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The Kenyan Diaspora Agenda – Address in Toronto

The Kenyan Diaspora Agenda[1]

By Matunda Nyanchama
Toronto, Ontario, November 10, 2007

The Honourable Minister for Livestock & Fisheries, Joseph Munyao
Your Excellency, the High Commissioner of Kenya to Canada, Prof. Judith Mbula Bahemuka and esteemed High Commission Staff
Mr. Ben Ondoro, President of the Kenyan Community in Ontario
The Kenyan delegation from the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries
Members of the Kenyan Community in Ontario present

Ladies and Gentlemen

It is my pleasure to address this auspicious gathering here tonight; I feel privileged and delighted as always, to speak to fellow Kenyans wherever they are and whenever it is, cross the world.

Ben Ondoro, KCO President, asked me to speak about the Kenyan Diaspora Agenda. Itself, this is an expansive topic on which I could spend days on end. However, knowing that the night is short and that we have our main speakers yet to confer to us, I will be brief.

I will speak to you about who would qualify as a Kenyan in the Diaspora; I will talk about the need for dual citizenship, voting rights and effective representation in our country’s affairs. This being election time, I will touch briefly on that aspect, especially as it pertains to us in the Diaspora.

Who constitutes the Kenyan Diaspora?
In order to talk meaningfully about the Kenyan Diaspora Agenda, we must first understand what we are referring to by the term the Kenyan Diaspora. From my viewpoint and knowledge, the Kenyan in the Diaspora is that Kenyan, a man or woman, who was born in Kenya but who now resides out of the country. It is the spouse (yes, man or woman) of a Kenyan in the Diaspora; the Kenyan in the Diaspora is the child of a Kenyan who has a birthright to his/her parents’ country’s citizenship.

The Kenyan Diaspora is diverse in many respects. It includes students, businesspeople and professionals that have made a home outside of our motherland. This diversity implies diverse interests as well. However, as diverse as these interests are, we are united in one Kenyan spirit. Indeed, it reminds of a saying that I would paraphrase and state that: one can take a Kenyan out of Kenya; one cannot take Kenyan out of the Kenyan. As such, once a Kenyan, always a Kenyan!

Economic Contribution
Our commitment to Kenya can be seen in the extent to which we support families and invest back home. By last count, I am told that Kenyans abroad remit close to $1billion dollars annually to the country, a figure that rivals earnings from such sources as tea exports; a figure that is close to what the tourism sector brings into the country.

Now $1billion dollars is not small change! It is a reminder of the potential there is in our people resident out of the country. Indeed, with a structured approach to remittances, we Kenyans abroad would play a larger, more effective role in the economic development of our nation. In fact, a while back, we in the Kenyan Community Abroad (KCA) proposed the establishment of the Kenyans Abroad Investment Fund (KAIF). The discussions to establish its legal framework have taken substantial time. However, I now understand that the process is about to be concluded. And I challenge Kenyans abroad to live up to the billing we have cultivated: commitment to our nation and contribution to its economic growth.

To be fully participatory in our nation’s development, we in the Diaspora have consistently advocated for the enactment (where legislation is lacking) and implementation of instruments that would facilitate our full participation.

Dual Citizenship

There is consensus, given today’s global reality, that dual citizenship would benefit our country and all of us in the Diaspora; dual citizenship would assure belonging and cement the commitment of the Kenyan Diaspora to the country.

Moreover, there is consensus among political players on the need for a constitutional amendment to allow dual citizenship. This was included in the rejected Wako Draft constitution; it is also in the Bomas Draft. Moreover, it was one of the items in the minimum reforms that were proposed towards the end of term of the last parliament.

I must add that we have waited for this for a long time. In fact, a few weeks ago I was looking at the press release that announced the formation of the Kenyan Community Abroad back in 1997. In it we called for, among others, dual citizenship. Ten years later, that reality has yet to happen.

We are asking the government that would come to power in January to move swiftly to put this constitutional change in place. Indeed, we propose that since it has been agreed upon by all players, its adoption should be expedited. One way of doing so is to bring to the House as a single line item on dual citizenship rather than bundling it among other controversial items.

Voting Rights

Back in 1997 we also called for a provision for Kenyans abroad to vote in Kenyan elections. That too is ten years late. To that end, we have asked for the implementation of instruments that would assure our ability to vote back in Kenya. Let me remind you all, ladies and gentlemen, that voting is a citizen’s right. The inability to vote makes us feel left out of our country’s electoral process. And it is a pity that our country, one of the most advanced on the African continent, has not made it possible for its citizens abroad to participate in the country’s electoral process. It is even more disheartening to learn that back in the 1970s, Kenyans residing abroad could vote. It seems to me, therefore, that we have regressed in this sphere and need to pull up our socks.

I understand that the issue of voting lies with the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK). However, the ECK needs sufficient budgetary allocations to enable it to put in place the means to enable us participate fully in our country’s electoral process.

