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Implement draft policy on the Kenyan diaspora and you are into the money

Posted by Administrator on April 10, 2012

After years of promises and missed opportunities, the government has finally come up with a draft policy providing strategies for mainstreaming the Kenyan diaspora into the development agenda.

The draft is currently circulating among diaspora Kenyans and the government has invited our feedback.

I want to start by acknowledging the work that has gone into producing this well thought-out document. The policy provides a more comprehensive view of the diaspora and not just as a source of remittances. It recognises the potential of Kenyans abroad and seeks to create opportunities to harness their skills for the national development agenda.

But after crafting such an ambitious policy, the document proposes the creation of an inter-ministerial council to oversee the implementation and evaluation process. This is a recipe for failure because no one will really be in charge.

While the Presidential Circular No. 1 of 2008 on Organisation of Government placed diaspora issues under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which will now house the proposed inter-ministerial diaspora secretariat, the grand aspirations in the draft policy call for a full-fledged ministry for the diaspora constituency or a stand-alone agency answerable to the President or the Prime Minister.

This would be a one-stop destination for all things diaspora. With an estimated population of three million Kenyans and annual remittances of over Sh150 billion, the diaspora merits such a consideration.

It is entirely possible that such an entity could be financed through a creative levy on the remittances. Such a single entity is likely to streamline the process of engaging the diaspora.

An inter-ministerial agency, on the other hand, scatters responsibility across various ministries and therefore holds no one accountable for the policy’s implementation.

A Diaspora ministry is not a radical proposal and has been tried elsewhere, such as in the Republic of Benin, where a 2001 diaspora policy established a new ministry in charge of relations with Beninese abroad.

My second observation is on the issue of diaspora representation in the decision-making process. The draft policy rightly recognises the inherent problems in trying to deal with the diaspora. There is no single organisation for Kenyans abroad and diaspora interlocutors are a myriad of organisations.

That can be both a blessing and a curse, especially when looking for genuine diaspora representation. There is a need for the policy to consider the question of diaspora representation in government.

The diaspora is in effect Kenya’s 48th county but without a governor, senator or any elected representatives. It is also the richest and most educated county. The three million Kenyans in the diaspora deserve more than community organisations.

I have long advocated for the creation of a portal that could serve as a database of diaspora skills. It is gratifying to see that the policy recommends collecting such data.

But the database needs to be accessible to both the central government and county governments in line with the spirit of devolution and in a way that they could tap into any skills necessary to their development needs.

Perhaps we could copy the Pakistan model that offers short-term assignments to its diaspora for the purpose of transferring knowledge and technology.

There is also a need to rethink the type of diaspora engagement anticipated by the policy. Engagement is a two-way process and involves more than streamlining the provision of government services to the diaspora.

The engagement process should also provide avenues and opportunities for the diaspora to be involved in the policy- and decision-making process.

The Government of India recently established a portal that allows its diaspora to offer input on various policy formulations based on their expertise and experiences. We can do the same.

The policy treats the diaspora as a single entity united by a unique national interest. It is important for the policy to recognise and acknowledge the diversity among Kenyans abroad and to create programmes and opportunities for the various Kenyan diasporas.

Finally, a 2005 study by the International Organisation for Migration compared diaspora engagement policies among 49 countries and its findings can inform the Kenyan policy.

Prof Chege teaches at Kansas State University, USA. (Samchege@aol.com)

Source: http://www.nation.co.ke/oped/Opinion/-/440808/1383154/-/m7duk1z/-/


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