Diaspora Will Determine President In 2012 Polls
The next president of the Republic of Kenya will be decided – not by 24 of the 47 counties as the Constitution of Kenya, 2010 provides - but by about three million voters residing outside its borders. This is a very significant point that those aspiring for the presidency of the republic ought to take note of. It’s significant because unlike in Kenya, getting a solid support of this major county won’t be easy for all the aspirants.
One fundamental flaw in the Constitution that nobody has mentioned before is its failure to recognise the Diaspora as the most powerful, influential and unique county; a county with the most sophisticated, ethnically diverse and informed voters. Ironically, it is also greatly divided into myriad ways, closely reflecting the divisions in the country.
Geographically, it traverses all of the four continents, with the highest population concentrations in North American and European cities. But there are also hundreds of thousands in Asia, Australia and New Zealand and the Indian sub-continent.
The Kenyan Diaspora probably has the highest number of university graduates per capita for any Kenyan county. Of the three or so million citizens, more than seventy per cent of them are adults. They trace their origins from all corners of the republic. In a word, the Kenyan Diaspora is as diverse as the country itself. It represents nearly all languages and cultures of Kenya.
Unfortunately, the fault lines and divisions that have kept Kenya fragmented and weak are also apparent in the Diaspora. Reviewing Kenyan blogosphere gets one the impression of an extremely conflicted community. Past attempts to unite the Kenyan Diaspora into one unit hasn’t been very successful, partly due to the huge geographic space, complexities of their respective backgrounds, and both historical and cultural diversities.
Despite their education, sophistication and many years living and working abroad, tribalism and ethnic chauvinism haven’t completely disappeared. In many respects, they have become more pronounced. Some of the worst xenophobic Kenyans are actually based abroad. They propagate their vile hatred through various internet cesspools. They hide under anonymous ‘handles.’
In the United States, for example, Kenyan immigrants settled in unique linguistic pockets. One finds unusual concentration of Kikuyu speakers in Boston; Luos in New York; Kisiis in New Jersey and Minnesota; et cetera. I understand that during soccer matches in certain US cities, it is easy to mistake the rambunctious cheers of Kenyans in their various colourful languages for the City or Nyayo stadiums.
But significant portions of the Kenyan Diaspora have also found unity in diversity. They have overcome ethnic and cultural differences and formed organizations that bring them together; not just during funerals and times of tragedy. They mark and celebrate national holidays and the success of Kenyan athletes, writers, artistes and scholars. In addition, they come together in religious and cultural settings, as well as in weddings and graduation ceremonies.
In North America, for instance, Kenyans routinely have barbecues and invite each other for all manner of reunions. These are not minor events; some of these events attract hundreds of families and are graced by high level political and business leaders. In fact, savvy North American politicians long discovered the immigrant communities as the most reliable place to hunt for votes. Immigrants tend to be single-issue voters. They prefer politicians with a ‘pro-immigration/refugee’ platform to those inclined on restricting them.
This is a hugely complex and diverse constituency; rich in voters but difficult to woo. It doesn’t just require political dexterity; it demands genuine understanding, deliberate and consistent wooing, backed up with solid results. It’s not a constituency one wins over through empty rhetoric and beautiful speeches alone. Nor would it be won over through empty promises.
The typical Kenyan voter has traditionally been swayed by songs, comedy and ethnic solidarity rather than serious policy discourse - with disastrous consequences. But not the Kenyan Diaspora. Although nearly a third would rally around ethnicity and other primordial cleavages – the overwhelming majority seems more attuned to concrete policy issues. The Diaspora has access to credit facilities. With attractive investment opportunities, they would invest heavily here. Others have acquired practical skills and vast experience in virtually all fields of learning. These need to be tapped for the benefit of our country.
Virtually all Diaspora voters have access to basic information through electronic media and the Internet. They also have more time to research and interrogate issues than the average resident of Kenya. Most also live in functioning democracies where politics is a real competitive sport. Unlike here, however, it is a properly managed sport, with competent referees with integrity; where rules apply equally to all competitors; and personal wealth or position in society gives one little sway, if at all. The Diaspora is a place where the origins of one’s personal fortune are placed under the microscope and campaign finance law prevents uncontrolled use of personal wealth for political purposes. The field may not be completely levelled; but it’s not totally uneven either.
Daniel arap Moi promoted the use and abuse of money in Kenyan politics. Since then, money has been the main instrument for the pursuit, exercise and control of power. Fortunately, many in the Diaspora understand money and its proper role in politics. Consequently, they may force presidential candidates to address real issues: high unemployment, education, health, inflation, infrastructural development, investment and equity.
They may also place a premium on trustworthiness. Critical in their assessment will be: whom do we trust to keep his or her word on investment, business and employment opportunities for the Diaspora? Whoever passes that credibility test will most likely be the next president of Kenya.
Miguna an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya. He is also a Barrister & Solicitor in Canada.