Kenya's Whining US Diaspora Should Just Get on with it
The opening demands were reasonable enough, even noble: a better investment climate back home, better use of taxpayer money, and provisions for voting in whatever state they are in (even if practically impossible).
Kenya’s US diaspora (nobody really seems to know the population, with figures of up to a million bandied around) surely knows its worth: according to its own figures, it remits nearly $2.5 billion a year back home and so would understandably want absolute value for their money.
But there was more to come. Kenyans back home were treating them with “hostility”, especially at the airport. Would immigration authorities make it easier for them cart in their Gucci or Louis Vuitton suitcases for their vacations without undergoing bothersome procedures?
“Our belongings are searched arbitrarily and duties are levied without explanation or receipts,” one spokeswoman told the $220-a-seat Kenya Diaspora Conference that included visiting Foreign Affairs ministry bureaucrats, to a reported standing ovation.
Never mind that most "local" Kenyans also undergo this looting and that at most American airports, it gets worse with their privacy regularly invaded following full-body scanners and pat-downs introduced by the federal government recently.
On online forums, Kenya’s US diaspora is regularly berated for having an inflated sense of entitlement, not least fanned by the awe accorded them by those on "the ground". Chasing the American dream is bigger than anything you local folks could ever get up to has been the ready refrain, especially post-Obama.
Kenya holds a General Election in March, the first under a new constution labelled as one of the most progressive, and the diaspora's demands have kept up with the high-stake polls. The country's election commission has been comprehensively sued for, among others, failing to provide for electronic voting, which is not even available back home.
The revolving doors of frontrunner politicians trooping in to woo the diaspora have also further bloated the collective ego of some. Yet a look at their attitude suggests their agitation for preferential treatment by the Kenyan government is only worth its weight in achieving the ideal of universal suffrage: only one in four would cross state borders to vote, a new poll showed.
In other words, despite the enthusiasm on show, unless a voting centre is around the corner, few would be bothered to make an effort, citing the expense and distance involved. Tell that to the "locals" who will be travelling home overnight on rickety, unroadworthy buses and on non-existent roads, and at a time their incomes continue to lag behind the cost of living.
The real reason for the politicians’ self-serving visits to the US has been in extracting donations to finance their largesse-heavy cash-for-votes campaigns, yet only 25 per cent of diaspora Kenyans would contribute. Who's fooling who here?
The jury is still out as to whether the diaspora can decisively tip March's election in favour of any candidate, for reasons as varied as questionable turnouts, to being out of touch with grassroots politics. Many living abroad invariably tend to vote for suave urban-type politicians, while the rabble-rousing populists carry the day in the more vote-rich rural areas.
Many of the"locals" will be standing parched in the hot sun all day, grappling with grossly inefficient polling stations and a ballot paper a mile long. Not to mention the risk of being tear-gassed by trigger-happy anti-riot cops, or being attacked by a motley of rag-tag militias ranging from coastal separatists to hired political goons.
Expecting Kenya’s cash-strapped election managers to provide air-conditioned voting booths at their doorstep and equipped with fancy voting equipment (which presumably does not allow for hanging-chads a la Gore-Bush circa 2000), is stretching it a bit too far for the diaspora.
What will they ask for next, prawn sandwiches, Evian bottled water and an oxygen tent to help them vote?
Kenya’s economically-important diaspora would do well to knuckle down and vote with minimum fuss, like the 18 million on the ground back home.
By Lee Mwiti
This blog was originally published in Africa Review.
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Yes, Kenyans in the diaspora might be a decade or so ahead of time...allowed.... but it is people like this ShrewdAfrican who think that asking for better services for our tax-shillings (or dollars), is way too demanding and that a good citizen should just take what they are offered and be thankful for it.
Kenyans in the diaspora have tasted the good and the ugly of living in other countries and some of the good that many have seen is good governance.....and that people power is what writes the ideal laws. Leave the mandate to the leaders and they will give mediocre services and pay themselves handsomely - e.g. not providing electronic voters' registers yet they can pay themselves huge salaries and send-off packages and build themselves humongous homes worth millions.....
Another good that diasporans might have seen is that when citizens state what they need and not just take what the government is offering, development happens and leaders take the voters seriously and know better to listen and serve them....not the Kenyan-style MP who never consults with his/her constituents ....only comes back a few months before elections.
You say that ""locals" .... will be traveling home overnight on rickety, unroadworthy buses and on non-existent roads, and at a time their incomes continue to lag behind the cost of living.......standing parched in the hot sun all day, grappling with grossly inefficient polling stations and a ballot a mile long" .......Come on, the more reason we need to start demanding for better services. All I can say, it is no picnic this side of the world either.... but the roads are good :))... cost of living just as bad.... we work to get money.... we endure worse elements and must have air-con etc... WE ARE NOT STRETCHING IT TOO FAR - good roads, better transportation, flawless polling stations and electronic registers are the least of the demands we can ask for NOW.
Lee, this is a free world and all of us Diasporans or not have a right to demand fair treatment and good service from public servants. Besides, nobody prevents non-Diasporans from whining. With an attitude like yours Lee, we will never hold public servants to accoount.
I commend all those Kenyans who came out into Nairobi streets and demanded that MPs not loot the coffers. We need more Kenyans to demand good service and fair treatment and not less.
By the way, the statement by Muthoni Mpuria representing the Diaspora view at the Diaspora conference was first class supported by statistics and she got a standing ovation. Live and let live.
Why settle of less if you can achieve more and better service? Mr. Lee mwiti will never get our country anywhere due to his mentality! We urge Kenyans to hold their representatives accountable and demand for better services that they deserve.
This is the hard hitting truth. i agree with the columnist.
The title though, is misleading. shouldn't it be US's whinning Kenyan diaspora?