the Diaspora.
However, Kenyan media largely snubbed the news of the appointment, perhaps considering it too mundane.
The only mention of Mr Muita was on a Facebook post where the Director of Digital, New Media and Diaspora relations, Dennis Itumbi, announced that issues regarding Kenyans living outside the country would be handled by the new director.
But even then, he misspelt his name, referring to him as Mr Mwamburi.
In July last year, Mr Kenyatta announced a major reorganisation in his office and appointed the hitherto blogger-cum-activist the Director of newly created Digital, New Media and Diaspora Department.
An elated Itumbi said: “I pledge to lead the path in delivering the Digital promise and to connect the concerns and ideas of Kenyans in the Diaspora and those on the digital space with Government service and the Presidency.”
But the excitement was short lived, or so it seemed. Soon after the appointment, all manner of barbs began flying his way, with some even faulting the President for “relegating the Diaspora affairs into a small corner of his office.”
The most high profile denigration came from former Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, who rubbished Mr Itumbi’s appointment saying: “The kind of character who has been appointed by the Government… I don’t think has the kind of connection and capacity to bring the Diaspora together.”
TAKE THE BLAME
In an interview with Nation.co.ke in Dallas, Texas, Mr Odinga criticised President Kenyatta for creating a “mere desk in his office and not giving the Diaspora the seriousness it deserves.”
Since then, Mr Itumbi has on several occasions found himself on the receiving end as he, sometimes unsuccessfully, tried to explain what the exact mandate of his office is.
Mr Muburi-Muita faces a herculean task in the newly created Directorate. Controversy has dogged the Diaspora desk since its establishment by the President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Before his appointment was announced, Mr Itumbi said: “On the Diaspora front, it must be said from the depth of my heart and mind, we did not do a good job in 2013.
“The ideas and planning were superb, but the execution has been slow and the impact dismal. There are many reasons, but instead of naming them for now, I take the blame.”
As the Jubilee administration marked its first year in office last April, Mr Kenyatta was fiercely criticised by Kenyans in the Diaspora.
Some said their agenda was never given much thought both in the TNA and URP manifestoes prior to the merger of the two parties.
“The chickens are now coming home to roost. It is a clear indication that from the word go, we were just a by-the-way in grand scheme of things,” said Jeremy Anguka in an interview with Nation.co.ke in Washington DC.
KENYA’S 48TH COUNTY
Others urged the President to cut the rhetoric and act. “What we want to see are tangible results. We are tired of speeches,” said Wainaina Mbugua soon after President Kenyatta delivered a speech in Kampala during a meeting with Kenyans living in Uganda three months ago.
“My government considers the Diaspora the single biggest asset outside the country for the developmental roles it plays through remittances,” the President had said.
In May last year, President Kenyatta told Kenyans living in the UK that he considers the Diaspora as Kenya’s 48th county.
“My Government is developing instruments of engagement to bolster relationship with you, the Diaspora to ensure there is a inn enabling environment for you to invest in key projects in the country,” he said. One year later, this is yet to be actualised.
The entry of Mr Muburi-Muita is however seen as a step in the right direction. “He has what it takes to streamline the Diaspora and bring it to par with other progressive Diasporas,” said Peterson Muthoga of Atlanta, Georgia.
Mr Muita sought to assure Kenyans in the Diaspora that they will see positive changes in the very near future.
The envoy said his immediate assignment is to ensure that the eagerly awaited Kenya Diaspora Policy is out by mid June.
“Once we do this, our mandate and terms of engagement will be clear and we will all be reading from the same script,” he told Nation.co.ke during a phone interview.
Last year, the Kenyan Diaspora remitted over Sh110 billion which is the equivalent of 5.4 per cent of the country’s GDP.
Vision 2030, Kenya’s economic blueprint unveiled in 2007, was cognisant of the role of the Diaspora as a key player in the country’s economic development.
But even as the Diaspora is hailed for its economic muscle, it has variously been criticised for lack of cohesion.
According to Ms Regina Njogu, a Washington DC based lawyer, divisions in the Diaspora make it very difficult for any meaningful engagement.
“They have failed to form into an inclusive organization. Instead of a streamlined umbrella Diaspora body, what we have is a proliferation of organisations all over the world, most with no national outlook,” she wrote in an opinion piece in the Nairobi Law Monthly.
So who is this man tasked with a spearheading activities in one of the five key pillars of Kenya’s Foreign Policy?
Mr Mumburi-Muita is a career diplomat who, prior to his appointment as the envoy to the UN by President Mwai Kibaki in 2006, served as Kenya’s High Commissioner to Tanzania.
TIME TO DELIVER
Previously, he was a Principal Counsellor at the Kenya Embassy in Israel and the head of the Middle East Division at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
He also served as the head of the Americas Division, Senior Assistant Secretary and Acting Head of the Asia and Australasia Division.
The envoy also acted in various capacities in Kenya’s missions abroad, including in the Netherlands and the Sudan.
In January 2010, he was elected President of the UN High-Level Committee on South-South Cooperation, which spearheaded the intergovernmental review and policymaking of South-South Cooperation.
Prior to his current undertaking, he was the head of the UN office to the African Union in Addis Ababa, appointed by Secretary General Ban Ki Moon in 2010.
As to whether Mr Muburi-Muita will deliver, only time will tell.