By Peter “Dj Xpect”Kerre
“Just how deep is your access to the Kenyan community in the USA? Do you think you really know? Are you sure? 100% sure?” That is a serious question the Kenyan embassy to the US should be asked. I feel tempted to accuse the Kenyan embassy in theUSAof negligence in reaching out to and serving Kenyans in this country, but then I refrain and ask myself, “Maybe they just do not know how to really get to majority of the Diaspora out here?” Well….no. There is no letting them off the hook. The Kenyan Embassy has way less outreach to and even influence over the Kenyan community in the US than they believe and/or are leading Kenyan government officials and politicians to believe and I will share with you my opinion why this is so, as well as why it may be a ticking time bomb.
First, let me begin by defining the process in which the embassy has been seen to reach out to the Kenyans in the US. The Kenya Embassy has established contacts with different Diaspora Kenyan Organizations and Churches spread across the US. It is these organizations they contact when they want to initiate meetings in the respective cities, or whenever a politician is in town. I will call these (Church and Kenyan Orgs) the first shift. Some of these organizations are old and some are new. These organizations’ leadership consists of mostly older Kenyans. To give them props, they do indeed have quite some clout but mostly among the church goers and family Kenyans.
The downside of the first shift is that many of these organizations, and even churches might have began with good intent but have been turned into fronts for political and tribal alliances. It doesn’t take that long of being a member of one to realize that this is an ODM leaning organization or a PNU leaning organization. Some organizations’ members are very brazen about this and do not hide it. Many of them are also currently embroiled in internal disputes as their board members, whom I mentioned to be older Kenyans, try to run the organizations with an old school Autocratic style of leadership. It is also not hard to notice that despite having women on their boards, there are barely any of these organizations with a Kenyan lady as head of the board. Before I am accused of witch-hunting, let me clarify that this does not apply to all Diaspora based Kenyan organizations, just majority of them.These are the go-to folks of the embassy. Most of these senescent relationships were built in pre-dot com societies, and have continued to live along.
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 2nd and 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. 2ndshift 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.
For most, their only connection with other Kenyans is through facebook and/or twitter. 2nd shifters are extremely aware of the happenings back in Kenya and usually tend to be very active in online forums that not only discuss current affairs, but also politics. They have been vocal for years online with limited effect however based on the global tide of social media activism, this 2nd shift is beginning to group up and formalize their interactions with the hope of having more impact. The conveners in the 2nd shift tend to be bloggers, scholars, and the ever growing popular online radio stations. If you speak to the 2nd and 3rd shift Diaspora Kenyans and ask them about decisions being made on their behalf by people claiming to be spokespersons for them, they will not hide their disgust at the mis-representation because they are fully aware of current shortcomings. I personally attended a meeting between a large Kenyan delegation that included President Kibaki during the annual United Nations general assembly, and I actually was not aware of the event until a 1st shift Diaspora acquaintance notified me.
I was mortified when at the end of the meeting, the lady chosen to speak on behalf of the Diaspora broke out into worship and praise for president Kibaki and the ministers, telling them how much we love them and all the wonderful things they are doing for us. She raised no concerns or recommendations on our behalf. I was to later find out that diasporans chosen to speak at these events are thoroughly vetted so they can prevent someone from telling them how we really feel, and this doesn’t necessarily have to be negative, but just that they’d prefer to let someone ready to kiss major behind. Worship sans criticism
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.
Additionally, they asked why one would have to join an organization in order to have their voice or opinions heard. Why not offer different channels which are more aligned with newer technology as a means to get out to the masses? An 18 year old college freshman in Washington DC is an adult Kenyan just as the 52 year old Kenyan businessman. You cannot tell this 18yr old young adult that in order for their voice to be heard, they have to align themselves with a local organization and have to attend their meetings in order to chip in. It’s like telling Justin Beiber that for his music to be heard, he has to sing Frank Sinatra-esque music. This 18yr old would rather have a line of communication within a preferred medium of his or her choice, probably facebook in this case.
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.
