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The Kenyan Community Abroad (KCA) @ 10 Years of Age – Some Reflections

The Kenyan Community Abroad at Ten Years of Age – A Refection
By Matunda Nyanchama
Founding President of KCA
July 7, 2007, Newark, Delaware, USA

Madame President Mkawasi Mcharo
Hon Hon Obwocha, Minister for Economic Planning
Hon. Munya, Assistant Minister for Internal Security
Prof Makau Mutua,
Dr Shem Ochuodho, 2007 KCA Award recipient
Distinguished guests
Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is a pleasure to be here today at the annual KCA conference and AGM. I am glad that KCA has maintained the tradition we started back in 1999; and I am sure, as always find, participants will benefit from the deliberations at the conference. Please take the opportunity to network with others and share experiences.

I have been asked to reflect on the 10 years of KCA, starting at its founding and offer some thoughts regarding the future of this organization.

What is a ten year-old? What would you expect a 10 year-old to be doing? What do you expect a ten year-old organization to have achieved in its.

I want to suggest to you that the Kenyan Community Abroad (KCA) has achieved a lot and has potential to continue being influential and generating needed impact for our people in Kenya and the Diaspora.

Heri kuwa zaidana kuliko kuwa pungufu
Heri macho ya kuona kuliko kuwa kipofu
Na watu wakiungana japokuwa madufu
Walifanyalo hufana liwe jema au mbovu — Shaaban bin Robert

Every time a man stands up for an ideal
Or acts to improve the lot of others
Or strikes out against Injustice
He sends forth a tiny Ripple Of Hope — John F. Kennedy

My discussion will be in four parts, namely:

  • Prior to the founding of KCA – the conditions that prevailed at the time and how they helped the formation of KCA
  • The actual process of creating KCA – what happened and how it laid the foundations of what became KCA
  • The ten years of KCA – a quick summary of what I see that was achieved in the ten years
  • The challenge going forth and ideas on what KCA could focus on going forward – time permitting I will also talk about the lessons learnt

In the Beginning

I would like to quote Victor Hugo who remarked that:

“There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” – Victor Hugo

The founding of KCA was NOT an accident; as much as we would like to think that it was spontaneous, the conditions were ripe for its emergency. The event in Washington DC where Kenyans abroad protested[1] the murder of Solomon Muruli[2], a student leader at the University of Nairobi, was the trigger; it was the match that ignited the dry tinder fueled by the oxygen of passion for justice.

If it didn’t emerge as KCA at the time, something else would have materialized, perhaps with a different name, albeit with similar/parallel objectives.

KCA started like a wild fire fuelled by the oxygen of passion for change and love for the mother land; feeding of the tinder of political oppression; and engineered by the critical mass of concerned individuals driving for change.

  • The political situation in Kenya – this was volatile; it was the time of Saba Saba, Nane Nane, Tisa Tisa, Kumi Kumi; the time of street demonstrations asking for change; the pressure to repeal the public order act; calls for constitutional reform; rampant corruption; open plunder of national resources (recall what happened in Karura forest?); and unbridled clampdown on any dissenting political views; excessive media control (some that led to bankruptcy of proprietors with some that survived practicing self-censorship).
  • A critical mass of people (served mainly by the Internet) keen in making change,
  • Requisite knowledge on organization and campaign
  • Of course the Internet helped.

KCA rose in conditions of continued betrayal of our (Kenyan) people; betrayal that started with independence in 1963; one that continued in 1992 and remains in place today. I was scanning past conferences and came across my speech to the first KCA conference in 1999 and I quote[3]:

“If 1963 was a watershed year in our history, it was also the beginning of the betrayal of our people’s century-long dream of independence. No sooner had we attained Uhuru than factional fighting started with the jettisoning of progressive forces from the independence movement. Soon, seeds of corruption were laid with the 10% syndrome taking root. We have experienced political assassinations, detention and drummed up jailing of those that spoke the truth!

“In 1963, the Kenyan leadership embarked in creating a parasitic system that served the whims of the leadership with neither accountability nor responsiveness to the governed! It seems to me that this system has prevented Kenyans from reaching the Promised Land!

