Diaspora Constituency deserve a right to vote

Diaspora Constituency comprising of millions of Kenyans living abroad remains the most powerful yet barely exploited resource for Kenya. Christened “48th County” by President Uhuru Kenyatta, Diaspora Constituency holds tremendous promise for social, economic and political transformation of our mother land of Kenya. 

Through remittances, diaspora stands with pride behind our struggling tourism industry as a leading foreign currency exchange earner for Kenya’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). By virtue of studying, working and living in foreign countries, diaspora constituency has admirable world view. They are exposed to enormous work ethic which promotes integrity, professionalism and productivity oriented culture, which, when tapped; can rejuvenate our systems back home.

In fact, it is in the best interest of the government of Kenya to incentivise and incorporate diaspora constituency in matters of human services, entrepreneurship, investment, public leadership, governance and democratic processes of our country.
Yet, Jubilee administration appears elusive. It hasn’t developed relational policy that can enhance a meaningful engagement with Diaspora Constituency. During political campaigns, politicians take adventurous trips to abroad to engage diaspora constituency. They make promises which get reneged upon assumption of office.

Even President Uhuru Kenyatta sounds promising in word, but in deeds; he projects a detached demeanor. He seems withdrawn from diaspora concerns. He has neither expressed willingness to unleash diaspora potential nor implemented any radical policy in favor of diaspora constituency.

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Furthermore, Uhuru’s former appointee in charge of Diaspora Constituency, Dennis Itumbi was expected to solve or at least address fundamental issues affecting Kenyans living abroad. Sadly, MrItumbi didn’t achieve anything substantial. He seemed inexperienced to relate with diaspora constituency from experiential point of view.

Mr Itumbi perfected the art of making and breaking promises and apologizing for unfulfilled promises. Now Diaspora eyes will be fixated upon Uhuru’s new appointee Mr Zachary Dominic Muburi-Muita who will head Directorate of Diaspora affairs. With his extensive experience in diplomatic matters, diaspora hopes Mr Muburi will be cognisance of the functions of his office.

By and large, Diaspora constituency has kept their faith notwithstanding government’s lukewarm approach to issues they care about. Diaspora keeps hoping against all odds that one day, they will receive their rights as guaranteed by the constitution. 

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Take a God given and undeniable right to vote. Although all Kenyans have constitutional right to a ballot, those living in diaspora are disenfranchised. Their right to vote doesn’t count. Their right to government services is taken for granted. Their citizenship and civic responsibility isn’t promoted.

Despite Independent Electoral and Boundary Commission (IEBC) made a public promise to ensure a vote for diaspora constituency in 2013 general election, nothing was accomplished. To date, nothing substantive has been brought to fruition.
IEBC chair Mr. Isaac Hassan remains tongue-tied. Even in the face of a broken promise, Mr. Hassan never looked Diaspora in the eye to apologize for inconveniences caused. It has been a lie after a lie, a promise after a promise. That is unacceptable and it has got to stop.

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Truth be told, diaspora constituency is tired of waiting. They want something done to afford them voting rights. They deserve a right to participate in democratic processes of their motherland of Kenya. They deserve a vote.   

It is shameful for Kenya to be categorised among countries that haven’t conferred voting rights to their citizens living abroad. Yet, a right to vote is not a privilege. It is a fundamental right which must be enjoyed and expressed as enshrined in the constitution.

Take South Africa. In the just concluded general election, South Africa carried out not only a credible election but her diaspora constituency exercised a right to vote. The youngest, unstable and dysfunctional country of South Sudan; carried out a very successful referendum vote in which her diaspora constituency living in Kenya, United States, UK, Ethiopia, Uganda, Australia, Canada and Egypt determined the destiny of their country by casting a vote. 

Which begs the question: What is preventing Kenya from affording her citizens living abroad a right to vote? What is so exceptional to South Africa and South Sudan that Kenya lack?

Methinks Kenya lacks political will to make things happen. To acquire progressive ideas and radical reforms, paradigm shift in policy making and implementation process of political issues that affect every sphere of our country is required.
Perhaps Uhuru’s administration and IEBC should be audacious to take lessons from South Africa and South Sudan on how to achieve necessary parliamentary enactments and set logistical preparedness for implementing a vote for Kenyans living abroad.

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It will be a travesty of justice subject to court action if by 2017 diaspora constituency will once again be disenfranchised. Now is the time to kick-start a process that will include diaspora constituency in democratic process of their land of Kenya.

Jacktone Ambuka is a Kenyan residing and working in Philadelphia, USA.
 

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