While there is no accurate figure on the number of Kenyans living in the diaspora, it is estimated that this could be close to three million. This forgotten constituency can play a big role in Kenya’s development if the incoming administration extends its hand to engage them.
However, with no clearly defined diaspora policy in place, there has been a disconnect in the relationship between the diaspora and past administrations. It is also important to note that during election campaigns, none of the alliances mentioned the diaspora in their manifestos.
There are three key pillars of engagement we could use as a foundation for building a relationship between diaspora communities and the government: Engaging the diaspora as development partners, Reversing brain drain and Increasing representation.
The first should be a key interest of the incoming administration. According to data released by the Central Bank of Kenya, between 2011 and 2012, diaspora remittances hit a historic high of $1.17 billion (Sh100.39 billion) making diaspora remittances the fourth highest foreign currency earner for Kenya.
While a sizeable amount goes towards family and personal use, if credible investment programmes with policies and frameworks that match international standards are put in place, more of the money would readily be invested.
But the government must first identify its goals and capacities, then match them to diaspora interests for effective engagement.
Kenya not only loses thousands of brilliant minds annually to organisations and governments abroad due to more lucrative opportunities, but also through students abroad settling and working in foreign nations.
Kenya is in great need of doctors, nurses, engineers, IT and other skilled professionals. Many Kenyans in the diaspora, who have been abroad for work or study often express the desire to return home but would prefer to have a job guarantee in place first.
A good way to initiate this would be by holding career fairs abroad to educate them on the opportunities at home.
A good example of a similar initiative is the United Nations Development Programme’s Transfer of Knowledge Through Expatriate Nationals (TOKTEN ) initiative.
This is a global mechanism for tapping expatriates who have achieved professional success and mobilising them to undertake short-term consultancies in their countries of origin under the aegis of the UN agency.
Representation of the diaspora in government is also key.
While it may be too late to have nominated members representing the diaspora in the National Assembly as a special interest group for the incoming term under Article 97 (1) (c) of the Constitution, it is not too late to establish diaspora representation at the highest level of government, for example through a ministry, as some countries such as India, Canada, Armenia, Israel, Mali and Bangladesh have done.
The Philippines has a Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) that is directly under the office of the president. These countries recognised the value that the diaspora populations were bringing to development efforts back home.
Representation can also help define outreach programmes for engaging diaspora communities. Such initiatives would help to not only strengthen the bond between government and Kenyans abroad, but also create grassroots level ambassadors for the country.
In my consulting career over the decades in the US, I have come across Kenyans working as key influencers and executives for global financial, IT and other fields whose connections could be tapped into for the benefit of their homeland.
Just as the Kenyan executive at Goldman Sachs can easily make a phone call and find a group of investors willing to invest over $10 million in Kenya, another working as an NYPD officer could initiate cross-training efforts between his employer and the Kenyan police that could also lead to exchange of expertise.
Similarly, college students could engage universities to initiate programmes and initiatives to partner with and mentor educational institutions in Kenya. With an effective outreach initiative, it would be easier for these connections to be initiated and utilized for the benefits of all.
Kenya is ripe for inclusion of the diaspora in nation building and while extensive consulting will be needed, the three engagement pillars would form a good starting point.
Mr Kerre is an entrepreneur and cyber security consultant who lives in New York City.