The Kenya Forum is not disinterested when it comes to the subject of the Kenyan Diaspora (see ‘The Magic of Diasporas – Challenging Lessons for the New Kenya?’, November 28), the some 3 million Kenyans who now live, study and work abroad, not least because about 3,750 of the approximately 15,000 people who currently visit this site each month are drawn from their ranks. The Diaspora is important to us but it is also of increasing importance and interest to others back home here in Kenya.
THE GREAT FOREIGN EXCHANGE
For a start there’s the economic importance to Kenya of its burgeoning population spreading out across the world.
The Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) estimates that Kenyans abroad sent home something in the region of Sh6.9 billion just in November 2011, up 43 per cent on the same month the previous year and a 37.8 per cent cumulative increase for the 12 month period ending November 31. That would make ‘Diaspora remittances’ the fourth largest foreign currency earner for Kenya after tea, horticulture and tourism.
The World Bank puts the figures for remittances back to Kenya from the Diaspora considerably higher, perhaps three times the amount estimated by the CBK, to around a staggering Sh154 billion in 2010, arguing that Kenya’s Central Bank doesn’t take into account the foreign currency brought back into Kenya through ‘informal channels’, for example dollars brought back to Kenya to pass on to family of friends.
The World Bank’s estimate is itself is all but dwarfed by the figure put on Kenyan Diaspora remittances by none other than Mr John Maina, Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s advisor on ‘Diaspora affairs’. He puts the annual figure at Sh220 billion.
IT’S NOT JUST THE MONEY…
The presence of Mr Maina in this world, or at least his presence as advisor on Diaspora affairs, shows the importance that Kenya’s Prime Minister attaches to his fellow countrymen overseas but being a politician his interest in them, of course, is not solely in terms of their economic benefit to the country: the Kenyan Diaspora will probably be able to vote at the next election.
The Kenya Forum says ‘probably’ able to vote because the question of whether or not Kenyan’s overseas will be able to vote in the next presidential elections is still not cut and dried. First, the new constitution gives them the right to vote but under Section 82(1) it also reads, ‘Parliament shall enact legislation to provide for – (e): the progressive registration of citizens residing outside Kenya, and the progressive realization of their right to vote.’ So Kenyans in the United States, the UK, Germany, Australia or wherever, have the right to vote but if they can’t get registered, they won’t be able to cast their vote.
Earlier in December Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) chairman James Oswago was in the US to meet with Kenyans to discuss the issue of voting and registration. From press reports it seems the visit didn’t go that well, with Oswago expressing dissatisfaction that many Kenyans in the US had not read the constitution, or did not understand it. (No surprise there says the Forum: most Kenyans have not really read the constitution and it seems that even the ‘experts’ don’t understand it, or else we would already know the date of the next election!)
According to the Daily Nation Mr Oswago was asked if he had any preliminary plans on where polling stations would be in the US. He replied that voters could travel to Washington DC “for starters”. The United States is about 3,200 miles wide and 3,000 miles deep. Sounds like the IEBC has it covered: stick a ballot box on the east coast.
At the same time as Mr Oswago’s sojourn to the States a conference was held in Nairobi under the title of ‘Diaspora – Getting plugged’. The conference was organized by the Office of the Prime Minister and the Rt. Hon. Raila Odinga was the key speaker at the event, supported by John Maina and others. It urged Kenyans abroad to ‘connect, invest, engage’.
The Forum is somewhat cynical in these matters. We feel the slogan should have been ‘Connect, engage, vote’. Meanwhile a US-based group, the ‘Kenya Diaspora Vote’ has been set up, and ‘Friends of Raila’ (Fora) has opened a new office to campaign for the Prime Minister abroad.
We can all expect a lot more of this over the next year. What the Kenya Forum would like to know is who is paying for it all? The Orange Democratic Movement, or the Office of the Prime Minister? A political party, or Kenyan taxpayers?