March 19, 2019

The Kenya Diaspora, a Community Built From Scratch

By Thuothuo Anthony-Jamhuri News

Equity Bank C.E.O Dr. James Mwangi addressing diaspora community in Boston during the 2016 Equity diaspora Investment Tour. PHOTO: Anthony Thuothuo-Jamhuri News

By Thuothuo Anthony- Jamhuri News

A lot has been said and written about Kenyans abroad. It goes without saying that indeed when one meets a fellow countryman in a foreign land, there’s indisputable, an unconditional relationship that develops. A feeling of commonness and a sense of affinity grows with little or no separation of tribe, gender or religion.

This is the story of Kenyans in the diaspora. If there’s a better gift that the founding father Mzee Jomo Kenyatta left the people of Kenya, it is the spirit of pulling together (Harambee). This is not just about fundraising for causes, but building sturdy communities as well.

While lifestyle is different from that in Kenya, most Kenyans abroad have refused to let go their association with culture, traditions, religion and social norms. This has over time built some of the biggest and most celebrated Kenyan communities abroad. For instance, Kenyans in Boston stand out as one of the most vibrant communities in the diaspora. Lifting each other spiritually, socially and financially, this community has set the bar quite high for other communities from Africa.

When there’s death in the community, there’s no boundary in the relationship with the deceased. Word will go out from family through ‘community leaders’ and to the larger community. Pastors will send circulars around their network and volunteer prayer days with the mourning family. Diaspora journalists will report and share community updates with no limits. Emcees will volunteer their time, and photographers will just click. Community members will pledge food and drinks, and DJs will pledge PA systems. This happens with all types of events; from memorials, weddings to baby showers. At the end, the goal is achieved.

While this has come with its normal community pitfalls, there’s none that can beat the fruits of a well-knit populace. It is true that unity is a strength; the point at which the Kenyan diaspora stands is currently full of promise. There is hope for one diaspora, one Kenya, and one people.

There’s a reason every major organization in Kenya is targeting the diaspora market. It is not that our number has increased, neither is it that exchange rate is better than ever. The reason is because the diaspora has set the precedent. The fact that diaspora remittance has taken the lead as Kenya’s number one foreign exchange earner, sends a signal to major corporations that there is indisputable, untapped potential in the diaspora.

Companies such as Equity Bank, Cytonn Investments and more have already set base in the diaspora. Soon, politicians will start flooding seeking support. Diaspora is already the 48th county in the republic of Kenya. This means we have the capacity and numbers to demand representation in policy making, and we should.

The diaspora must claim its legacy. When major Kenyan corporations set base here, it is a blessing and a curse. We need to set our conditions to these ‘foreign’ investment companies. We need better deals than ordinary, better interest rates matching what we can get here or close.

As we fight for better deals, we also need to invest back home and not just send money. According to economics experts, most of the billions sent from the diaspora, are meant for short term use back home such as family use and school fees; and only a small percentage goes to the country’s economy through investments.

Time is now for the diaspora community to stand up and be counted. We not only need to vote, we need recognition and representation. We need to have our own campaign of what we want and how we want it.

We need not be taken as a number of votes. The government is currently arguing on how many Kenyans live abroad, yet they flatter us with news of being the top exchange earner, soliciting us for investment back home.

If we are enough to drive up the economy, let us be enough to vote, for we are Kenyans, and Kenya is ours too!

-Thuothuo Anthony

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