“1992 was yet another watershed year in our Kenyan history; it was the year of shattered dreams and a time for thirst unquenched! The Kenyan political class had once again done it to us all and shamed, in the face of the whole wide world! For didn’t our activists take us to the mountain top? Didn’t we see the Canaan of democracy? As we peeked into and the New Canaan beckoned, didn’t we see economic and legal justice for us all?

“Or did we not see the arrival, finally, of true constitutionalism, law and order and a country of laws and moral discourse! Yes, we saw this all in the Promised Land. Alas! How wrong we had been all along. No, the political class was not about to relinquish its privilege to power. Greed, ambition and personal aggrandizement became the bottom line! In that year, 1992, the political class, masquerading as true nationalists and leaders of Wananchi, ensured that yes! We can peek, look, dream and even fathom the second liberation; however, like the biblical Moses, we shall not reach the land of honey and plenty!

“To date, many Kenyans wonder whether our gods remain awake. Where are the statesmen? They ask. But statesmen or not, we all now that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely! Until we reform the system, Kenyans cannot guarantee a better future of their aspirations.”

At the centre of it all has been Internet communication. Without the Internet, it would have been extremely difficult and it would have taken much longer to organize a critical mass of like-minded people and rally them to a common cause such as KCA.

Prior to the founding of KCA there were many attempts to organize Kenyans abroad for collective action, including:

  • Association of Kenyans Abroad (AKA) with leaders in Toronto such as Tegi Obanda and James Karanja.
  • Friends of Democracy with Alwalah, Njenga Kariuki, Tom Owino, Omwega, Marwanga and others.
  • The Kenyan Forum with Angaluki Muaka, Njenga Kariuki, Peter Mwaniki, Luvisia Bakuli, Matunda Nyanchama, among others.
  • In Atlanta the late Archie Odenyo led Kenyan Association of Atlanta
  • There was Friends of Kenya, USA (FROKUSA) that once led a spirited campaign countering KCA
  • Kenyan Movement for Democracy & Justice, KMDJ in London England
  • And many other organizations, many of them focused on the welfare of Kenyans in cities various locales abroad.

Our experience in founding and running Kenyan-focused organizations s illustrated by the evolution of what became Kenyan Association for Advancement of Computing Technology (KAACT). The organization ran for a number of years with some of the most far-reaching goals and objectives. Unfortunately, it folded a few years later.

KAACT was founded by professionals and students in IT-related discipline. It depended on Internet communications and came as a result of interaction with the computing profession in Kenya.

KAACT started as the international wing of the Kenyan Computer Institute[4] (KCI) which, at the time, was led by George Okada. In discussions with Shem Ochuodho, it was proposed we start an international chapter that we called KCI-International. Further online deliberation agreed on the formation of an independent IT organization.

The focus was technology and we wanted to ensure that we could give back to our country in whatever way we could. For example, students could spend their summers offering lessons to institutions back in Kenya; we could help set up infrastructure in public institutions, etc. And we could all this voluntarily.

KAACT published a newsletter and out of the organization came key players in the Kenyan IT scene: the African Regional Centre for Computing (ARCC) (lead by Shem Ochuodho) and Karisi Communications (led by Ayisi Makatiani and Karanja Gakio); the latter grew to become Africa Online[i].

The Founding of KCA

Following the demonstrations in Washington, DC, it was resolved that Kenyans abroad needed a voice through which to articulate their concerns with respect to the advancement of our country. The organization would focus on Justice, Democracy and Rule of Law, among others. It would drive support from Kenyans in the Diaspora and help to ensure its voice is heard back in Kenya.

The organization (what came to be KCA) would be about change and empowerment of Kenyans, at home and the Diaspora. It would be about equality of the law no matter one’s station and status in life. The organization would stand for the unity of purpose of the betterment of all Kenyans at home and the Diaspora.

