• The government response to the China discrimination issue has been wanting, so much to the extent of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs alleging that those affected are illegal immigrants.
• This is totally unacceptable owing to the fact that the abuses have been widespread, affecting people who have already paid their rent and with valid visas.
This week has been very disheartening to see fellow Africans being mistreated in China on the basis of their skin color.
We have witnessed a number of them sleeping in the streets or being beaten by Chinese officials on the pretext that they are the ones spreading Covid-19 in the country.
The irony is that this disease started in Wuhan, Hubei province of China. It is thus utterly preposterous for the same people to turn around and claim it’s Africans who are causing a new wave of infections.
However, these incidences have exposed the dire situation that our fellow Africans and Kenyans in the diaspora face, and the inherent racism in China. The government response to this crisis has been wanting, so much to the extent of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs alleging that those affected are illegal immigrants.
This is totally unacceptable owing to the fact that the abuses have been widespread, affecting people who have already paid their rent and with valid visas. How can one explain, for example, McDonald’s outlets in Guangzhou issuing a directive that black people shouldn’t be served, or justify the images of pregnant women sleeping in the streets? In any case, how do we treat Chinese who are in Kenya illegally? Haven’t we witnessed recently some of them caning fellow Kenyans on our own soil?
This crisis, however, brings to the fore the challenges that Kenyans in the diaspora face. MFA estimates that there are about three million of them. This is a huge number that illuminates the fact that diaspora remittances are now Sh300 billion, surpassing coffee and tea to become the number one foreign exchange earner.
This loosely translates to an annual contribution of Sh100,000 per person. The fact that there are inadequate measures to cushion them during such crises and the utter disdain that MFA has displayed calls for urgent measures to ensure their welfare is guaranteed. Discriminated in a foreign land and forsaken at home, diasporans are left to their own devices.
Recently, I had deliberations with the officials of the Kenyans in Dubai Welfare Association, whose membership and welfare concerns spread across more than 45,000 Kenyans living and working in the UAE.
Some of the challenges that they face include lack of an investment framework, poor pay, transportation of bodies back home upon death, lack of African schools to teach Kenyan values and systems and the loss of the Kenyan heritage. Kenya Airways doesn’t even have special rates for them, yet this can be a sure bet for an airline that is struggling to remain in the skies.
Kenya's diaspora has no voting rights and there is no proper regime for prisoner exchange programmes. Basic things such as car importation upon return aren’t properly in place. There are also no proper protocols on how to handle serious crimes. Kenyans are on demand for their talents due to their hard work and dedication, yet they get poor pay, as a result of low wages as negotiated by government officials. There is, therefore, need for renegotiation of working terms with various governments, especially in the Middle East, including favourable monthly remittances fees by global money transfer agencies.
Financial support to the various associations by the embassies is necessary and should be factored in the MFA budget. Further, pension schemes need to be put in place, both as investment and retirement facilities, to cushion Kenyans after many years of working abroad to retire in dignity. It can also act as a source of government financing, through the issuance of a diaspora bond/bill. It’s also true that we need a robust legislation on the Kenyan diaspora, including serious consideration for them to be represented in the National Assembly by at least two members.
In conclusion, Africa must learn to fend for itself. The continent has experimented with the West, and what we got is racism and colonialism. Africa has now experimented with China, and what we are getting is racism, neo-colonialism and new odious debt. Yet when we start focusing internally, we discover that we can not only make simple things such as face masks, but also complex ones such as ventilators by our very own students at Kenyatta University, my alma mater.
African will not be changed by a single election, but by a thousand changes in those small places that look insignificant, and by ordinary people who may never be celebrated. Their only recognition will be the sparkles dotting all over this great continent that will eventually light up in unison, in a moment of ubiquitous transformation.
The moment we come to learn that it’s only us who have our best intentions is the time Africa shall explore its full potential — to occupy its rightful place in the world’s pecking order.
Africa must rise to reclaim its dignity.