This piece is a follow-up to a conversation I had with a University of Nevada Police Officer during the International Rugby Board Seven Series (IRB Sevens Round 4) that I wrote for Mwakilishi.com. I struck a lengthy conversation with the officer who was manning the entrance to Portal 5; the section of Sam Boyd Stadium where most Kenyan fans sat during the just concluded event. It was a discussion that got me wondering whether like some other groups in the diaspora, Kenyans have been able to harness their power, especially economic power, to impact change home and abroad. During the conversation, Officer James (not his real name), absolutely impressed by the camaraderie and bonhomie displayed by Kenyans towards one another asked me whether we (Kenyans) were as friendly with and caring of one another back “in the motherland” as we were up in the stands.
I reflected on Mr. James’s observations then juxtaposed them with a thought I had been mulling over for quite some time: The widely-held belief that the Jewish Diaspora, especially here in the United States has done well not only supporting Israel financially, but more importantly, impacting America’s foreign policy in favor of the country, especially in the Middle East and at the United Nations (UN). The so-called “Jewish Lobby” has been, in equal parts, vilified and admired by friends and foe alike for its ability to influence American leadership since Israel got its independence in 1948, certainly after the Six-Day War of 1967. To be sure, that the Jews suffered the Holocaust and are under the constant threat of being attacked is a clear and present danger that the international community should be forever mindful of.
In their book “The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy”, authors John Mearsheimer and Steve Walt describe the Jewish or Israel Lobby as a “loose coalition of individuals and organizations who actively work to steer U.S. foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction” that is oftentimes “unintentionally harmful to Israel as well.” Disparate groups from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), American-Israeli Public Affairs Congress (AIPAC), Jewish Defense League (JDL), and American-Jewish Congress (AJC) are among several whose stated objectives include fighting anti-Semitism, bigotry and defending democratic ideals and civil rights for all. Taken collectively, these objectives have resulted in policies that support and favor the small nation of 8 million Jews AND Arabs.
I do not have evidence to support my contention that the Kenyan diaspora has not harnessed its (economic) power to impact change abroad and at home as effectively as say Israel. What I can say is that had the president of Israel and his deputy been facing crimes against humanity charges before the International Criminal Court at The Hague, the US would not have been silent. Actually the case would NOT even have been brought before the court because the US would have vetoed efforts to do so. I am thus using that Mr. Kenyatta and Mr. Ruto are facing charges of crimes against humanity at The Hague as indication of the country’s inability to impact policy at the international level, the recent proclamations by the country’s Foreign Minister Ms. Amina Mohammed notwithstanding.
The financial power of Kenya’s diaspora is real and no longer in doubt. Even more relevant to Kenyans in the United States and Canada, of the more than $1billion remitted back home in 2013, just under $500Million come from these two countries! Equally important is the fact that the KShs. 112billion remitted back to Kenya, also in 2013 is bested only by foreign exchange earned from tourism, tea and horticulture.
A recent piece in the Daily Nation about a new organization – Kenya Diaspora Development Forum – whose stated vision is “Harnessing Diasporas and Partners resources towards improvement of Kenyan Communities towards vision 2030” – was mostly met with derision, at least based on the comments in response to the article. Another Daily Nation article on the subject further speaks/spoke to the animus and mistrust amongst those in the diaspora. Efforts at organizing those in the diaspora have also been met with swift rejoinders with those excluded from said efforts accusing those organizing/attending said meetings of being “…imposters and fellows out to hijack the diaspora issue to use it for their own selfish ends.” Finally, the Kenyan government is still developing their diaspora policy and as of going to the press, all I could find was the draft version of the Diaspora Policy of Kenya report published 3 years ago in 2011.
Given the diaspora’s unquestionable (economic) clout, I have the following questions:
- Have Kenyans in the diaspora used their economic clout to impact policies towards the “motherland” not only abroad, but at home as well?
- Have they been successful at educating and influencing decision-makers and opinion leaders wherever they are about the value of strengthening relationships with Kenya?
- Have Kenyans been successful at convincing the outside world that it is in their best interest to help ensure that Kenya, given its rather unfriendly neighborhood: Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) to the west in Uganda, Al-Shabaab to the east in Somalia, probably in Kenya as well and fellow-failed states Somalia South Sudan, respectively on its north-east and north-west border, are stable and safe?
- Are Kenyans abroad as united – abroad and at home – as portrayed during the IRB Sevens and other international events such as marathons and other running events?
- How does the fact that Kenyans back home cannot talk with a unified voice even on basic issues affect their unity in the diaspora?
- As an upshot to No. 2, does the fact that some in the diaspora retain some of their tribal biases and culture affect their unity and effectiveness?
- Does the fact that there are several organizations with the same basic vision and mission representing the interests of Kenyans in the diaspora dilute their effectiveness?
- How does Kenya’s reputation as a corrupt and poorly-governed country affect the ability of its citizens abroad to influence policy both in the diaspora and at home?
- Does the vastness and uniqueness of the diaspora, encompassing all continents, affect the effectiveness of organizations seeking to represent the interests of Kenyan diaspora?
This is partial list of questions and the article is not to prescribe answers or solutions to the questions. It is to ask them and spur discussions on how we in the diaspora can become effective in affecting policy here in the diaspora and abroad; definitely improve our effectiveness in doing so. As succinctly put by one Murori Kiunga, “Kenyan diaspora can do more than just remit money!”