I beg to differ with Isaac Kinitys observations articulated in his article titled No war in Kenyan Diaspora which appeared on this space on April 24th, 2012. I am a strong proponent of cohesion within the Kenya Diaspora community, and more specifically among the Kenyan Diaspora in the US. It is from this perspective that I pen this opinion.
To elucidate, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, there are about six hundred (600) Kenya Diaspora organizations in the US alone that are coalesced around various private and public interests, some duplicative. These organizations include churches, NGOs, tribal groupings, and etcetera. Many will agree that there is no justification whatsoever for such proliferation.
In fact, failure by the Diaspora to speak in one voice has ended up hurting the Diaspora agenda instead of helping it. Our fragmentation is in deed counter intuitive. This is because if Diaspora Kenyans spoke with one voice, we stand a better chance of getting Diaspora concerns heard and taken into account.
The current proliferation of Diaspora organizations is untenable and cannot be justified as it only serves to ensure that the Diaspora agenda is not being pushed effectively. We have so many Kenya Diaspora organizations all claiming to represent the entire Kenyan Diaspora sending their own and mixed messages to the embassy and to Nairobi, that in fact, many in government do not know which group is which and which truly speaks for the Diaspora.
Some of these organizations have hyped themselves, organized conferences and invited government dignitaries to their conferences just for the dignitaries to get here and realize that the organizations are not truly representative. At this time when important decisions affecting the Diaspora are going to be made, such as on the issue of taxation of dual citizens, it is even more imperative that Diaspora Kenyans speak with one voice.
In a nutshell, this is what H.E. Ambassador Elkannah Odembo has been saying all along. So when Mr. Kinity complains that H.E. Ambassador Elkannah Odembo refuses to meet with some Kenyan groups that have sought audience with him, and then conveniently fails to disclose the real rationale behind the ambassadors refusal, he comes across as disingenuous.
I have, like many others listened and understood the rationale behind his refusal and I am afraid that the ambassador is right on this one. First, if a group is a private interest group, he is not obligated to meet with its leaders. If the ambassador was to take time to meet leaders of each Kenyan Diaspora private interest group in the US, and meets one group everyday, it would take him every working day of a year and a half to meet all of them.
And because these groups have varying interests and motives, he would also be trying to reconcile their interests to the larger Kenyan Diaspora interest. When the ambassador insists that he will not meet tribal groupings, he should be lauded and not vilified for it. I do not see anything disagreeable about discouraging tribal groupings. In deed, no Kenyan should entertain such groupings if we are to move forward in a genuinely cohesive fashion.
But like is typical of most of us we must read mischief into everything, and so we vilify our ambassador for calling for unity. The insinuation that ambassador Odembo frequents Tallahassee because he goes to visit a particular ethnic group is in bad taste and a flat out lie. In fact, the ambassador has visited Boston more times than he has visited any other US City including Tallahassee. Mr. Kinity very conveniently omitted mentioning that fact so as to negatively portray the ambassador.
While Mr. Kinity makes a valid argument that immigration and settling patterns of Kenyans in the US, have through no ones fault proceeded along tribal lines, it is still not an excuse to have a delegation to the embassy from one state comprised of 90 percent people from one ethnic group. In each state in the US, you will find people from at least no less than three Kenyan communities.
However small the presence of some communities in some states is, the composition of each delegation should reflect composition in proportion to the numbers of each community in the state, at the very least. In addition, any group seeking recognition should also be representative in terms of religion, gender and age. Unfortunately, the current constitution of a majority of Kenyan organizations in the US indicates that we in the Diaspora have miserably failed at cohesion.
In this regard, there is a rudimentary maxim of social foundations of law that stipulates that when people refuse to follow norms of acceptable social behavior, a function of the law is to force them to do so. While I do not recommend a measure as drastic as a law to force cohesion among Kenyans in the Diaspora, I believe that the government of Kenya through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Kenya embassies and consulates abroad should make it a government policy to work only with organizations that pass the test of being truly representative.
