Saturday, September 20, 2008



September 20, 2008
The Standard

By Fred Kapondi

My encounter and discussions with Kenyans in the US and a mini political tourist experience of America last month challenged the popular perception of Kenyans abroad as merely exhibits of the "African brain drain" on the one hand, and the US as a self-seeking moral bulldozer fundamentally deficient in progressive lessons in its national culture.

Despite their marginalisation, Kenyans in the US are remarkably up to date on happenings in the country more than some of the elite who reside here. That includes a reasonable fraction of those who formulate policy.

The information they gather constitutes a basis for educated and inclusive discussion with greater depth than the characteristic local elite ‘over-a-beer’ exchanges.

The fertility of their intellectual engagements on issues is boosted by the compelling American reading culture.

Recollection of what Barack Obama made, over $4 million, from the publication of his two books suffices to clear any doubts about the authenticity of my assertion.

Unfortunately, Kenya has no policy that enables it to gain from its Diaspora. Political appointments have no room for ‘our brainy people out there’. In the Internet era, we have no excuse for failing to create space for their role. If the success of a nation is the sum of the efforts of her people, then a critical part of our capacity lies unutilised.

We could constitute advisory consortiums, voluntary or otherwise, to inform policy formation. As we deal with crises, which range from conflicts on land to disastrous strikes in learning institutions, the vast global experience that resides more in the intellectual reservoirs of our people out there is denied space in governance processes.

Committed workers

New ministries charting new paths stand to immensely gain from this intellectual catchment area. This includes the ministries of Planning and National Development and Nairobi Metropolitan Development. The ministries of Lands, National Heritage and Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs fall in the latter category.

This erroneous outlook is a function of the misconception that emanates from the concept of ‘brain drainage’. Just as a river irreversibly carries down the drain its helpless cargo, the planes have irretrievably taken away our brainy citizens abroad, reads the creed.

We must come to terms with the contradiction that is evident in the ‘drain’ analogy with respect to the ‘to and fro’ free flow of ideas in the Internet era. Mr Maina Kiai’s patriotic work as chair of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights after quitting his US job is a pregnant pointer to the need to consider scouting for civil servants and ideas far afield.

Evidently, Americans love their country much more than most of our privileged citizens. It takes more than delivery of services for one to love and identify with a country.

I learned that the American psyche is weaved in their deep sense of history.

All their heroes’ statues are positioned in strategic places with engraved poignant quotes.

Our Nairobi streets, though named, lack in similar inscriptions and hence communicate nothing to the young generations.