Kenyans jam-pack Diaspora conference in DC
Hundreds of Kenyans living in the US, in a show of renewed interest in their motherland jam-packed a Washington DC hotel over the weekend to attend a Diaspora conference organised by the Kenya government through its embassy in Washington DC.
The Kenya Diaspora conference was convened specifically to help the Diaspora identify
investment opportunities that exist in Kenya’s economic blueprint popularly known as Vision 2030. Billed by the organisers as ‘one of a kind’, the hugely successful conference attracted an unprecedented number of Kenyans living in the USA.
At the close of business on Sunday afternoon, an estimated 1,000 people had passed through the registration and exhibition corridors though only about 500 had been allowed to officially register owing to the venue capacity.
“The main objective of bringing Kenyans to Washington, DC was to engage them with Kenya’s Vision 2030. The idea is that this is the blueprint, this is the strategy that Kenya has developed to take us to being a middle income, high income country by the year 2030”, said Elkanah Odembo, Kenyan ambassador to the US.
Mr Odembo said the Kenyan Diaspora estimated at 3 million-plus, possessing tremendous financial and human capital is poised to be the engine of Kenya’s development.
Vision 2030, launched in 2008 by the coalition government aims at transforming Kenya into a newly industrializing middle income country by providing a high quality of life for the citizens by the year 2030.
The launch of the vision was an ideal starting point to focus attention on what should be done to realize a prosperous Kenya.
“The Kenya government has identified Diaspora diplomacy as one of the pillars of our foreign policy and is deliberately doing everything possible to recognize the role they play national development.
Such meetings and events are meant to let the Diaspora know that we appreciate them and are willing to work with them”, said Richard Onyonka, Foreign Affairs Assistant Minister.
The clout of the Kenyan Diaspora has been on the rise since the diaspora became the country’s biggest donor with remittances far exceeding Foreign Direct Investment and Official Development Assistance from outside entities.
Recent studies and World Bank reports indicate that Kenyans living abroad are remitting a staggering Sh150 billion home annually, and has become a key engine for economic growth.
The study by the World Bank for instance shows that 2.6 million Kenyans receive a total of $2 billion (Sh150 billion) annually from Kenyans in the Diaspora.
The amount is way above Central Bank of Kenya figures, which show Kenyans abroad sent home $609 million (Sh45.6 billion) last year down, from $611 million (Sh45.8 billion) in 2008.
Mugo Kibati of Vision 2030 secretariat said their mission in the US was to urge the Diaspora to leverage their connections with big businesses in the US to invest in Kenya.
“We appreciate diaspora remittances but we are also urging them to go beyond remittances by using the contacts they have wherever they work to invest in big projects. They have the capacity to do so”, said Kibati.
In the new constitution that was promulgated last year, dual citizenship and other democratic rights for the Diaspora are entrenched making the Diaspora a key component of Kenya’s political landscape.
John Maina who coordinates the Diaspora desk in the office of the Prime Minister says that the impact of the Diaspora will indeed be felt more clearly during the upcoming national elections.
“ We estimate that Kenyans in Diaspora who will be eligible to vote, that is those over 18 years are roughly 70 percent of the whole diaspora population now estimated at 3.1 million. This means that close to 2.8 million people in Diaspora will be eligible to vote making them one of the largest and prosperous voting block in Kenya”, he said.
The conference was attended by high-ranking government officials, business owners and leading Diaspora scholars. A cross-section of participants at the conference who had traveled from different states told The Standard in that they were extremely happy with the convening of the conference because it put them in touch with what the government was doing back home.