For any leader to deserve recognition as a Kenya Diaspora leader, he or she must be a true leader, with a verifiable track record of reaching out to other Kenyans in the Diaspora that are not members of his ethnic group, religion, gender, or age group. May be then, we in the Diaspora will be forced to clean up our act and work together.
Moreover, I take issue with any so called Diaspora organization that sidelines any segment of Kenyans in the Diaspora that it claims to represent. A case in point is the recent Kenyan Diaspora Development Network which recently held a conference in Boston MA. This group was formed because its founders disagreed with some aspects of the very successful Kenya Diaspora Conference of October 2011 spearheaded by the Kenya Embassy in Washington D.C.
The organization started off by sidelining and bashing the Kenya embassy and all those who had something to do with it, while at the same time trashing other Kenya Diaspora organizations such as the Kenya Diaspora Advisory Council of N.E region. In a last minute disingenuous and desperate move, its officials invited Kenya embassy officials and those who work with it just to fill in the chairs at its conference, after it realized that turn out at its conference was going to be low.
The reason why I, and perhaps many other US Diaspora Kenyans did not attend the KDDN conference is because there is a widespread belief among Kenyans that another Kenyan Diaspora organization is not the answer to Diaspora concerns. If Mr. Kinity, one of the key players in KDDN is genuine about pursuing a Diaspora agenda, he should like all other peace-loving and reasonable Kenyans spend his time contributing positively to shaping issues affecting the Kenyan Diaspora.
In this regard, Nairobi formulated a draft policy on the Diaspora touching on matters of great concern to the Kenyan Diaspora. What H.E. Ambassador Odembo did was to advocate so that Diaspora Kenyans get to have a say in determining the contents of the policy. All Kenyans have been invited to read the draft policy at www.kenyaembassy.com and comment. This is a great chance for us in the Diaspora to make our voices heard because speaking through 600 mouthpieces will not do it!
Coming to the issue of whether or not there is war among Kenyans in the Diaspora and the need for the peace accord launched by H.E. Ambassador Odembo, Mr. Kinitys thinking is too simplistic. He fails to acknowledge that peace does not only mean the absence of war.
Peace also means the state of living in friendship, harmony, tranquility and coexisting in a state or relationship of non-belligerence or concord. Against the backdrop of 2007/2008 PEV in Kenya, it is apparent that while for a long time it was thought that ethnic groups in Kenya were living peacefully with each other, there was underlying discord and disharmony.
This is the reason why when emotions were fanned by politicians, an all out war erupted among certain communities or against certain communities. All H.E. Odembo is asking is for Diaspora Kenyans to maintain harmony and refuse to be wrung into controversies that could lead to a repeat of 2007/2008 PEV. I fail to see anything reprehensible about what the ambassador is calling for.
As far as I can remember, Kenyan leaders have always gone around the country asking people to live in peace. They do not do this because Kenyans are at war but rather to encourage people to continue living in peace. No one should be bashed for preaching peace unless there is a sinister agenda at play.
Lastly, on the issue of Hon. Onyonka not being received at Logan, I must say that neither I nor Mr. Kinity is competent to cast aspersions either way. We are neither privy to any communications between the embassy and Mr. Onyonka beforehand nor to the internal protocol within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs regarding visits by Kenyan officials to the US.
The ambassador does not have to explain to Mr. Kinity and his ilk anything concerning this matter. Moreover, Hon. Onyonka is not complaining and if he is, he would not channel his complaint through the media his decorum would not allow it!. Furthermore, the last time I checked, Mr. Kinity was not his spokesman. If he is, he should have stated that he was speaking in that capacity!.
And for those who have their claws out ready to pounce, I am not an ODM, PNU, WIPER, NARC, KANU, FORD or what have you operative. I am simply a peace loving Kenyan advocating sanity in this galore of renegade Kenyan Diaspora groupings that have become a hindrance to a positive Kenyan Diaspora agenda.
Regina Njogu, Esq.
Attorney and Counselor at law
Burtonsville, MD 20866
Related story- No war in the Diaspora.
The opinions in this commentary are solely those of the writers and should not be taken as the views of Diaspora Messenger