Let immigration agenda feature strongly in election manifestos

Passport Control Office, Nyayo House, May 2019. [Edward Kiplimo, Standard]

That season of fleeting madness is here and politicians have descended on us in their usual style. New parties are being born, coalitions formed as others are dissolved. Manifestos of all weight, depth and length are on display as politicians run their mouths. It is campaign time as we draw closer to August 9 when elections are scheduled to take place.

As a Kenyan and an Immigration consultant, I have been reflecting on what I would like to see as agenda items in the forest of manifestos and campaign promises being peddled. Certainly good governance, the fight against corruption, strong institutions, protection of devolution, healthcare and the many citizen-centric issues come top on the list. However, as a stakeholder in the immigration and citizenship affairs, I am also keen to see how the presidential candidates address the issues to do with the diaspora, citizenship and Immigration matters.

In the last two months or so, there have been reviews and debates around the effects of Huduma Bill 2021 that was introduced in Parliament on December 22, 2021 on Immigration management in the country. This Bill is now before the Parliamentary Departmental Committee on Administration and National Security for public participation. The long and short of this Bill is that it trivialises such key national and international matters like immigration and citizenship. In fact, it seeks to abolish the Directorate of Immigration as we know it today without giving plausible alternatives and reasons for it.

Without going into the merits of this Bill, unlike other countries where immigration matters are top elections agenda, our campaigns have nothing on immigration related matters, yet Kenya is home to millions of foreign nationals either as refugees, visitors or residents.

The Kenyan diaspora is growing in numbers and bringing with it many challenges that require attention from the government. Unfortunately, so far, we have not seen or heard any of the top contenders addressing matters immigration, citizenship and the diaspora.

In the architecture of our constitution, matters to do with citizenship and immigration are placed right at the top under Chapter 3 of our 2010 Constitution by design because any sovereign state must have a permanent population and capacity to manage its borders.

While the military will protects the borders with guns, it is immigration officers who protect the country using the law, a pen and a stamp to determine who enters, leaves or resides in our country as provided for in the Kenya Citizenship and Immigration Act of 2011.

This is key because there has to be a balance between national security and socio-economic activities undertaken by foreign nationals visiting or residing in the country. It is the role of Immigration Directorate to ensure a healthy balance is struck on this role.

Over the years, there has been a push to empower the Immigration Department by making it a service and allocating it more resources to serve Kenyans better. This has always failed because the top leadership has never regarded immigration as important and in fact the department has been in transit in between ministries - sometimes in Home Affairs, other times Office of the President and now Interior. 

Matters of immigration management have been elevated to the United Nations level under the Global Compact for Migration that encompasses 23 objectives for better managing migration at local, national, regional and global levels. Four objectives stand out to demonstrate why issues of immigration should feature heavily in the 2022 election manifestos.

These include Objective Four which is on legal identity and documentation; Objective 11 on border management; Objective 14 on consular protection and Objective 19 on migrants and diaspora. Locally, these lie squarely on the Directorate of Citizenship and Immigration.

If the intentions of the Huduma Bill 2021 are to pass, it will be a clear demonstration that immigration matters have not been taken seriously by successive governments. Hence the need to campaign for the agenda on citizenship, immigration and diaspora matters to be given a whole chapter in these manifestos and once these people get to power, create a Ministry of Citizenship, Immigration and Diaspora Affairs to work hand in hand with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to serve Kenyans from wherever they are.

All candidates seeking to be president should kindly consider the role of immigration management and their significance in not only the socio-economic development, but also on national security.

Consequently, suggestions that seek to claw back on the gains made so far like the ones contained in the Huduma Bill 2021 that is seeking to abolish the Directorate of Immigration and make the Principal Secretary the Directorate, should be shunned and those behind such moves called to order.