17 November 2012

Kenya: Even We in the Diaspora 'Tunaomba Serikali'


Really? The Diaspora wants the Kenya government to help them? Help them vote from the comfort of their homes? Really? Place a polling station on Highway 92 in Woodstock, GA where I live so that I don't have to travel to cast my ballot in the 2013 election? Really?

The Diaspora is out of control - by the way - I can only speak about the U.S. Diaspora because I live in Atlanta, have lived here for 21years, and know nothing about what's going on in other Diaspora communities.

For months, I have been totally irritated, incensed, and even disgusted by the way in which we carry ourselves and make demands of the Kenya government and other Kenya-based organizations that try to engage us.

Don't get me wrong. I absolutely understand the need and desire to remain a part of the society in which we were raised. Let me state for the record that I love Kenya.

I love the land, I love the people, I love a lot of the culture, and I love being in the country with every essence of my being. For a long time I was not able to express my love until one sunny, Tuesday afternoon in April 2008 when I landed at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

Taxiing down the runway, I looked from my window seat at the savannah which is the Nairobi National Park, at the Kenya flag blowing in the wind, and at the tail of a Kenya Airways plane waiting for a gate and thought about what Black, White, Red, and Green represented.

All I could think was... Black for the people, red for the blood that was shed for our freedom from the colonialist, green for the land, and white for peace and unity... This was the land where I was born and if I could, I would get out of the plane to kiss it... I felt love... But I digress...

I suspect that many in the Diaspora have the same love for Kenya, and for that reason they are passionate about seeing only good coming to her.

Unfortunately, this love and passion frequently sounds like arrogance and entitlement. I have been a part of many, many Kenyan organizations in Atlanta.

Most have been productive, but lately I am bothered by the idea that Kenya owes us something because we are Kenyans living in America. A whole lot is getting on my nerves and bear with me while I vent!

There is this crazy idea that the Kenya Government owes every Kenyan a voting booth that is convenient to them! Oh to hear the Kenyans in Atlanta talking about what a hardship it will be to travel to New York, Washington, DC or Los Angeles to cast their ballot. Oh my goodness...

"How do you expect us to pay $200 for a plane ticket? What about our children? Who will take care of them while we travel? Do you understand that we will need a hotel room for the duration of our stay?

Are you aware that the American economy has been in a freefall since 2008? And if they are lucky enough to have a job, are you aware that we work double shifts and will be working on March 4th 2013?

Why can't the Kenya government add more cities to the list of places where we vote? I know the Kenya government can afford it! They just don't want to do it! "

This is the crazy-talk that we hear from Kenyans in the U.S. Firstly, dear Kenyan, please understand that Diaspora does not mean United States! Diaspora is a word that refers to anyone who is settled far from their ancestral homeland, and knowing Kenyans, there is probably at least one settled in every one of the almost 200 countries around this world.

Should we therefore have a polling station in every one of these 200 countries in order to fulfill our constitutional right to vote? Remember, the constitution is not just for the Diaspora, but for every Kenyan (in Kenya and around the world).

Secondly, the idea that the Diaspora is owed something because of their financial remittances to Kenya is probably one of the most ridiculous notions I have heard.

It reminds me of a dysfunctional family. A family where the parents have fallen on hard times and the child who benefited from good times is now responsible for the major financial obligations and because the roles are now reversed, the child becomes disrespectful towards the parents because have a paycheck and the parents don't.

Diaspora, access to money does not make you the parent. Access to money only gives you greater responsibility. The ability to build Kenya's economy is a privilege.

"To whom much is given, much is expected". Thirdly, Kenya is in a very delicate position right now. Less than 5 years ago, the country went through a violent election.

An election whose results were contested because the organizations that were designed to protect the election process failed. We now have a chance to right those wrongs but as usual, we are so focused on ourselves that we cannot step back and see that Kenya needs us.

That Kenya needs us to focus on "the least of these". At those who are likely to die if one of the politicians contests the election. How is it possible that we are so myopic and self-centered?

Why don't we see that we should stand up for Kenya and say that not on our watches will violence be a part of the election? Why can't we appreciate that a simple mistake in the voter registration rolls can taint the entire election?

That electronic voting has not yet been perfected and can forever damage the credibility of the Electoral Commission? Why can't we appreciate that democracy takes time?

We should never purse our lips to say "hata sisi Diaspora tunaomba serikali..." (Kiswahili for, we would like to request government assistance).

Let's leave that phrase to the uneducated who do not understand that the government cannot solve all their problems. We should be ashamed of ourselves for forgetting that people died so that we could have the right to vote.

That people died so that we could have this new constitution. That some Kenyans affected by the last violent elections have never been able to return to their homes.

The Diaspora has opportunity, talent, inspiration, education, and so much that the average Kenyan will never have... Let us stop it! It is time to be the beacon on the hill that Kenya wants to see, rather, that Kenya needs to see and emulate.

It's time for us to sacrifice and if it means that this election will be symbolic for us, so be it. Instead of whining, call your boss today and ask for the days around March 4, 2013 off so you can travel together to vote.

Think of innovative ideas to get to New York, Washington, and Los Angeles. Let's take the time to educate the next generation about our history, how far we have come, and where we can go if we put Kenya first! We have an opportunity... Let's not waste it...

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