DIASPORA POLICY – MR. PRESIDENT HOLD OFF FOR NOW

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David OchwangiOn Friday January 9, 2015, Kenya’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent a public invitation through a Mr. Joseph Masila “to the official launch of the Kenya Diaspora Policy and the Kenya Foreign Policy by H.E the President on 20th January 2015 at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre, Tsavo ballroom.”  The “policy”  document is here http://www.kenyaembassy.com/pdfs/Final_National_Diaspora_Policy_Revised_13.06.2014.pdf Whereas many of us in the Diaspora applaud the President for his genuine interest in the Kenyan Diaspora, I think this launch is not ready and certainly not ripe for a presidential endorsement for a lot of reasons some of which I attempt to explain below.

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Meeting Improperly Convened and announced (Insufficient Notice and Participation):
As stated above, the meeting was announced on January 9, 2015 to take place eleven days later on January 20, 2015. The subject is Kenya’s Diaspora and so by default, the Diaspora are the major stakeholders in the meeting itself. One problem, 11 days is insufficient notice for the Diaspora, who are spread around the world, to organize themselves, select representatives, make travel arrangements and travel to Nairobi for the launch- it is impractical. The best analogy I can think of is that of a groom calling for a wedding without the bride’s knowledge and consent. Speaking as someone who has been closely involved on this issue for several years now, I can honestly say that this is an “ambush meeting” that the Kenyan Diaspora had little to no input in with respect to the timing, agenda, and subject matter discussions. This is NOT how to conduct such high profile business that involves the President. The President is of all Kenyans and for the Diaspora, it matters greatly that and if we are going to be the subject of discussion, we definitely need a seat at the table. As Senator Elizabeth Warren recently quipped, “if you are not at the dinner table, you are most likely on the menu” and to the extent this meeting proceeds without input from the Diaspora itself much less its presence, then the Diaspora is on the menu from our vantage point. And we would like the President and organizers to take note of that.
Deeply Flawed “Policy” Document:
This is where the real problem is, where the “rubber meets the road” so to speak. In my view, this “Diaspora Policy”document is NOT worthy betting the prestige of the presidency on; it would more than likely hurt President Kenyatta’s standing with the Diaspora if adopted in its current form without a major overhaul with the full participation of the Diaspora so we can all achieve goal congruence. It is poorly crafted, substandard and it obfuscates its purpose as the country’s Diaspora Policy. Whereas President Kenyatta currently enjoys tremendous goodwill from the Diaspora, my trepidation is that by endorsing the document via this meeting without the Diaspora’s participation or input, the president will, by proxy, become the face of mediocrity insofar as this document is concerned albeit unwittingly. He also risks injuring his standing with the Diaspora in the process.
Not too long, October 29 to be exact, Deputy President William Ruto launched a much publicized “Diaspora web portal”http://diasporaportal.eurocom.co.ke/ which has turned out to be a colossal and embarrassing failure. The and fanfare accorded the launch falls far short  of a portal the Kenyan government should take part in much less approve,https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1EXDPzhHOcc. The site speaks for itself, it is not secure, it is not functional, it mocks the Diaspora by depicting them in a demeaning manner as sub-human juveniles in a desert / tundra looking to be rescued as opposed to a vital and integral part of Kenya’s economic and social fabric, the optics of the site speak for themselves as to how the Kenyan government actually sees its Diaspora. Whether intentional or subliminal, the website is in poor taste and giving its launch such high prominence via vice President Ruto makes it even worse. And I am not even going to touch on what it cost to develop it (I am hoping the developer paid the government instead of the other way round). The site was never tested and its functionality vetted by the end user, the Diaspora. Someone just put it up, it is not even hosted as a government domain, we don’t know who hosts it, where the Diaspora’s personal information it seeks goes to, who sees it or has access to it, nothing. Protests from the Diaspora to fix the glaring problems have gone unheeded. To sum it up, it is mediocrity at its best. My point is, the President must not repeat the Ruto mistake by way of endorsing this document. Let’s have a participatory and consensus based Policy instead.
Historical Background of Kenya’s “Diaspora Draft Policy”
This is an old document that appears the Jubilee Administration dusted off from the Kibaki/Odinga Coalition Administration’s archives and recycled. At the time it was introduced, almost 4 years ago I remember working on it under the auspices of former Kenyan Ambassador to the US Elkanah Odembo. Mr. Odembo and I hardly saw eye to eye on anything but this is one item that he, to his credit, opened up for discussion and input. We rejected the original version (this document) and many of us put a lot of work and provided revisions of what we wanted a Diaspora policy to look like- those inputs were ignored and are obviously not reflected in this draft. Simply put, this is NOT what we bargained for and it is NOT representative of the Diaspora that I know of and certainly will not work.
