Diasporas and their home governments: The case of Kenya

Disclaimer: I am not heavily involved in any diasporic or civic communities, observations here are anectodal. 

Over on ohh pete, Kenyan activist DJ blogger (check his bio) has a thought provoking article up, lamenting the state of relations between the Kenyan embassy in the United States and their US diaspora population. He categorizes the diaspora community into three blocks, – a traditional church and family community, social media, and the nightlife (i.e. party circuit).  His focus is on the latter two categories:

There are two forgotten shifts in the Kenyan Diaspora that represent majority of Kenyans in the USA. 2nd shift is the social media shift and 3rd shift is the nightlife shift. I have chosen to list 2nd and 3rd shift together because they usually share the same folks. Despite consisting of majority of the Kenyan Diaspora, most of the 2ndand 3rd shift folks barely know of any existence of the Kenyan Embassy save for what they read in the newspaper. When I say ‘barely know of’, what I mean is that the embassy plays almost no role in their life, and this is not by choice. As I mentioned above, the Kenyan embassy has been so traditional in its methodology of reaching out to the Kenyan Diaspora that they have a false sense of how many Diasporans they have access to. 2nd shift Diaspora Kenyans also tend to include majority of the students, most of whom flew to the US straight from home and enrolled in a local college in either a small or large town.

Definitely I agree with the virtual zero presence on social media–but in defense of the embassy, I’d say that this is a problem with many public institutions.  

Pete continues: 

The big question then is why the 2nd and 3rd shift diasporans do not join the 1st shift diasporans so as to keep abreast of community happenings? Well many of them will reply and tell you that they keep off because they have attended some meetings and felt unwelcome. “I would definitely love to go to a church mainly frequented by Kenyans in my city but how will I feel welcome if during and after the service they only speak in vernacular language? I only speak English and Swahili”, told me one young lady. Her sentiments were echoed by almost five other random Kenyans I asked and they felt the same about Diaspora organizations, though for the most part many of them had never heard of any Diaspora Kenyan organizations.

This is something I have definitely noticed in the Kenyan diaspora, there is a strong religious bent in Pete’s first scene, which lets face it, attracts a certain type of crowd, that is not necessarily representative of the overall demographic.  Nothing wrong with those that are religious, but it leaves out huge chunks of a population, many of them in his third circuit:

The 3rd shift hands down is the one shift that contains the greatest access the Kenyan Diaspora. The 3rd shifters go to school, they work, they live their separate lives, and many are church goers too (simply attend service and leave), but the strongest way they keep up with Kenyan tradition is through partying and nightlife activity. Unless you have been living under a rock, partying is tied into Kenyan culture. It is no secret that we enjoy getting our groove on and socializing. Kenyans are even known to make big business deals over a few cold ones at preferred locals. In the same way you could call on the embassy to embrace new technology and social media as a means of reaching the masses, they should have already by now embraced our affinity for social gatherings to get to the masses.

Ah, there’s a lot of insight that one can unpack from here.  I’ll just say that first, this and the 1st circuit are a totally different crowd in my experience.  In fact, many in the 1st circuit would probably feel (again intentionally or unintentionally) that they are “above” partying as described here.  Second, on the social media front,  I would not be surprised if it has the most disproportionate ratio of official staff per Kenyan expatriate population in the US.  That’s not hyperbole by the way, there’s A LOT of Kenyans in the USA. It could just simply be a lack of resources at the embassy.  One way around this is if there was network–and this may already exist–of what Malcom Gladwell calls connectors, or what is known in communication theory as opinion leaders.  That might be a more effective and manageable population to interact with and Pete does indeed emphasize on that point in his post.  However, it would need probably three or four more staff at the embassy tasked specifically with communication and social media strategies. I suspect the bodies simply aren’t there at this time.  Pete offers some advice: 

If there is to be effective outreach to the Kenyan Diaspora, the Kenyan government must have a system in place to reach all organs of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd shifts of the global Kenyan Diaspora. These shifts exist all over the world. The whole talk of ‘We have a facebook page’ will not suffice. Many corporations and organizations create facebook pages to save face and act like they are adapting to social media but what good is the facebook page or twitter account if you do not know how to use it? Such social media mechanisms have to be managed professionally. Communications and interactions should be documented and feedback sought. It is the embassy’s responsibility to step out of the box to reach out and try to find out where Kenyans are, how they are living, where they socialize and network.

This is key, and his distinction between ‘being on social media’ and how you use social media is something I’ve wondered about too. Social media is about interaction, facebook is not just a bulletin board and twitter is not just a glorified news feeds, but that’s how many public institutions use them. 

My last comment Pete or others may not agree with, but I’d argue that this Kenyan diaspora–Embassy–Kenya Government interactions doesn’t even have to be politically oriented.  It will often be for sure, but it doesn’t have to be.  I know many Kenyans that are not particularly political people, but are still interested in pop culture in the country, or maybe they have a special talent, etc.  Such people dont’ have to be left out of networks–and actually probably many of them fall in Pete’s 3rd circuit.  

Anyway, the entire post is worth reading whether you’re Kenyan or not, if you’re interested in activism, diasporas or social media there’s a lot of value in that post.  Here’s a new facebook initiative that Pete’s started. Pete’s started: http://facebook.com/aktive254





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