President Ruto’s government must directly engage the Diaspora and not through proxies if it is serious in advancing Kenya’s and Diaspora’s common agenda.

The Kenya Diaspora’s prominence in Kenya’s economic development has grown exponentially over the years. Kenyans abroad are arguably the country’s best export as the country reaps significant financial returns annually returns in the form of remittances for investments and family support. Diaspora remittance are currently estimates at 400 billion shillings a year and projected to double in under ten years. President William Ruto, in his recent address has a rather aggressive projection of 1 trillion shillings in under fiver years and to his credit, Ruto recognizes the immense contribution the Diaspora makes to Kenya’s economy and the potential to grow much higher, so much so that in his first speech on his inauguration day he announced the creation of the Ministry of the Diaspora. Even though Ruto hyphenated the Diaspora into the Foreign Ministry now as Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Diaspora Affairs, short of his earlier promise, he nonetheless created a state department dedicated to the Diaspora. Whereas at this point much remains to be seen from these developments, it is a big deal that this government has moved the needle unlike previous governments that only paid lip service in public but treated the Diaspora with scorn behind the scenes.

Ruto appears ready and willing to engage with the Diaspora and we in the Diaspora welcome the opportunity to work with his government to advance our common welfare on a plethora of issues. The synergies are evident and yet we seem worlds apart with respect on how best to engage the two entities. However, there has not been a formal definitive framework in place that spells how the Diaspora interacts with the government, only a Hodgepodge of experiments by special interest and hyper-partisan groups seeking to win favor with the government of the day. On his part, Ruto’s government appears rooted in the past thesis that believes that only the government as constituted in Nairobi ‘knows best’ what’s in the Diaspora’s best interests and it can prescribe to them accordingly. Notwithstanding the government’s postulations, the Diaspora is NOT included in decisions affecting the Diaspora, we are not at the table and the government’s partnership with us stops at ‘remittances’ and how best to maximize them; it is disturbingly one-sided. This disconnect must be remedied urgently to optimize the synergies between the parties to maximize win-win outcomes.

Unfortunately, the President and his team have not embraced a collaborative approach and appear to heavily rely on fringe groups based in Kenya as their guide on how to deal with the Diaspora. This MUST end, and as the Ruto government settles to govern and finds its footing, it is imperative that it is alive to impostors keen on exploiting the Diaspora to advance their own agenda. implements its Diaspora agenda efficiently and effectively. To this end, the government must, by necessity, engage directly with the Diaspora themselves, not through proxies.

Transact Directly with the Diaspora:

President Ruto’s government must directly engage the Diaspora and not through proxies if it is serious in advancing Kenya’s and Diaspora’s common agenda. Kenya’s Diaspora is a unique breed of folks who understand their place both at home and in their host countries. They are always a busy lot and seldom wade into matters governance, many are indifferent and will gladly flow with the wind even to their own detriment, a malaise which, unfortunately renders them susceptible to exploitation and manipulation. For this reason, the new Ruto government must necessarily engage directly with the Diaspora if it hopes to maximize and optimize the Diaspora’s huge potential. The Diaspora does NOT need proxies in Kenya to act, speak or otherwise transact on their behalf; we are very capable of conducting our business with any private and public entity ourselves.

Beware of Impostors:

Caveat emptor (buyer beware). The Diaspora has been badly exploited in the past and lost millions of dollars to unscrupulous smooth-talking men who masquerade as “investors” seeking to partner with the Diaspora for lucrative ventures back home only to be taken to be left holding the bag. This is not unique to diaspora-based groups, but also other elements based in Kenya who see the Diaspora as vulnerable and fertile ground to exploit for personal gain, especially since President Ruto’s announcement. The Diaspora is itself to blame for being fragmented and its inability to put its structural governance structures in order, this must be remedied urgently to avoid dissonance and fall out. Most of these groups masquerading as Diaspora representatives do not speak for the Diaspora much less understand our needs, they tend to have a misguided belief that Diaspora’s interests are rooted in passports and IDs.  Such groups do a major disservice to Kenyans abroad and back home as well as the government and businesses because they get in the way of real development. Some have actively arrogated themselves the role of Diaspora leaders from remote locations in Kenya and beguiled governments and businesses into providing them resources and funds otherwise meant for the bona fide Diaspora. Having watched enough these unfortunate episodes before, it behooves the Diaspora, jointly and severally, to speak up.

Already, there is a simmering turf war between Diaspora leadership and fringe groups based in Kenya such as the one led by Shem Ochuodho, who passes himself as the ‘Global Diaspora Leader’ with 52 Diaspora organizations and 250,000 members under his leadership. Ochuodho, who lives in Kenya, is NOT, by definition, a Diaspora and therefore fails the first basic qualification to speak for or on behalf of the Diaspora. His organization is NOT registered in any known country outside Kenya, he may have been a Diaspora at one point in the past but he’s a long-time resident of Kenya, a former MP of Rangwe constituency in Nyanza. He has not been elected or appointed by any known Diaspora organization to represent or lead; it is a title/position he has arrogated himself for purposes of advancing his personal agenda. Left undisturbed the risk is that he, and those in his mindset, will exploit the Diaspora, intercept resources and opportunities otherwise reserved for the Diaspora. Additionally, the government and businesses that buy into his spurious credentials risk being sold a bill of goods and going at a loss.

Diaspora Homecoming Convention – without the Diaspora

Perhaps the most illuminant illustration of this incongruity was the recently held Diaspora Homecoming Convention in Nairobi organized by Shem Ochuodho, purportedly to engage the Kenyan Diaspora home for the holidays. The three-day meeting, held on December 7-9 at Ole Sereni Hotel in Nairobi was elaborately organized and attended by the who is who in Kenyan government circles and foreign missions including Foreign CS Alfred Mutua and US Ambassador Meg Whitman, among many dignitaries.  The problem is, word on the street is that there were hardly any Diaspora in the meeting, only a handful and most of the seats were occupied by staffers and non-Diaspora Kenyans. This event is the epitome of stark disconnect between the government, businesses, and development partners wherein it appears fringe groups masquerading as “Diaspora” have hijacked the Diaspora agenda and promised a lot that they cannot deliver. They are the unwelcome meddlesome interlopers out to exploit the Diaspora for self-gain at the expense of all other stakeholders.

Diaspora Unite:

To our Diaspora brethren I beseech you to unite because the “whole is greater than the sum of its parts”- Aristotle. This needs no translation but simply stated, we are better together than as in pieces. There are tremendous opportunities inherent in us we need to grasp, others see them and trying to yank them away from you. We must jealously guard what we’ve been blessed with or risk losing it all; and partner with those who mean well for us and not those who seek to conquer, exploit and manipulate us.

We welcome partners from whatever source derived but we will not be exploited, dominated nor fall under the whims of special interest, fringe groups or people under whatever camouflage out to reap where they did not sow. The qualifications to lead any Diaspora group are basic; a) you MUST actually live in the Diaspora i.e., outside Kenya and b) run or belong to one of the many organizations registered and domiciled outside Kenya.