Time ripe to legislate on role of Diaspora, representation


In a very enlightening opinion piece published in one of our Diaspora news aggregator, Mwakilishi.com, Mkawasi Mcharo-Hall makes a compelling case for structured legislated Diaspora representation and engagement with its own government.

She argues that everything else — the excitement about investing in Kenya, jobs promises and sporadic appointments — all of them and more, are efforts that are dead in the water.

She says that even partnerships with private sector depends on political goodwill that is why most countries that take their Diaspora seriously have seen the wisdom in legislating engagement with their own Diasporas. Kenya has seen the light in this regard too, hence the Diaspora Bill.

“But this piece of legislation is little talked about, its history little understood, and its purpose lost to the Diaspora. Instead, we’re becoming nonchalant as the President follows the Prime Minister’s example of making personal Diaspora appointments in their political offices,” she wrote.

She makes an appeal, which I’d like to echo that as the Diaspora and the government, we should not get fixated on partisan appointments and deny ourselves an opportunity to address the real issues. Mkawasi says and I agree with her totally that, the Digital, New Media and Diaspora office created recently in OP should remove the “Diaspora” appendage from its title.

The simple reason is that, that office is and was created primarily as a government spin tool with little room for independent thinking and decision-making.

The people who work in this office have been identified and will be paid to advance an agenda that is purely protective of the status quo. That is why this office should never have anything to do with Diaspora affairs. It is confusing and downplaying the role of the Diaspora.

During Last years Diaspora Conference held in the DC area, the Diaspora were told by experts that were visiting from Kenya that beside the economic and philanthropic role in the society, Diaspora is and should be viewed also as a watchdog, a thorn in the conscience of government. Alluding to this, Mkawasi said this is a near-sacrosanct characteristic and role that Diaspora organisations should fiercely protect, and one that the government should appreciate even as we wrangle for partnerships.

“This counter-balance characteristic makes for excellent engagement and vibrant debate that actually expands Kenya’s democratic space and builds institutions. Yet without structures of engagement and representation, this rich essence of the Diaspora community is greatly diminished. The Diaspora Bill must be seen through successful enactment and implementation,” Mkawasi wrote.

I have written here about the need to refer to the Diaspora Bill when the government is thinking about engaging the Diaspora in a more meaningful way so I won’t belabor the same thing again. But I’d say this though, what forward looking Kenyans living abroad are clamoring for, or what they lack now is not political patronage. What they want is legislation that would clearly outline the role of the Diaspora in nation development and what the government is obligated to do to make this possible. The tendency with Kenyans even those abroad is and has always been viewing everything through the lenses of political patronage.

So, while Uhuru Kenyatta goes to the East to look for development partners, while the newly elected senators and governors go to the West for investment partners, the Diaspora should start their journey towards lobbying lawmakers to change the flaws in the clauses that established Dual Citizenship and Voting Rights with a view to amending them. And the journey should begin now. The Diaspora activists and groups should regroup and take up arms.