Kenya gears up for major diaspora conference in Nairobi

Chairman of Kenya Diaspora Alliance Dr Shem Ochuodho.

What you need to know:

  • Conference will offer an opportunity for the country to tap into more investment opportunities.
  • The event comes in the backdrop of President William Ruto’s elevation of the diaspora as the 48th county.

Kenyans in the diaspora, under the umbrella of Kenya Diaspora Alliance (KDA) umbrella, have organised a three-day diaspora conference in Nairobi that will host top government officials, local and international investors and county chiefs in a bid to deliberate on the best approach to boost diaspora remittances to spur the country’s economy.

Speaking ahead of the three-day conference that begins on Thursday, KDA chairperson, Dr Shem Ochuodho, said the event spells hope for Kenyans abroad and the government as it will offer an opportunity for the country to tap into more investment opportunities.

The event comes in the backdrop of President William Ruto’s elevation of the diaspora as the 48th county as part of his efforts to address the issues that Kenyans abroad grapple with. 

Q: What’s the significance of the upcoming Kenya Diaspora Homecoming Convention in Nairobi?

A: It has become the premier diaspora event. In the course of the year we do rounds of events mostly outside the country and a few in the country. The import of this event is that it provides opportunity for Kenyans abroad to interact among themselves and with other stakeholders. The stakeholders include government at the two levels as well as the corporates and other institutions. It also enables the diasporas to unite with home and explore opportunities for investment to boost their remittances home.

Q: What is the significance of diaspora remittances to Kenya's economy?

A: It’s very key because this has been one of the major outcomes of every annual convention. We first had this convention in 2014. At that time diasporas were remitting 1 billion dollars every year. We had set a target within five years to see if we could double it to 2 billion dollars. To our pleasant surprise, by 2019 diasporas had surpassed that doubling, it was actually about 2.8 billion dollars.

We now have a new target and our question is how can we double it by the year 2030 to be 6-7 billion dollars per year? We know that only 25 percent of what comes in goes into investments and hard savings. A new target is how do we increase it from 25-30 percent so that more money goes into driving the economy.

Q: What should Kenyans abroad and in the country expect from the conference?

A: This is happening at a time when there’s transition in the administration of the country. For the first time we have a state department for diaspora affairs. We had hoped we would get a full ministry but as it is said half a loaf is better than none. For more than 30 years some of us who have been into this have pushed for that. So we are grateful this happened and happy that the government is supporting this event fully.

Top government officials will grace the event including governors. We are also expecting a Chairperson of Nigeria Diaspora Commission. Those attending will have the opportunity to hear the government's position and policies. We are in touch with the office of the president as well and so we are waiting for signals on that. We are expecting about 50 corporates to attend, among them tier one and two financial banks as well as real estate companies, tech companies as well as security or stock brokerages and academic institutions among others.

Q: Do you think the previous regimes have worked closely with Kenyans in diaspora to improve the value of remittances and create investment opportunities?

A: Diaspora is among President Ruto’s top seven priorities because he repeatedly said it during subsequent state events including in parliament. He went ahead and created a portfolio in the foreign affairs ministry responsible for diaspora.

We are expecting that in the conversation we had with a senior government official, a sessional paper may be required so that the larger issues of diaspora can move to cabinet for consideration and then taken to parliament so that there is also public participation so that they come into law.

Q. What are some of the investment opportunities the conference will be eying?

A: There are about five major areas we will be focusing on; food security and agro processing – we see a major potential., keen to work with other county governments. Two UN agencies have confirmed participation.
Creative art and technology is also key. Other spaces we will be focusing on are universal health coverage, affordable housing, natural resources and the blue economy. These areas have huge investment potential.

Q: What is currently the state of remittances from diaspora and what does it tell?

A: Currently it's about 480 billion shillings. Our estimation is that it should be more. Currently it's only between 5 and 10 percent of the potential. So if we really unlock the potential we can see much more inflows.  We think if it's only like 10 percent, if we were to be able to bring 10 more times, we would be talking of like 4 trillion Kenya shillings which is like our national annual budget. Theoretically this means that over a 3-year period diasporas could take over our loans – these external debts.

Q: What does the future hold for thousands of Kenyans in diaspora should the Kenya Kwanza Government keep the promises it has made to them?

A: I Think things look promising should this Government fulfill its pledges to Kenyans abroad because the diaspora has brought the wherewithal to work with key actors such as the Government and Kenyan community including the mama mbogas. This is because some of the entrepreneurial projects we are working on are targeting them. 

Q: South Africa has changed its visa policies to Kenya and is now allowing Kenyans to visit it visa free for three months as from January next year. What does this mean to Kenyans abroad and in the country?

A: It is extremely a welcomed move and I have hopes that the same can be replicated by other neighbouring jurisdictions. This is because one of our aspirations is to have an integrated Africa. I believe other African heads of states are also going to emulate this because it is the only way to achieve goals set on trade and realizing a prosperous Africa.

Q: Kenya just like other African nations have found themselves sucked in the Russia and Ukraine conflict. How has this affected Kenyans abroad?

A: We have KDA Europe Chapter and one of our affiliate members is the association of Kenyan Women in Scandinavia. They were heavily involved in this regard by working with our ambassador in Stockholm. The conflict has also caused global disruption of supply chains and shortage of food.

Q: The Democratic Republic of Congo joined the East African Community. What are the opportunities it comes with for Kenyans?

A: It has created a great opportunity. I hope other neigbouring countries will also join the commission. The opportunities are huge. Some countries need human capital and Kenya can offer that. For instance, South Sudan people talk about oil yet it has a massive amount of arable land that is ripe for investment once it fully achieves peace.

Q: How best should the Government solve the problems of Kenyan domestic workers in the Middle East?

A: That has been a hot topic that has seized us not only for this time but it was more expounded during Covid time when we had to evacuate Kenyans from not only the Middle East but other parts of the world too.

The Middle East has been attracting skilled and semi-skilled workers. We have worked very closely with the previous Government. The administration tried its best in protecting the interests of Kenyans there but I think much needs to be done.

It was commendable to see that the first working trips for the new foreign affairs CS was to Saudi Arabia and we hope that much is going to be done to cushion Kenyans in those jurisdictions. We had a proposal on how recruitment agents and Kenyans seeking jobs abroad can be engaged. We submitted it to the previous Government and we hope that it will be looked into. This will be effective because our greatest export is labour.