The role of the Kenyan Diaspora in the country’s economic, political and social fabric has expanded exponentially over the years as more and more Kenyans migrate overseas over the years. Figuratively the Kenyan Diaspora is referred to as 48th County for its economic contribution to the country. It is also the most affluent “County” as measured by the annual remittances that is attributable to the Diaspora. According to available data from The Central Bank of Kenya, Diaspora remittances have more than Quadrupled over the last ten years from US $ 338 Million (KSH 25 Billion) in 2004 to US $ 1.73 Billion (KSH 107 Billion) in 2016 https://www.centralbank.go.ke/diaspora-remittances-2/ . So the Diaspora’s economic impact on the country cannot be overstated and will continue to be a major driver of economic activity for the foreseeable future. The Diaspora remittances have surpassed tourism as the main source of foreign exchange and serves as a critical buffer in preserving the country’s balance of trade as well as the much needed foreign currency reserves.
The Kenyan government under President Uhuru Kenyatta and previous governments have elevated their interest in the Diaspora, there is now a designated Director of Diaspora Affairs domiciled at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. However, there still exists challenges in the government’s outreach initiatives and we must do our part to bridge the gap. Ours is to build on this renewed government interest and establish a solid foundation upon which we can partner to further advance our common economic, political and social interests collectively.
On the economy, clearly the Diaspora has a key role to play. Given the proper incentives the diaspora has the potential to transform Kenya’s economic structure beyond the already elevated remittances. There are tremendous opportunities to spur investments through direct investments on projects such as Infrastructure, Housing, Tourism, Manufacturing, Outsourcing, Finance, Healthcare and so many others. To this end, what we must do is establish platform and framework on which to leverage the leverage expertise and partner with the Kenyan government and other stakeholders to restructure Kenya’s economy.
On the political front, the Diaspora’s influence continues to grow. Hitherto, this influence has been limited to family and friends back in Kenya but that is also changing. The new constitution passed in 2010 mandates Diaspora access to voting. The entity charged with ensuring that the Diaspora votes, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) has been excruciatingly reluctant to implement this part of the constitution albeit the constant agitation by the Diaspora. This is our immediate challenge; “taxation without representation” shall come to an end and all Kenyans must be granted their rightful access to the ballot box starting with the next general elections in 2022 and beyond.
The Diaspora has also been agitating for a “functional” Diaspora policy that serves both the interests of the county and its citizens abroad. Whereas Kenya has taken steps in the right direction to establish a proper foundational framework to engage by way of a Diaspora policy, much more needs to be done to formulate and operationalize implementable portions of the policy that serve the diverse needs of all the Diaspora.
All in all, the Diaspora matters and we must assert ourselves so that our critical role and place in society and nation building is accorded the due recognition and respect they deserve. We expect all of our like-minded fellow Diasporas to join hands and help advance our common welfare. There is strength in numbers and let’s all band together for our common good; One Diaspora One Voice.