Kenyan Diaspora: A Neglected Constituency

Published on 30th April 2019

Kenyans in the Diaspora play a pivotal role in enhancing Kenya’s economic growth. According to Statistics from Central Bank, the Diaspora sent home $245 million (Sh24.55 billion) in January 2019.

This represents a 17.2% increase compared with $209 million (Sh20.94 billion) sent last year. These figures may be even higher as they are only based on inter-bank transfers. Monies sent through MoneyGram, Wave and Western Union platforms are not included in these estimates. This contribution by Diaspora surpasses what tea and coffee fetch to the exchequer.

Despite their significant contributions to the Kenyan economy, present, and past governments don’t take this key constituency seriously. The question, therefore, is: Why is the Diaspora given a raw deal in Kenya’s governance systems and processes?

Many African countries are tapping their Diaspora for nation-building. The Kenyan situation is grave. The Diaspora feel that they are not appreciated by the government at home and Kenya’s embassies abroad but only used as cash cows.

The abysmal services Kenyans receive at the embassies abroad is worrying. Recently, Kenyans in Germany demonstrated against poor services at the embassy in Berlin. Services such as renewing passports are so poor. To add insult to injury, no logistics have been put in place for Huduma number registration rollout in the diaspora thus, putting the Diaspora at limbo.

Untapped Diaspora expertise

Kenya has vibrant doctors, engineers, modern technology gurus, just but to mention a few currently practicing abroad. However, the Kenyan government is unwilling to utilize their expertise.  Instead, we go to India for medical treatment, employ Chinese to build our roads and bridge and bring in Cuban doctors to serve in our hospitals. These foreign doctors are paid way higher that Kenyan doctors. In fact, they have better benefits and security than what the Kenyan doctors demanded when they were sent to prison.

Kenyan professionals serving abroad should be encouraged to come home. They have to be offered better terms of service which is often the major reason why they are domiciled abroad. What is Dr. Shem Ochuodho and Dr. Matunda Nyanchama doing in South Sudan and Canada respectively when the two gentlemen are the finest in computer technology? In fact, Dr. Nyanchama is even featured as Who is Who in Canada. 

A friend of mine Dr. Tom Motari, who practices psychiatry in the US, recently shared his perspectives on the state of mental health in Kenya. He pointed out the challenges we face to mitigate rampant suicides, homicides and substance abuse. Dr. Motari told me that the number of certified psychiatrists in Kenya, a country of almost 50 million is about 100. Furthermore, the majority are based in Nairobi. 

While Western Countries like the US and Canada are aggressive in admitting immigrants with diverse skills, Kenya is aggressively disincentivizing its professionals. The influx of Kenyan medics to the Western Hemisphere for greener pastures is quite alarming. Brain drain is killing Kenya.

President Donald Trump says the US will not be a dumping ground with unskilled people. He wants the Country’s immigration to root for the best. Other developed nations are doing the same because their governments know that, it's expensive to train professionals. That’s why they are doing massive “professional poaching.” 

Frankline Onchiri, a Kenyan doctor who works at one of the top Children’s research institute in the US, had this to comment on the government’s treatment of its most skilled: “We love our country and we would want to apply our knowledge and skills to serve our people. However, it demeans the utility of specialized skills when politicians with mediocre education, earn Kshs 1 million (USD 10,000) per month while doctors are imprisoned for demanding better pay and working conditions. Worse, foreign “expatriates” doing work Kenyans like us can do, are highly valued. This is the very definition of mockery.” 

Dr. Onchiri wonders why the government underpays its professionals who have spent decades in lecture halls gaining knowledge! The government is capable of paying our teachers, lecturers, engineers, doctors, and nurses decent salaries.

A notable turn-off to Kenyan professionals at home and abroad is when they see people with dubious academic degrees holding leadership positions in our counties just under the aegis of democracy! There is no denying, one can be a greater leader without superior education, but some situations like formulating government policy require good knowledge.

It’s imperative for the government to conduct a vigorous campaign to bring our professionals home. Those domiciled in Dubai, Ontario, New York and London should be encouraged to come and serve Kenyans.

In the homeland, somethings should be done to accommodate great minds like economist Dr. David Ndii who is also a product of diaspora. Kenya should utilize Dr. Ndii’s expertise at a time when the country is reeling from an economic downturn due to overborrowing, corruption and inflated tendering process.

False promises

Whilst many African countries have put up mechanisms that enhance voting rights for their citizens abroad, Kenya is still at limbo. This so even though the right to vote is explicitly captured in the 2010 constitution.

One wonders whether we have become “a talking nation” with less action more so from the government and our electoral body.

 Mr. Ahmed Hassan, the former Chairperson of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) made extensive tours in the diaspora promising to register Kenyans to vote but this didn’t happen. When Hassan left office, Mr. Wafula Chebukati followed with similar promises. It’s unfortunate that the government or IEBC don’t talk about Diaspora voting anymore. 

In 2014, while addressing Kenyans in New York, President Uhuru Kenyatta authorized the government to allow Kenyans in the diaspora to import vehicles duty-free. It’s sad that the promise fitted the Moi-like roadside campaign promises which never materialize. Indeed, no follow-up has been made; no mechanism has been put in place to effect the said almost five years down the road.

The Diaspora think they are being used as fundraising machines by politicians. They host them in beautiful town halls, booked them in expensive hotels with all costs paid. Before they return to Kenya, they are showered with many gifts.  Before they fly back to Kenya, these politicians make a raft of promises to the diaspora which they never fulfill! 

In this era of devolution, the Diaspora has seen it all- they have hosted many governors who invite them to invest in their counties. It's shameful and demeaning when some of these governors will barely remember your name or recognize your face when you visit their offices in Kenya. 

By Joseph Lister Nyaringo

President of the Kenya Patriotic Movement, a diaspora lobby group based in the US. 

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