Kenyan Diaspora given raw deal by the government



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Kenyans in the Diaspora play a pivotal role in the growth of Kenya’s economy. According to statistics from Central Bank of Kenya, the Diaspora sent home through inter-bank transfers $209 million (Sh20.94 billion) and $245 million (Sh24.55 billion) in January 2018 and January 2019 respectively.

These figures could be even higher if remittances through MoneyGram, Wave, and Western Union are included in these estimates. These contributions by Diaspora surpass earnings from tea and coffee.

Despite their significant contributions to the Kenyan economy, present, and past governments haven’t taken this key constituency seriously. The question, therefore, is: why is the Diaspora given a raw deal in Kenya’s governance systems and processes?

Unlike Kenya, many African countries are tapping their Diaspora for nation-building. The Diaspora feel they are not appreciated by Kenya’s government and embassies abroad but only used as cash cows. Recently, Kenyans in Germany demonstrated against poor services at the embassy in Berlin. Services such as renewing passports are so poor. To add insult to injury, no logistics have been put in place for their Huduma number registration, putting the them in limbo.

Kenya has vibrant professionals such as doctors, engineers and technology gurus currently practicing abroad. However, the Kenyan government is unwilling to utilise their expertise. Instead, Kenyans seek medical treatment in Indian, employ Chinese to build roads and bridges and Cuban doctors to serve in local hospitals.

These foreign doctors are paid way higher than Kenyan doctors. They have better benefits and security than what the Kenyan doctors demanded when they were imprisoned.

Kenyan professionals serving abroad should be encouraged to come home. They should be offered better terms of service, which is the major reason they are domiciled abroad. What is Dr Shem Ochuodho and Dr Matunda Nyanchama doing in South Sudan and Canada respectively, when the two are the finest in technology?

In fact, Dr Nyanchama has been featured in the Canadian Who’s Who which publishes some of the best biographies selected on merit alone. Recently, Dr Tom Motari, a practicing psychiatrist in the US, shared his perspectives on the state of mental health in Kenya. He told me that the number of certified psychiatrists in Kenya, a country of almost 50 million is about 100, the majority of whom practice in Nairobi.

While Western Countries like the US and Canada are aggressive at admitting skilled immigrants, Kenya is not keen at incentivising its professionals. The influx of Kenyan medics in the Western Hemisphere for greener pastures is alarming. Brain drain is killing Kenya.

President Trump says the US will not be a dumping ground for unskilled people. He wants the country’s immigration to root for the best. Other developed nations are also poaching professionals because they know how expensive it is to train professionals.

Frankline Onchiri, a Kenyan doctor working at one of the top Children’s research institute in the US, had this to comment on the government’s treatment of its most skilled:

”We love our country and would want to apply our knowledge and skills to serve our people. However, the utility of specialised skills is demeaned when politicians with mediocre education, earn Sh1 million per month while doctors are imprisoned for demanding better pay and working conditions. Worse, foreign “expatriates” doing work Kenyans can do, are highly valued. This is the very definition of mockery.”

Dr. Onchiri wonders why the government underpays its highly skilled and knowledgeable professionals. The government can pay our teachers, lecturers, engineers, doctors, and nurses decent salaries were it not for corruption.

A notable turn-off to Kenyan professionals at home and abroad is when they see people with dubious academic degrees holding leadership positions in our richest counties- Kiambu and Nairobi just under the aegis of democracy!

There is no denying that one can be a great leader without superior education, but formulating impactful policies requires good knowledge.

It’s imperative for the government to conduct a vigorous campaign to bring our professionals home. At home, great minds like Dr Ndii, a diaspora product should be accommodated. Kenya should utilise his expertise especially now when the country is in an economic quagmire due to too much borrowing and corruption.

Whilst many African countries have put up mechanisms that enhance voting rights for their citizens abroad, Kenya hasn’t. This is despite the right to vote being explicitly captured in the 2010 constitution.

One wonders whether ours is a ‘more-talk-less-action’ government and electoral leadership. Ahmed Hassan, the former Chairperson of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) made extensive tours in the diaspora promising to register Kenyans to vote but this didn’t happen.

His successor Wafula Chebukati followed with similar false promises. It’s unfortunate that the government no longer talks about Diaspora. In 2014, while addressing Kenyans in New York, President Kenyatta ordered the customs to allow Kenyans Diaspora to import vehicles duty-free.

Unfortunately, the promise fitted the Moi-like roadside campaign empty promises. Indeed, no follow-up has been made; no mechanism has been put in place to effect the order almost five years down the road.

The Diaspora think they are only used by politicians as fundraising machines. They host them in beautiful town halls and book them in expensive hotels with all expenses paid. Before they return to Kenya, they are showered with many gifts.

In return, these politicians make a raft of promises to the diaspora which they never fulfill! In this era of devolution, the Diaspora has hosted many governors who invite them to invest in their counties. It’s shameful and demeaning when some of these governors can’t even remember your name or recognise your face when you visit their offices in Kenya.

The author is the President of the Kenya Patriotic Movement, a diaspora lobby group based in the US.


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