Op-Ed: We are much more than just ‘the remittance’ – Kenyan Diaspora

KENYANS  in the  Diaspora –  ‘those of the remittance’ –  are constantly reminded of their

Agnes Gitau: ‘we will have to re- evaluate our relationship with our leaders’

patriotic duty to support Kenya’s economic development by way of sending money  (remittances) to our motherland to support our families to meet medical, education, housing and many other needs says Agnes Gitau*.

Services that are meant to be the business of government but for some reason, it is now the duty of the Diaspora. As the pandemic continues to wreak havoc in the economies where most Diaspora Kenyans reside, many have lost their livelihood, are alone and desperate for help.

To bring into context the important role the Diaspora plays, we look at the value of their remittances from available data.

The country is ranked the third-highest recipient of Diaspora remittances in sub-Saharan Africa by the World Bank’s Migration and Remittances Brief (2018). The country received $2.7bn in Diaspora remittances, after Ghana ($3.8bn) and Nigeria $ 24.3bn. This is more money than Kenya gets from coffee and tea exports, making the Diaspora a critical contributor to Kenya’s economy.

The relationship between ‘ those of the remittance ‘ and the various governments has always been ‘interesting’ for lack of a better word. Most of the Kenyans abroad (more than a million) left the country in search of ‘greener pastures’, which were not available in Kenya. Ninety percent of Kenya migrants leave Kenya in search of economic activity, with a small minority leaving for political reasons (mostly in the 90s ) during the draconian era of the late President Daniel Arap Moi.

Back to the point

Since the pandemic began, most Kenyans in developed economies have lost their jobs and are faced with great challenges. Particularly those in China (Wuhan) have begged the government to evacuate them as their lives were in danger.   Many in China have spoken of racial abuse in shopping malls, homelessness after being thrown out of their houses and attacks on public transport. They have begged the government to help them out, repatriate them to safety as having survived Covid-19 are now in grave danger of racist attacks in the country. We have all seen online videos showing scores of African immigrants being treated like animals, sleeping in backstreets and signs barring foreigners from many public places.  Despite intervention even by the Africa Union, the Chinese have continued to mistreat Kenyans and Africans.

The closest to anything Kenyans in Wuhan got was some press briefing by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which was a complete train wreck. Despite the widespread condemnation, the statement sounded like it was excusing prejudice against Kenyans and other Africans.

Many were comforted by support from many Kenyans who took to twitter to call out the government, reminding them to put Kenyans lives before Kenya’s debt to China.

Here are some reactions from twitter :

@WehliyeMohamed Amb Macharia is an ELOQUENT and ERUDITE Spokesman for the CHINESE Govt…

@gnrpeter Kenya’s response has been timid. It cannot be about debt only. Kompromat on our viongozi?

@Paul_Muite This is embarrassing and a betrayal of the Kenyans in China; further, it contradicts the recent well thought out protest statement to the Chinese Government by African Ambassadors in China.

@makayiemba #ukolonimamboleo  we saw it coming when we turned to the east, Chinese hawkers, mitumba sellers, contractors, poachers.

@africaupdates The greatest threat to Africa in the 21 century is not the West (western imperialism), but the sort of leaders Africans vote and empower to rule over them. Kenya has gone on to ask these desperate Kenyans to pay for their own evacuation if they want to leave China as of yesterday (April 17).  In the US, Kenyans have raised more than  $12,000 towards the emergency appeal by the same government to bail them out in providing food for the vulnerable.

After the pandemic, and if we in the Diaspora survive (and we will), we will have to re-evaluate our relationship – Kenyan leaders versus those of the remittance.

*@agnesgitau is a managing partner @gbsafrica a boutique Africa advisory services firm.


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