The Diaspora Revolution Will Not Be Televised

By Hezron Karanja

By Hezron Karanja

Amongst political participation, struggles for recognition and demands for taxation with representation, forms the major components of a clarion call. The clarion call to action, with the singular intention of causing deafening vibrations throughout national capitals across the continent of Africa in the hope that this final call of the last resort will reverberate and curve its place in the bureaucratic psyche of all branches of governments across the sub Saharan plateau.  This, is the call to a diaspora economic revolution.

The concept of Africa’s diaspora has -in the last two decades- become synonymous with the great African money movement and capital flow. Government treasuries have noticed trends of huge influx of remittances that were unquantifiable in years prior.  New revenue streams and tributaries have opened up to the delight of numerous Central Banks across the continent.

Decades earlier, migration from Africa was seen as a self-loathing confirmation of Africa’s economic inferiority even within its ranks. Politicians to academics decried brain drain and they made their opposition crystal clear while lamenting the drawbacks of mass migration. They accused the West of poaching African skills and some went a step further to demand reparations for educational sacrifices that African governments made for its migrating citizens, because they regarded migrating Africans as a deprivation and a loss. A loss of capital, skills, knowledge and resources that were desperately required within the continent.

Then the remittance data collection phenomenon was created, and with it, came the antithetical thought process that was to become –the new diaspora. Various continental Central Banks, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank started analyzing this data. Remittance, it turns out, was injecting more foreign cash than all other exports combined in most individual countries. It was also more than any foreign direct capital inflow or any foreign aid to the continent. The love affair with the diaspora was born.

The continent started looking at migrants from the prism of money, funding, aid, capital, resources and economic development because unlike any other capital inflow, remittance was almost assured since these were Africans sending money home to their relatives or to advance their own individual economic endeavors and these cash movements are rarely adversely affected by changing political climate or volatile exchange rate fluctuations. In essence, remittance is guaranteed capital.

You can tell how much African governments love the diaspora by the numbers of politicians who make economic pilgrimages to Western capital cities. And they are gladly welcome. But what’s in it for the diaspora? Why are all promises made to the diaspora (all), never materialize? Where does the diaspora draw the line, and more importantly, when will the diaspora realize that it wields a lot of power in Africa and that it should demand, not ask, for its rightful place in government representation?

The proliferation of the diaspora can be understood as part of a broader societal development where migrants are seen as potential political and economic tools to be used only when it suites the political players back home. Every election year, Western capital cities are inundated by streams of politicians looking for political contributions. Tagging along are promises that range from favorable taxation, dual citizenship to the ability to vote at a nearby facility set up by an embassy or a consulate.

Each time, the diaspora falls for it, and each time, any follow-up to these election promises is met by a far too familiar subsequent silence. The cycle repeats itself every five years like clockwork. You can no longer ignore the gap between reality and promise. It’s pretty simple, value comes from demand, and sometimes it all comes down to what you don’t say.

It’s time to put an end to this nonsense. African diaspora needs to stop any further political contributions. You can only be taken seriously if you finally put your foot down and demand equal respect at the bargaining table. You have to harness the economic power that you possess and use it to get things done not just for the diaspora but also for the ilk back home. You have a leverage, use it.

Recognition and identity has to be the central tenet in this social and economic struggle for public and political attention to be realized.

For diaspora recognition to be fully achieved, the already acquired economic leverage should be transformed into political power, and quite honestly, I don’t see how the diaspora cannot be created as an additional county in Kenya for instance, with full representation in both parliament and the national senate. Something is seriously wrong when a group of people responsible for generating the largest portion of the national budget lack any kind of meaningful collective political bargaining power.

This power does not mean that everyone in the diaspora will run for office, but it does mean that you will have a seat at the table and any agenda that befits the diaspora can be argued, negotiated and backed by a mighty and formidable collective block, just like the Workers Unions approach their common goals, aspirations and objectives. If everyone else is politically represented, it comes innately as second nature that the diaspora too, should be represented. Anything short of that is a complete antithesis to the democratic principles that we proclaim to hold so dear.

For the purpose of this article, however, I am less interested in who supports who or to what political party ones ideological allegiance aligns, than in the fact that diaspora issues and grievances are, more often than not, uniform. When they introduce the unnecessary “diaspora” tourism taxes at various airports for folks going to visit their family, that affects all diaspora from every political spectrum.

Let me emphasize that inclusion of the diaspora should not come at the expense or exclusion of someone else, because there is enough space, breadth and width for all that were slated to be accommodated by justice, democracy and goodwill in the already established political structure. This demand is a call for everyone and every group to be treated as is stipulated in the constitution. It is not a demand for a favor but for a right.

The diaspora is usually created out of some kind of turbulence or imbalance whether economic, political, trade or higher education. There is a reason why people leave their homes to seek residence elsewhere. So when these same people eventually decide to be economically active in their lands of origin, it should be commended and should not be a gate to political pawns and opportunists, for once the diaspora exerts and brandishes its economic rebellion for a subsequent revolution, not only will the political election financing well dry up, but the one way street of remittance will also slow down. The trickle down economic effects of this will shutter both the politicians and the very people the diaspora is out to help, their families.

This could burn out the basic structure of the African society, because my friends, this revolution will not be an act, it will not be televised. This revolution, will be live.

Hezron is the Vice President of Finance at Paramount Pictures’ Digital Media division of Television and opinion contributor at Jamhuri News