So what is wrong with the Current “Draft Policy” Document?
First, let’s see if we can agree on what a policy is and what it is not. Before I expound on this, let me use analogy that many of you might be familiar with to set the stage; imagine making an ultimate omelet; you get your onions, tomatoes, cilantro, mushrooms, olive oil, salt, seasoning, stove, pan, and maybe some ham, what is missing? Of course the key ingredient- the eggs! Or ordering a beef sandwich and being served two buns, lettuce, tomato, onions, and ketch-up but no beef patty! Is that still a beef sandwich? Of course not.  That is what this document is all about- it talks of anything else EXCEPT policy, not even the framework is discussed, how can it? You must have a policy first and then develop the framework.  In my understanding, a policy must be implementable, to that end it must be certain, it defines the “what” or purpose/subject matter, why, when, how, who, point of contact, etc. for example – the “Diaspora Vehicle Importation” directive that President Uhuru Kenyatta announced in New York and Washington D.C was in fact a policy (it even took the president two takes to get clarify it) – it was specific to a particular issue, he directed his cabinet secretaries to implement it- so in terms of what, why, when, how, who, point of contact, etc. Kenyatta’s announcement perfectly fit the definition and purpose of a policy, it met what I refer to as“elements of a policy”. Finance Secretary Henry Rotich later rendered it impractical but that is for another day – but for the purposes of “policy” insofar as the president’s announcement is concerned he fulfilled all the elements of a policy; the President and the Diaspora had a” meeting of the minds” on this ONE (1) policy item. The Kenyan Diaspora is a diverse lot with a myriad of interests, “Diaspora Voting” or “Diaspora Representation in Government”, “Diaspora Budget Allocation” and hundreds more – I mean it can be anything that the Diaspora cares about. So for Kenya’s government to meet some of these needs, a comprehensive set of “policies” is needed to address those issues/concerns. A “collection of policies” would then be consolidated and become the official Kenyan Policy for its Diaspora.
On the contrary, this draft policy document (attached) that the Jubilee administration wants to adopt as the official “Kenyan Diaspora Policy” lacks any of the elements it must satisfy to qualify as a policy; almost zero, zilch, nil of any of these things and so it is clear that there is no meeting of the minds insofar as the stakeholders, i.e. the government of Kenya and the Diaspora itself. From my vantage point, it is an abstract or a draft plan or a “statement of intent” of ‘woulda, coulda, shoulda” which must NOT be confused with the real thing. Simply put, it is NOT a “policy” by any stretch of imagination. It is not actionable, you can’t implement it because nothing in it speaks of or addresses any specific item that is directly tied to the Diaspora, not ONE (1) item that we as the diaspora care about.  Methinks that if you are going to prop up the President as the face of the Diaspora Policy document or any other document for that matter, at least make sure it is complete and thoroughly vetted to avoid subjecting the president to unnecessary ridicule or criticism.
No Partner to work with – Government’s Refusal to include the Diaspora and High personnel Turn-over
As stated elsewhere in this text, it is not for lack of trying on the Diaspora’s part. Within the last two years, Jubilee has replaced its “Director for Diaspora Affairs” twice; started with Dennis Itumbi who just didn’t do anything about the Diaspora despite repeated prodding. Then it was former Ambassador to the UN Zachary Muburi-Muita but he was also transferred before he could get anything moving including working on the Diaspora Policy and now there is a new guy we have never heard a whimper from. So there is no stability, no point of contact, the Diaspora efforts to reach the government in Nairobi are ignored and never responded to. The Diaspora have been more than eager and willing to partner with the government to come up with a workable solution/policy. However, successive governments have been not only miserably detached but also obstinately unwilling to partner with the Diaspora, it appears to believe that Diaspora solutions can be arrived by someone at a desk in an office in Nairobi. Even when the government genuinely believes it has the answers, usually that is not the case; the disconnect is invariably great.
The Diaspora needs a real partner to work with, not an out of touch figure-head (Director) at the office in  Ministry of Foreign Affairs- it needs a full-fledged stand-alone Ministry or at the very minimum a fully staffed and functional Department of responsive folks who can help speed tapping into the immense potential that the Diaspora provides.
As for this document itself, if I were to advice to President Uhuru Kenyatta, I would tell him to ask many questions and get answers before becoming endorsing it. A few of those would be how it came about, who contributed to it and above all, whether or not the Diaspora views are in-fact reflected or incorporated in it. The answers must be satisfactorily corroborated and documented and in the affirmative otherwise Mr. President, please ask the team to come back to the table so we can work on a real Diaspora Policy document befitting you and preserves the prestige of the people’s office of the Presidency.
By David ochwangi

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