As an example, former Kenyan Ambassador to the UN, Hon. Zachary Muita, was a well loved man by tri-state residents. Realizing that social gatherings were embodied into Kenyan culture, he often threw social gathering events at ‘Kenya House’ in New York and the result was very solid relations with the community as well as him being well informed on what was happening on the ground all the way from the street level up. The numbers that the third shift can pull out to an event are staggering. A first shift congregation can bring out about 100 folks while a 3rd shift gathering in the same city brings out about 400 Kenyans. How do you get to the 3rd shift? Very simple….the DJs and the promoters.
I could easily provide a list of 30 ‘must have’ names of Kenyan Diaspora DJs and Promoters whom if were to all send out an e-mail or text, you are guaranteed to have reached almost 90% of the Kenyans in the US. These Djs and promoters aggressively hustle for their events and to that extent, have a foot in each shift. They know the 1st shifters, the 2nd shifters, and the 3rd shifters. They throw events on a weekly basis and know the well being of hundreds of Kenyans within a certain radius of the cities they live in.
The 3rd shift have major outreach to masses locked down, as evident by pulling together 20,000 Kenyans during the Las Vegas rugby sevens even, and thousands the Dallas Memorial reunion, Jersey and Kansas July 4th events, Washington DC and West Coast Labor Day events, name it. Tell me when, if ever a US Kenya embassy event has brought out more than 1,000 Kenyans. The role that the 3rd shift coordinators i.e. Djs & Promoters play is so large that their role usually expands beyond leisure. Many times there is an emergency or bad situation in the community, they have also had to step in as facilitators to bail some out, arrange funerals for others, and even work on looking for family connections.
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 3rdshifts 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.
When asked this question, too many embassy officials respond saying that it is the people not reaching out to them. What they forget is that they are being paid to reach out to, serve, and represent the Kenyan Diaspora. It is very important that this message get out sooner than later, because as we approach a year in which the Diaspora will be able to vote for the first time ever, we now receiving crucial visits like from bodies like the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, and they are making their city to city visits probably based off feedback given by the embassy, whom as pointed out, have less outreach than they are aware of.
It is for this very lack of outreach that the Kenyan embassy to the USA is largely unaware that a large number of diasporans are unhappy about their service shortcomings (most notoriously being simple things like lack of courtesy and effective response from the embassy when contact is made seeking information or help) and there are tremors in the e-world about potential mass action, which would be shameful to them. For a very long time now, some of us have been getting by using the traditional ‘brother looks out for brother’ help support system whereby we look out for each other even in matters that should be handled by the consulate, but the masses are growing restless. With hot issues such as the probability of the Kenyan Diaspora voting, the diasporans are getting more vigilant and are growing restless about lack of proper communication because many, especially from the 2nd shift feel left out.
It is for this reason that we have formed a new facebook group in the last few days called “Kenya Diaspora Vote” which has over 1000 members and growing, to once again fill in the void by doing work which someone somewhere is being paid a salary for, and give the forgotten diasporans a location to attain information related to the Diaspora voting process in 2012. It is essential for the Kenyan government, represented by the embassy officials out here to tap into these three shifts to strengthen the derelict ties to the greater Diaspora community and address several ongoing concerns including Diaspora-embassy relations as well as concerns on our interests back inKenya. Don’t forget that these very Diaspora are the largest source of revenue for the country at this moment through remittances, and if they feel they are not being adequately represented, they could ignite mass action that would have drastic effects ranging from small protests all the way up to regime change, after all the Arab spring was born off facebook. I conclude by applauding all individuals, organizations, churches, and entities that nevertheless are doing the best they can to unite and keep the Kenyan Diaspora informed on affairs that relate to them. Kudos!
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Author Peter“Dj Xpect”Kerre is a DJ/Activist/Scholar based in New York City, USA. He is the 2011 recipient of the ‘Peace Initiative” Jamhuri Award as well as the 2011 recipient of the “Spirit of the Moran” African Award. DJ Xpect is also a member of the Reverend Al. Sharpton’s National Action Network. He also heads aKtive, a global Kenya Advocacy Group
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