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Sunday, 22 February 2015 16:53

Kenya Taps Diaspora to Boost Economy, Create Jobs

By Julius Kithuure

NAIROBI, Kenya, February 22, 2015 (SABAHI) — With the launch of its first diaspora policy, the Kenyan government is seeking to harness the financial and investment power of around three million Kenyan expatriates to grow the economy and create jobs.

The policy, rolled out by President Uhuru Kenyatta on January 20th, details the various steps the government will take to tap into the country's worldwide network of expatriates.

"This policy has been the missing link between Kenyans in the diaspora and their government," said Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade director of diaspora affairs Washington Edwin Anyango Oloo.

Key components of the policy include creating the National Diaspora Council of Kenya to engage with Kenyans who live abroad, increasing staff in diplomatic missions that serve Kenyan citizens, exploring ways to provide low-cost remittance services and encouraging members of the diaspora to invest back home by informing them of opportunities and connecting them with the private sector.

"The diaspora policy is a dream come true for Kenyans both at home and in the diaspora and all should support the government in its implementation," Oloo told Sabahi.

The policy was formulated as more than three million Kenyans, about 9% of the country's population, live abroad, but the government did not have an official strategy to engage with them or harness their potential, Oloo said.

"From January to November last year they sent home $114 million [in remittances]," he said. "They are a valued constituency which the government will henceforth closely engage with and seek to advise on how and where to invest these large sums of money."

One way the government will be doing this is through its diplomatic missions abroad, he said.

"Embassies and missions are now mobilising, gathering and reconnecting with highly skilled Kenyans so that they can be shown how to fully participate in development programmes in Kenya," he said.

Publicising investment opportunities:

Many Kenyans in the diaspora have capital to invest but have been provided with little or no information about development projects in Kenya, Oloo said.

The government's new online diaspora registry portal, launched last autumn, will serve as a first step towards connecting Kenyans abroad with various domestic investment opportunities, he said.

Announcing the new diaspora policy in Nairobi, Kenyatta assured citizens living abroad that they would be included in Kenya's national development agenda.

In an effort to maximise the diaspora's financial contributions, Kenya will host the African Institute for Remittances, an African Union Commission initiative tasked with developing the capacity of AU member states and other stakeholders to implement strategies and procedures to use overseas remittances to reduce poverty, Kenyatta said.

The institute, the first of its kind in the world, will be the foundation for harnessing diaspora resources for social and economic development on the continent, Kenyatta said.

Kenya's new diaspora policy shows how qualified and skilled Kenyans can contribute to the development of the country beyond just sending home remittances, said Macharia Munene, professor of history and international relations at United States International University in Nairobi.

"It is a positive step because Kenya had operated for years in an ad hoc manner without such a key document, so there has not been any concerted efforts to address how skilled and qualified Kenyans abroad can contribute to the development of this country's economy without actually having to physically come back home," he said.

The policy will lead to constructive engagement with the diaspora, and will in turn increase funds for economic development, he said.

Macharia advised the government to engage in educational campaigns to encourage Kenyans living abroad to invest in projects with the potential to create jobs, such as commercial real estate construction, investing in the stock markets or agriculture.

Expats seek greater political input:

Many Kenyans in the diaspora have welcomed the new policy, but some say they feel the government is only interested in their money and not in their political and social input in the country's affairs.

Nancy Gitau-Karanja, 47, who works as a nurse in the city of Boston in the United States, said she reviewed the policy online but still has "issues with voting rights, which I expected would be a critical point in engaging with [the] diaspora population".

"It does not offer any timeline through which Kenyans in the diaspora can get their universal right to vote for their representatives in Kenya," she told Sabahi. "Kenyans abroad feel disenfranchised and voiceless because they cannot determine the political destiny in the country."

Gitau-Karanja, who has lived in the United States since 2011, said she wondered how Kenyans abroad were expected to invest their hard-earned money in Kenya when the outcome of their investment lies in the hands of political leaders they did not participate in choosing.

She asked that the policy be amended to include a guaranteed timeline by which citizens abroad can register to vote for the 2017 general elections.

Joshua Mugambi, 44, who holds dual British and Kenyan citizenship and has been working as a manager for a hotel in London since 2007, said the government should be addressing how it will absorb Kenyans who are "homesick and want to return home to contribute to the nation".

"It is like the government wants more and more of Kenyans to go work abroad so that the remittances can increase," Mugambi said, adding that the government's focus should be in creating more jobs at home and coming up with incentives for Kenyans abroad to return.

"Most of the best brains from Kenya are out developing other nations -- but this is not how to develop Kenya," he said. (END)

 

 
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