Kenya’s Vice President Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka brought his presidential campaign to Atlanta on Sunday, May 20, in preparation for Kenya’s 2013 elections as part of a week-long tour including Dallas, Minneapolis and Washington.
Why look for votes 8,000 miles from home?
Kenya’s new constitution, ratified in 2010, has granted all Kenyans living abroad (the Kenyan diaspora) dual-citizenship, giving the expatriates the right to cast their ballot.
That made the receptive crowd of 200 Kenyans gathered at the DoubleTree Hotel in Marietta, still dressed in their Sunday best, possible constituents.
“Anybody born a Kenyan has a right to remain a Kenyan,” said Mr. Musyoka, who praised his country’s constitution, comparing it to that of the U.S. and its founding principles.
“That is what democracy is all about, the ability to listen and make up your mind at the end of the day,” he said.
Mr. Musyoka, an attorney who has been involved in politics for more than 25 years, heads the Orange Democratic Movement-Kenya, also known as the Wiper Democratic Movement.
“The wiper” is the name of the signature greeting of Mr. Musyoka’s party, performed by a vigorous wave with the palm down and the hand sweeping side to side.
The tone of the meeting turned boisterous when an audience member brought up that only three U.S. cities, Los Angeles, New York and Washington, offer polling places.
The vice president promised to put the matter in writing and pass it through government channels when he returned home.
He also urged that Kenyans consider returning to their home country to provide leadership in the new government.
“The people in the diaspora, I want to give you a challenge,” he said. “Please, look at yourselves. Give us 20 professionals to go home, immediately.”
Mr. Musyoka also promised to increase the country’s agricultural production, if elected, to become independent of foreign aid.
“We do not need our friends the Americans to show us how to feed ourselves,” he said.
Another likely presidential candidate, Kenya’s Prime Minister and Orange Democratic Movement party leader Raila Odinga, visited Atlanta less than a month ago, speaking at the city’s World Affairs Council on April 26.
The prime minister and vice president were once political allies, campaigning against current Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki during the 2007 election. Four months before the Dec. 27 election date, however, the men experienced a falling out and ran on separate tickets.
Mr. Musyoka and Mr. Odinga also are opponents in the current presidential race.
Other candidates for the 2013 election include William Ruto and Uhuru Kenyatta, both of whom have been charged by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity related to post-2007 election violence.
Vote monitors alleged fraud during the final count of the election. More than 1,000 Kenyans were killed and another 500,000 displaced in the ethnic hostilities that erupted as the country awaited a decision on its new president.
The Kenyan embassy in Washington estimates 3 million of its citizens now live outside the country. Some left fearing civil unrest, others to pursue economic opportunities abroad.
Many retain ties to their home, however, and send money back to relatives and loved ones.
In 2010, remittances totaled 151 billion Kenyan shillings ($1.8 billion), more than twice the 70 billion shillings ($800 million) declared in 2005, and account for 5.4 percent of Kenya’s gross domestic product.
Kenya’s presidential and parliamentary elections will be held simultaneously, and are scheduled for March 4, 2013.
That Mr. Kenyatta and Mr. Ruto are able to run in the 2013 election while under indictment is a positive sign of the country’s ability to conform to the rule of law as set forth in its new constitution, noted Mr. Musyoka.
“You are now innocent until proven guilty,” he said.