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TheRootDC
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Posted at 08:57 PM ET, 10/07/2011

Members of the Kenyan diaspora aim for change

Hundreds of members of the Kenyan diaspora are gathering in Washington this weekend to hear a plea from their government to buy government bonds and invest in their home country’s infrastructure.

High-ranking members of the government are flying in to make presentations in which they will argue that it’s safe for Kenyan expatriates to invest their money back home and to expect a hefty return.

It’s the first gathering of its kind and long overdue, said Andrew Mweu Kamia, a native of Kenya who has lived in the United States for 17 years. “It should have been done a long time ago,” said Kamia, a pastor in Baltimore. “For the first time, the diaspora and the embassy are working together. This is a good beginning.”

There are nearly 2.5 million Kenyans living abroad, and the United States is home to nearly 500,000 of them, the largest chunk outside Kenya. The effort to woo them began with the passage last year of a new constitution that gives expats the right to vote.

Now, the country wants them to do more.
Map of Kenya. (Gene Thorp - The Washington Post)

The remittances they send back home account for about $1 billion U.S. dollars, said Elkanah Odembo, Kenya’s U.S. ambassador, during an interview this week at the embassy.

“We want to move our country from underdeveloped and poor to middle and high-income,” Odembo said. “The idea is that, economically, we want an average of 10 percent annual growth.”

To get there, the country must show the world — and it’s own people — that it is stable. In 2007, the country was pushed to the brink of civil war after disputed election results led to post-election violence. Some of those responsible are before the International Criminal Court.

Odembo said the focus now is economic growth. Before the violence, the annual growth rate rose from 1.5 percent in 2003 to 7.1 percent in 2007. It plunged after the violence but has returned, he said, to 5 percent.

“When we get our politics right, the economy responds,” Odembo said, noting that special bonds will be offered to Kenyans abroad.

Kamia, of Baltimore, said that the new effort is a good one but is missing a key ingredient: African Americans.

“They need to move beyond the Kenyan diaspora so many African American businesses can invest and be part of the global partnership,” said Kamia, who is part of that effort in the D.C. region. “We can do more when these two groups are working together.”

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