On Thursday, June 19, 1997 we published a statement in the Daily Nation that called for

  1. Minimum Constitutional Reforms Before Elections
  2. Kenyans Must Continue Pressing for Necessary Changes
  3. Proposed Change to Public Order Act Too Little
  4. Extend Voter Registration by Two Months
  5. A Chance to Vote for the Kenyan Diaspora
  6. Comprehensive Reforms After the Elections

There were more than 80 signatures and we called ourselves the Kenyan Community Abroad (KCA) a name proposed by Lucy Kimani.

And off we were on a roll – KCA was born.

Now there was a need for a formal organization. And as, they say, you can borrow, beg or steal! And that’s what we did with creating a constitution.

Many of the Kenyan organizations mentioned earlier had constitutions, the most advanced and closest to KCA’s aspirations being that of Friends for Democracy (FOD), at times referred to as the Kenya Development Group with roots in Penn State, State College. Meticulous revision of the constitution adopted it for KCA!

And the team based in Pennsylvania – Paul Alwalah, Njenga Kariuki, Tom Owino, Omwega Marwanga – that incorporated KCA! It was a great demonstration of leadership and cooperation.

What was KCA about?

KCA’s objectives were grand and wideranging with clear focus on justice, democracy and economic well-being of our people in Kenya and the Diaspora.

John Mulaa, the East African Standard correspondent in Washington, DC, describing KCA quoted me as follows in his story of May 23, 1999.

“What we are interested in is a principled discussion of Kenyan affairs, contribution to its development, and, above all, promotion of an open society that lays the ground for development, says Matunda Nyanchama president of KCA.”

In other words, things didn’t have to be what they were in Kenya; the all-knowing, presumably wise leadership in the country didn’t know it all; and the continued national decline did not have to continue. We needed a new dispensation in the way we handled our politics.

About the organization and its objectives, Mulaa continued that:

“They are roomy objectives and include promotion of liberal democracy in Kenya based on openness that guarantees individual freedoms, fair play, and the rule of law, sound economic governance, and maintenance of a strong united country.

“KCA is also espousing causes specific to Kenyans abroad. It has taken up the issue of voting rights and is lobbying for a constitutional change to allow Kenyans abroad to participate in elections… KCA argues that many countries have provisions that allow participation of their citizens in the Diaspora in their national affairs including elections. Plane loads of America Israeli citizens headed for Israel to vote in the recently concluded conclusions. Israel, like a number of countries, has a law that allows dual [citizenship]. It should be possible in the near future to vote electronically.

“Of growing concern to many Kenyans abroad is the question of citizenship. As the Kenyan law stands today, there is no room for dual citizenship. Kenyans who take up citizenship in other countries where they reside automatically lose their birthright citizenship. This, KCA officials say, is anachronistic and should be revised since most Kenyans, including many of those who have renounced their citizenship, have strong links with their homeland and economically participate in it by making regular remittances to support their kin. They should be allowed to retain their Kenyan citizenship.”

I once spoke to Mulaa, one on one. Like many Kenyans, he had reservations about the scale of our objectives. He thought they were rather ambitious, too idealistic and wondered whether we could succeed where many failed. I am glad that we have remained idealistic and are succeeding to a degree, better than the chances others gave us.

The ten years of KCA – what is it that we have achieved/learnt?

We conducted our elections (electronically) in February 1998[5], and immediately embarked on a formal process that would ensure KCA became a player in shaping the future of the Kenyan nation.

Like any new born that would grow to maturity, we wanted:

  • Presence –to be noticed and felt;
  • Influence – to be listened to and be taken seriously; for our ideas to be taken up;
  • Impact – for our words and actions to shape change.

The means?

  • KCA statements
  • KCA conferences
  • Targeted promotion across cities where Kenyans resided
  • Participation in Kenyan events to promote KCA[6]

We held our first conference in University of Maryland, College Park, in the USA in the summer of 1999. Key speakers included Professors Ali Mazrui and Anyang’ Nyong’o; Remigius Kintu, Ambassador Samson Chemai, Prof Stephen Ndegwa, among others.

