By Makau Mutua
Kenyans in Kenya have a love-hate relationship with the Kenyan diaspora, especially those with dual citizenship.
Let me be clear – there’s more hate than love. Ironically, Kenyans in the diaspora have nothing but love for the country, and their kith and kin back home. It’s a puzzling one-way relationship – Kenyans at home hate us, but we love them.
Sadly, our love is unrequited. It’s like that girl you’ve courted all your life although she wouldn’t look your way, or give you the time of day. Let me revise this unequivocal statement.
Kenyans at home don’t hate everything about us. They love our money. Every time they see us, they look past our humanity and only see dollar signs.
Let’s dig deeper. Discrimination against Kenyans in the diaspora was legalised by the 2010 Constitution and codified in law. The Constitution doesn’t even pretend that diaspora Kenyans are second-class citizens. It provides for their second-class citizenship in black and white.
Most unacceptably, it prohibits diaspora Kenyans with dual citizenship from holding certain elective and appointive offices. This is egregious and intolerable.
The matter has been brought to the fore by the legislature’s bull-headed refusal to clear Mwende Mwinzi, a Kenyan born in the US of a white American mother and a black Kenyan father.
Those who know Ms Mwinzi know that there’s no person who’s more Kenyan than her. She takes a back-seat to no one in her Kenyan-ness.
Let me tell you about Ms Mwinzi. Her mother, Mary Mwinzi, and her father, Maluki Mwinzi, were my teachers. The two were the best teachers I’ve ever had. I babysat Mwende as a kid. Her parents met in America when Mr Mwinzi was in college.
After Ms Mwinzi (Mwende) was born, the family moved to Kenya to build the young country rather than take the easy way out in America. They raised their children in Kenya. Her late father loved Kenya with every fibre of his body. Her mom is a bona fide Kenyaphile.
That’s why Ms Mwinzi (Mwende) speaks impeccable Kikamba. Far much better than me. The parents toiled all their lives for Kenya and its people.
Mr and Mrs Mwinzi never took a single shilling from public coffers, or acquired anything corruptly. Mwende, like her parents, has invested her resources from the United States in Kenya. She’s decided to uplift Mwingi, one of the most challenged regions in Kitui.
Who doesn’t know she single-handedly founded Twana Twitu, the charity that works to provide basic services for Aids orphans?
Like her parents, she’s given to Kenya more than it’s given her. How can she be a second-class citizen with this stellar biography? She didn’t choose to be born in America to a Kenyan father. It’s cruel to deny her the opportunity to serve Kenya in South Korea as Kenya’s ambassador.
Like Ms Mwinzi, most Kenyans make their money in the diaspora the old-fashioned way – they earn it by the brow of their sweat.
While she held comfortable jobs, many Kenyans flip hamburgers or do more menial jobs like nurse’s aides to make ends meet. They save and send money home to invest and help relatives and friends. The vast majority are honest hardworking people just trying to raise their families.
In case you don’t know, Kenyans in the diaspora remit more to the country than it gets from selling coffee, tea, or tourism. In 2018, Kenyan diasporans remitted $2.47 billion or Sh247 billion. More than 45 per cent or Sh111 billion of that amount came from the US and Canada. Diasporan remittances is the largest source of foreign exchange in Kenya.
In Africa, Kenyan diasporans rank third in remittances. Kenyans in the diaspora are a critical constituency for the country’s economy.
During every election cycle, candidates for high office come calling on Kenyans to raise campaign funds, generate buzz, and seek votes. But then they forget us after the elections. This duplicity and hypocrisy must end. You can’t continue to love our money and votes and hate us.
The Building Bridges Initiative must remove the constitutional and legal barriers and prohibitions that make dual citizens second class citizens.
That’s one of the ironclad conditions that diasporans must set to support BBI. Learn from Israel that fully embraces its dual citizens.
The people from whom I come – the Akamba – predate the Kenyan state, a creature of the British imperialists. It’s unfathomable that an imposed state can then declare me – a true son of the soil – a second-class citizen by virtue of my domiciliary in a different country.
It shouldn’t matter how and why we went abroad, or where we were born – as long as we are Kenyan by birth. Disenfranchising us only hurts Kenya, and prevents it from benefitting from our expertise and treasure.
Most of those who’ve looted and pillaged Kenya don’t have dual citizenship. I agree not all diasporans are clean. But full citizenship is their right.
The article was first published in the Daily Nation.