Effective Diaspora Representation
Ladies and gentlemen, if you allow me, I would like to go further than voting rights for the Kenyan Diaspora. Today, some of us are advocating for effective representation of the Kenyan Diaspora in the nation’s affairs.

So why is such representation is is necessary? And what form should it take?

One, we have cited our rights as citizens of Kenyan to participate in the nation’s affairs.

Secondly, we are an extension of our nation that effectively contributes to the nation’s development. It is only natural then, that we seek effective representation in our country’s destiny. Indeed, we view this as the only effective way for the country to connect with its Diaspora; it is also the most effective way for the Diaspora to participate in our nation’s affairs.

And here, I am speaking about parliamentary representation from the Kenyan Diaspora; representation that would truly reflect the interests of those in the Diaspora.

Ideally, the Kenyan Diaspora would be recognized as an electoral constituency (or constituencies) for purposes of representation in the Kenyan parliament. However, we know that no such structures exist presently to support such representation; and that we in the Diaspora are not about to make a trip to the polls to elect our representatives.

Even without the existence of such a constituency, it is still possible to get the Kenyan Diaspora represented in the Kenyan parliament. Today, a political party can nominate to parliament one or more representatives from the Diaspora. Such a conscious decision, indeed, would endear the party to the Kenyan Diaspora.

There is a saying that go nowhere anyone has been and set a trail! Political parties have the chance to leave that trail and make political history in our country. To this end, I am challenging the Honourable Minister and his Democratic party to consider this option after the planned December 27, 2007 elections.

Whenever I have spoken of this proposition, some people have gasped asking whether there is a precedent. And yes, there is one I can recall off the top of my head: Italy!

What of the coming elections?
Fellow Kenyans, as we all know, elections are part of our democratic process through which mwananchi expresses their will and pick the government that will run the country for the next five years. This year promises to a momentous election year like we have never seen before.

I say momentous because never in our history have we experienced such democratic space. There is almost unfettered freedom of expression and the instruments for information dissemination remain unmatched in our history. Just look at how many media outlets exist newspapers, new magazines, radio and TV stations abound. Moreover, with growth of mobile telephony, Kenyans have never been more connected.

In our country, there is optimism that augurs well for the nation; this is seen in the manner Kenyans participate in the nation’s affairs, especially in large political rallies; there is also optimism because of the promise of economic growth whose signs we see today. This growth has engendered confidence that we Kenyans can develop our nation; and that it is possible to grow the economy beyond the dismal numbers inherited from the Nyayo era and through a time where the IMF and World Bank reigned supreme in policy-setting for our nation!

Economic growth did not come by accident; it came through deliberate effort to make it happen! Such structured approach to the nation’s affairs was practically missing in the Nyayo era! That said, though, a lot remains to be done! Poverty levels remain high despite economic growth. We must go beyond relying on trickle down effects to improve people’s lives at the grassroots.

Further, there is an old saying that if you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there. This government has articulated a path to the future in the name of Vision 2030. It is a roadmap that aims to make our country a middle income nation by 2030. Vision 2030 says that this government knows where to take the country into the future.

We believe that there are areas this government could have done better; these include security and fighting corruption. It is my sincere hope that these areas get the attention they need starting now and into the future.

Security, for example, is a concern both in cities and rural areas. Today, there are too many guns in the country; there is too much unemployment and hence the high rate of crime. This remains a major concern and inhibits realization of our full potential.

With respect to corruption, we believe and hope that more could be done. For a long time, some of us have advocated for what we call justice and restitution; this concept, distinct from justice and reconciliation, would require those suspected of economic crimes to confess and offer a means of restitution and recovery of what they stole from public coffers. (By the way we reject the term justice and reconciliation considering that our nation has never been at war! There is no need, therefore to pursue reconciliation as some have suggested.)

We believe that Kenyans will vote wisely come December 27, 2007!

In poker, they say you play the hand that you have been dealt! We have limited choices and it from this we must pick those who will exercise power on our behalf in the next five years. In doing so we should be guided by the need to secure the nation’s future; in reaching that decision, we believe that Kenyans should learn not confuse rhetoric with plan. Too much is being said, a lot of which is clear noise-making and propaganda.

Call to Action
I want to finish by saying that we Kenyans in the Diaspora are an extension of our country; we remain committed to our nation; that we Kenyans abroad are the true ambassadors of our nation in the places we live in, in churches and mosques we frequent, in places we work and indeed in all settings find ourselves in. We love our country and will continue to represent it as effectively as we possibly can.

We are asking for reciprocation from our government and fellow Kenyans back at home. In that respect, we seek accommodation to make us full participant in our nation’s affairs.

It is in that respect that we ask for dual citizenship; it is in that respect that we seek dual citizenship; it is that respect that we seek representation in the Kenyan parliament.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for lending me your ears and hearts this evening. Remember to make that phone call and explain your choice for the next election to your friends and relatives. Remember to vote wisely come election time! It is part of participating in our nation’s affairs!

Long Live Kenya!
Viva Kenya!

[1] Speech made to a meeting of visiting Kenyan Delegation & Kenyans in Toronto.

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