I recall Prof Mazrui’s remarks about our country Kenya: that under Kenyatta, Kenya would have chosen to be a great country. He could not understand why Kenyatta failed to do so, yet he had the advantage of respect from other heads of state, being an elder statesman. Instead we were eclipsed by Tanzania under Mwalimu Julius Nyerere. John Mulaa captured the following sentiments in an East African Standard story on July 4, 1999.

”Professor Mazrui told the conference that for Kenya to recover its regional leadership role, it must reverse the economic decline it is experiencing at the moment. He described Kenya as a country whose potential has yet to be fully realized. Kenya’s foreign policy, he said, was in dire need of a re-think especially in the light of some recent decisions such as the turning over of the Kurdish leader, Abdulla Ocalan, to Turkey. Ocalan has since been sentence to death by a Turkish court. Kenya betrayed other people’s liberation war for some short-term advantage and that is inexcusable,” Mazrui observed.

Professor Nyong’o challenged us to emulate our predecessors and likened what we were doing to the work of Kwame Nkrumah, George Padmore, Leopold Sengor and Jomo Kenyatta among others. He said there was value in contributing towards national development from afar since we had the luxury of freedom, distance, and experience that could shape the country for the better.

Meanwhile we continued issuing statements upon statements on varied subjects: from political change to education to infrastructure to technology and all!

So what did we achieve over the 10 years of KCA?

Social change takes time and it appears that political landscape is almost where it was in 1997 when we started. It is interesting that we have not attained some of the things we sought out to achieve back in 1997. Examples include: wanted voting rights and dual citizenship; back in Kenya constitutional reforms remain in limbo!

What a pity!

That said, we can list some tangible achievements as follows:

  • Placed the Kenyan Diaspora in the map – prior to KCA’s time there wasn’t a collective voice that spoke for the Kenyan Diaspora. Kenyan Diaspora interests never featured anywhere.[7] Today, politicians fall head over heels to be associated with the Kenyan Diaspora; the government had recognized the role of the Diaspora largely because of our remittances and our voices; KCA has been a key voice in this respect.
  • As an organization focused on political issues, many could not touch with 100 feet pole! There were some that alleged that we were even funded by the CIA to overthrow the government! They couldn’t even notice that we did all our work on the Internet! It could be understood given the oppression of the time; today, we are sought and embraced! Times change!
  • Rallied Kenyans Abroad to causes that affect them, key among these are dual citizenship and the right to vote;
    • Dual Citizenship: ten years ago, it was extremely hard to speak about holding citizenship in more than one country. Those that became citizens of other countries were seen as traitors. Things have changed since: in both the Bomas and Wako drafts of the constitution, dual citizenship features; it means when a chance comes, we will get it! In fact, dual citizenship features all along in proposed minimum reforms.
    • Voting rights: the government accepts that we have a right to vote; they haven’t made it possible and we need to make it happen.
    • The Talent Access Pool: although this has not become law, there is acceptance that the country should source from among its expatriate class for jobs that would otherwise go to foreigners.
  • The KCA Award of Excellence: winners include Vitalis Musebe & Isaiah Kabira, Inspector Joel Kipkemboi Sang, James Orengo, Kivutha Kibwana, Wangari Maathai, Charity Ngilu, Hezekiel Nyaranga, and Shem Ochuodho. I looked at Wangari Maathai’s profile for the Nobel Prize at the KCA award was prominently listed there!
  • KCA Bomb Victim Fund: educated 4 children of bomb victims
  • Kenyans Abroad Investment Fund (KAIF)
  • The emergence of like-minded organizations across many places where Kenyans reside. Example: Kenyan Community in Ontario; KCA chapters in Michigan and Germany, among others.
  • KCA STOP campaign that focuses on the rights and protection of the girl child.

