Diaspora Affairs department was long overdue

President William Ruto addressing the 13th Parliament. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

In his inauguration speech, President William Ruto recognised the important role Kenyans living in the Diaspora do and promised an independent ministry to handle their political, social and economic affairs.

He kept his word by appointing Dr Alfred Mutua as the Minister of Foreign and Diaspora Affairs, a significant step in the right direction. For the longest time, Kenyans abroad have agitated for serious representation on the foreign front.

Firstly, 98 per cent of Kenyans who live and work abroad and make remittances back home; made their way out there single-handedly through the tedious immigration process and exorbitant application fees for visas and scrupulous cartels. The cartels ripped them off their hard-earned money and sometimes even oversaw daylight human trafficking of young men and women to the Middle East and Far-east Asia, often with legitimate government licences.

Secondly, Kenyans studying abroad not only gain useful skills that can be redeployed back in the country, but some go on to hold prestigious jobs in academia, world finance, science and in creative fields be it in music, film, and movies.

However, many students rarely get relevant government support.  We all know the Kenyan government receives government-to-government student scholarships; what is the criterion of disbursement?  Who receives them, and when are they issued? The process remains opaque, usually rumored to be riddled with nepotism and the impact is yet to be fully felt.

This calls for a collaboration between the ministries of Foreign and Diaspora Affairs and Education, to ensure Kenyan students get the relevant financial and institutional support, and ensuring that Kenya gains.

Thirdly, the government has a responsibility of shaping how the foreign remittances can be spent. Presently much of what Kenyans send back home ends up in consumption, dead capital or locked in properties, deserted mansions in the village with little to no income generation. The government can encourage Kenyans to invest in tax bonds, private sector, banking and lower the corporate taxes for internal and external so as to attract investors.  

If these factors are considered through diaspora public participation, remittances are likely to spark twice as much, from Sh400 billion annually, to Sh800 billion. This will help circulation of money through internal borrowing hence creating jobs for Kenyans through funding SMEs.

Therefore, we, as the Diaspora, need a legislative arm of government to air out our grievances through the National Assembly and the Senate. We need to oversight our expenditure and be part of the budget-making because we produce a lot more for the National government in GDP than more than 25 counties summed up. We want elective positions for our leaders from our regions, and importantly, we want our voices heard, our ideas tried, and our skills and expertise to be given a chance. The Diaspora can be more than a bulwark of black tax.

The writer is a leader of the Diaspora Youth Caucus