Monday, January 17, 2005

Is Kenya Taking Full Advantage of Its Diaspora?

> ----- Original Message -----
> From: Al Kags
> To: Sankie's Dad
> Subject: Re: Brand Kenya
> Date: Thu, 4 Nov 2004 15:08:31 +0300
> >
> > Hi Oloo,
> >
> > This is just to inform you that your article was carrien in the papaer
> > on Monday.
> >
> > Cheers
> >

To: "Al Kags"
Subject: Re: Brand Kenya
Date: Thu, 07 Oct 2004 08:05:13 -0500


Sasa Al:

I have written the piece for your column in the Standard- not
surprisingly, it is over by 256 words. Do with it what you will. I have also sent it as as an attachment.

Is Kenya Taking Full Advantage of Its Diaspora?

By Onyango Oloo in Montreal

A common refrain that often greets Kenyans abroad from Kenyans at home is:

“Come back home. What are you doing out there?”

This is often accompanied by an undercurrent of profound disapproval.
Underlying this attitude is an attitude carried over from decades
past that assumes that Kenyans who are outside the country are away
from Kenya temporarily- as students, as exiles, as visitors, as
expatriates and overseas workers and that sooner or later they are
bound to “come back home”.

Well, reality check number one: most of them are not coming back.

But closely related to that is reality check number two: most of them
consider themselves Kenyans FIRST, irrespective of whatever legal
status they may acquire in whichever country they may be domiciled

Depending on who you talk to, there could be up to a MILLION Kenyans
who are scattered in ALMOST ONE HUNDRED countries around the world.
There are Kenyans in Vanuatu and Burkina Faso; Kenyans in South Korea
and Austria; Kenyans in Mexico and New Zealand; there are Kenyan
sub-communities clustered in their THOUSANDS in such hubs like
London, Boston, Toronto, Dallas-Fort Worth; New York-Jersey City; St.
Paul-Minneapolis; you will find Kenyan associations in Germany,
France and the United Arab Emirates.

Who are the Kenyans living abroad?

Well, there is an old Gikuyu speaking medical doctor who has been
living in RURAL northern Quebec since the late 1950s; there are three
twenty-something Kenyan women sharing an apartment on the outskirts
of Oxford- but they are immigrant workers, not undergraduate
students; there is a veteran Kenyan sociology professor who has
taught at a Milwaukee university since the seventies; there is a
bunch of Kenyan social justice activists who have made Stockholm
their home since the early nineties; there is a Kenyan millionaire
who has made it big as a businessman in Atlanta; in the same city
there is a Kenyan woman who has a growing church that caters to
hundreds of Kenyans living in Georgia; there is an entire
neighbourhood in Mississauga, Ontario that is almost completely
populated by well to do Kenyan professionals of Goan extraction;
thirty minutes away in the neighbouring Toronto suburb of Etobicoke
you will find two high rises dominated by Kenyan families of Somali
ethnic extraction…

Kenyans in the Diaspora come in literally all shapes and sizes,
comprise all the major racial, ethnic, religious and regional groups.

Being a Kenyan abroad for almost twenty years, I can report first
hand that we all love Kenya. We die for things Kenyan. Our houses are
COVERED with Kenyan flags, Kenyan artifacts, Kenyan household
products and suffused with the ambience of Kenyan music; we jump at
the first opportunity to go to a Kenyan gathering- whether this be a
birthday party for a two year old dominated by adults in their
thirties and forties or a celebration of Madaraka, Jamhuri or any of
the Kenyan national days.

Yet we do have a mighty beef with those who promote Kenya overseas
from back home. We see our country sold as a country full of
giraffes, zebras, lions, elephants and breath-taking lakes and
mountains- nothing wrong with that; We hear of intermittent trade
fairs in this or that city, occasionally our own cities staged by
visiting, Nairobi based Kenyan government officials who target people
in the countries we live in and almost completely ignore our
presence; we feel that we are taken for granted a lot.

Now this could be a perception more than the prevailing reality
because we do know of concerted attempts by Kenyan diplomats, tourist
board employees and other visiting compatriots to involve members of
the Kenyan Diaspora in the business of selling Kenya.

Unfortunately perception is often the reality.

I have been hearing of the concept of Brand Kenya for the last few
months and it is something that has intrigued and excited me because
here at last is an attempt to demonstrate that we as Kenyans see
ourselves as having lots to give, share, market and sell as opposed
to being the perpetual consumers of products and services that
emanate anywhere but Kenya.

Kenyans in the Diaspora are integral to the success of the Brand
Kenya campaign. We have been selling Kenya ever since we landed in
Canada, the United States, Norway, Italy, India, South Africa, Japan
or whichever country you happen to find us. We do not need to be
convinced to market and promote our countries-many of us make a point
of walking around as mobile advertisements for our country. I have
stopped counting the number of times strangers have stopped to greet
me in Kiswahili in downtown Montreal because they took a quick glance
at the strap on my wristwatch that consists of intricate beadwork
that reconstructs the Kenyan flag-a proud possession I purchased in
October last year from a Maasai hawker during a brief stop at Mtito
Andei on my way to visit a friend of mine in Wundanyi.

Kenyans in the Diaspora have lots of ideas, resources and contacts to
share in the Brand Kenya campaign.

The key is NOT to take us for granted.

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