    • Organization Restructuring and the downsides of the Internet
      • Embrace other organizations as building blocks; allow for corporate membership where KCA chapters cannot be built.
      • Too much distraction on the Internet: need serious membership focused on achievement – Internet is democratic; it gives a voice to the voiceless; it can also make dogs back like human beings.
    • Fundraising
      • We had more than 11,000 petitions; we need to tap into these numbers. Now suppose all these paid their annual dues of $30; we could have as much as $330K money to spend on KCA affairs. Make that annual and you have a very powerful and effective organization. It means KCA needs to reach more Kenyans and get them on side and their mission.
    • Lobbying capacity: both abroad and at home
      • Build upon the experience from Bomas & brain drain conferences
    • KCA Think Tank: started but needs structure and implementation
    • KAIF need to be nurtured so that it can mature; we need education on investment potential in the country
    • KCA should facilitate the education of its members on self-empowerment – retirement and the like
    • The right to vote is an agreed principle; we should push for its implementation. And indeed this used to be the case in the past; we have the muscle to push for it – we can leverage our contribution to the economy.
    • Constitutional Reforms – this non-ending story was part of the original concern; we must not lose sight of the need for reforms that MUST happen to enable the democratic exercise of power. Meanwhile, we should push for what can be done to be done! And there are matters that can be done outside the reforms: local government decentralization and scrapping of the provincial administration to have elected local governments.
    • An MP to represent Kenyans in the Diaspora in the parliament in Nairobi; and I am urging that start now so that come the next elections, one seat will be reserved for us. Future constitutional reforms should designate the Diaspora as one or more constituencies – we can then elect MPs the Italian way. And we have justification for that: we are a key player in the Kenyan economy and hence we need representation (a) to cater for our interests and (b) rally Kenyans in the Diaspora to better channel money for meaningful investments.
  • And KCA has done this with extremely meagre resources.

    KCA @ the years ahead

    As quoted earlier:

    “What we are interested in is a principled discussion of Kenyan affairs, contribution to its development, and, above all, promotion of an open society that lays the ground for development.”

    A lot remains to be done. And to do so, we need a strong KCA. However, remember, KCA cannot be all things to everybody! Here are a few things to ponder.

    KCA Strength

    Economic Advancement

    Matters of Social Justice

    Ladies and gentlemen, the KCA mission remains as relevant as it was more than ten years ago. Kenya is yet to become the just society we have been striving for. Although the freedom space has opened up substantially, Kenyans remain trapped in poverty, insecurity and the curse of ethnicity. The rule of law doesn’t apply uniformly, and fair play has yet to be attained. Social and economic justice remain distant dreams.

    As Prof Mazrui told us back in 1999 Kenya is a country whose potential has yet to be realized. At the centre of its revival is economic development! To do this we need to work because as Winston Churchill said: Continuous effort – not strength or intelligence – is the key to unlocking our potential.

    As such there is a lot to do.

    Corruption remains endemic and the current political crop seems unable tackle it. It seems to me that they are so immersed in the muck that they cannot possibly design solutions for the problem, lest they be swept aside.

    As the young generation, we should sweep them with a clean broom, along with their backward ways. We need a New Vision based on the Third Way – that things don’t have to be the way they are now; and neither government nor opposition seems to have an the answer.

    In our conference in 1999 Prof Nyong’o challenged us to learn from those that have gone ahead of us – George Padmore, Kwame Nkrumah and Jomo Kenyatta, among others. Our path ahead is clearly defined. The means may be different; the process is the same.

    Would you do your part?

    I want to leave you with the words of Shaaban bin Robert

    Heri kuwa zaidana kuliko kuwa pungufu
    Heri macho ya kuona kuliko kuwa kipofu
    Na watu wakiungana japokuwa madufu
    Walifanyalo hufana liwe jema au mbovu — Shaaban bin Robert

    And John F. Kennedy said thus:

    Every time a man stands up for an ideal
    Or acts to improve the lot of others
    Or strikes out against Injustice
    He sends forth a tiny Ripple Of Hope — John F. Kennedy

    Fellow Kenyans and Kenyanists: there still hope for our country Kenya.

    A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty – Winston Churchill

    God Bless you all.


    [1] This call for protest was coordinated by an organization (in formation at the time) termed Friends of Democracy that was largely based at Pennsylvania State University, State College, PA. Paul Alwalah, who signed as the FOD USA coordinator, led the calls for the march on the Kenyan Embassy in Washington, DC.

    [2] Muruli was the vice-chairman of the University of Nairobi Education Students’ Association and murdered, his room fire bombed, in February 1997. This was after a week after he had fingered a senior police officer as one of those that abducted and tortured him the previous year. Calls for a Commission of Inquiry into his death fell on deaf ears which further led to suspicion that government agents murdered the student leader.

    [3] These are my remarks to the 1999 KCA conference.

    [4] KCI later evolved into the Computer Society of Kenya (CSK).

    [5] Justus Wanga, Njenga Kariuki, Connie Mugalla, Sam Imbo, Omwega Marwanga, and Lucy Kimani. Later Frank Mwaniki joined the board following Sam Imbo’s resignation. This lasted intact until the 2nd KCA elections.

    [6] As an example, Connie Mugalla once made a trip to New Jersey to make talk about KCA; Njenga Kariuki and Sam Imbo attended community events in Minnesota to promote KCA; I traveled to Dallas, Minnesota, Round Rock, New Jersey, DC and others to make presentations about KCA. Marwanga represented KCA in Kenya at KCA award ceremonies.

    [7] I once was introduced in Nairobi as the leader of Kenyan Students Abroad! The mentality of many Kenyans was that people abroad were mainly in school; they never pictured Kenyan professionals abroad by choice or otherwise; or the many Kenya exiles that had made homes away from home!


    [i] There was kenya-net (kenya-net@ftp.com) that was run by Karanja Gakio with a back at MIT ran by Ayisi and Mburu Gachora.

    Shem Ochuodho introduced us to George Okada of the Kenya Computer Institute (KCI) and proposed that we launch an international wing of KCI; as such we moved tech-related discussions at kci-net that was hosted at ftp.com by Gakio with a backup hosted by Luvisia Bakuli at University of Massachusetts, Amherst (www.umass.edu).

    Consensus emerged that, rather than become a wing of KCI Kenya, we created kaACT – I led the name selection process and tallied the vote; and ahead we went. Later Shem Ochuodho was elected Chairman with Ayisi Makatiani Vice Chairman, among others. I became Legal Secretary and actually stewarded the writing of the constitution working with Peter Orondo, Gor Mahia Ouma and Otieno Mbare.

    On kci-net we discussed, under the leadership of Mburu Gachora, a centre of excellence for IT in Kenya – that is how the African Regional Centre for Computing (ARCC) was born and Shem Ochuodho duly registered the NGO in Nairobi with, among others, the kaACT leadership as directors, something that later changed.

    As well on kci-net was born the idea of “The Kenyan Connection” – ARCC acting on the ground and kaACT playing the international connection to bring the Internet to Kenya; we started with mail delivery via store and forward using FIDO; Gakio/Ayisi donated the gateway machine (386 pc with 40 meg hdd) in MA that connected to the Internet via MIT; in Nairobi Ochuodho had some machines, some of which came from me; Peter Mwaniki also led an effort and found a machine or two when Ochuodho was visiting the Bay area. Shem also had a connection from Greennet in London that offered gateway services for fido-based e-mail.

    That was the foundation of ARCC; soon Shem resigned from kaACT and Ayisi took over as Chairman.

    Working with ARCC, kaACT started a process of summarizing daily news and posting these on the Internet; uses could pay $20 a year for this service; the money was paid to ARCC who contracted services for this news summary transcription.

    Later, due to logistical challenges, differences in strategy (do we remain an NGO or not for Kenyan connection?), sensing of business opportunity, Gakio and Ayisi launched Karisi (Karanja & Ayisi) communications and started their own mail delivery service. Later, they would be joined by others like Amollo Ngweno and with a business plan, got prodigy on board – then Africa Online was born! Just prior to this, Ayisi had resigned from kaACT as chair.

    Meanwhile, In kaACT, I worked with Dr Bakuli and Dr Githeko to produce the kaACT quarterly newsletter.

    A while later, we were due for elections and we elected the Tom Ojanga team that also included Fulbert Namwamba (Papa F.), and Erastus Njage, among others; we left office with kaACT intact! It soon faded away.

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