On November 14th, Kenyans in the diaspora woke up to the sweet sound of good news. One of us, Mwende Mwinzi, had won a battle fought hard and tenaciously against sleek and slippery cats of the political jungle that is Kenya. These were Members of Parliament, some of them suspected to be dual citizens, who had determined that Ms. Mwinzi must relinquish her American citizenship in order to serve as Kenya’s envoy to South Korea.
What a slap in the face that requirement was! But the courts found that this demand by the vetting committee was not in line with the constitution. Mwende can be any one of us, except she has worn her Kenyan patriotism on her forehead daringly, consistently and without apology. Her resume and accomplishments for and in Kenya are a matter of public record.
Like most diaspora Kenyans, she has her own family in the US, and it is inhumane to ask any Kenyan to cut off ties with family in order to serve. Her victory is ours too. It is an acknowledgement that Kenyans everywhere deserve a chance to use their God-given abilities to serve and thrive. It is a chance that we can pass on to generations of Kenyans to come.
What does this victory mean for diaspora Kenyans going forward? It gives us hope that the constant agitation we raise against attempts at excluding fellow Kenyans from civic and leadership participation is never in vain. It gives us hope that the yet unrealized battle to implement diaspora voting rights for all Kenyans abroad is a victory awaiting around the corner.
It reminds us that agitation starts in the mind of just one unsettled soul that will not take an injustice sitting down. Often, this sense of agitation is shared by many when the issue is about the exclusion of a people. But when one stands up and refuses to be shouted down as Mwende did, as Kenyans abroad did when we won the battle for dual citizenship, others who understand this struggle join in.
If anyone wonders why Kenyans living so far away keep fighting for civic inclusion and for opportunities to serve as Kenyans and for Kenya, it is because exclusion is painful, especially when it comes with contempt and deliberate machinations to keep you out. All marginalized Kenyans will tell you exclusion is really painful, unfair and unjust, and it’s upon us to ensure that the least of us becomes a part of us. Only then can we begin to understand the idea of African nationhood.
For those who say that this issue was about constitutional definitions of terms such as “state officer”, a reminder that while the court ruling may have been about constitutional semantics, the battle was about erasing discrimination. Beyond definitions of who an envoy is as per the Constitution, this was about the human variable that causes us to ask: Is this fair, is it humane, is it proper to snatch the scalpel from the surgeon just because the law might say that surgeon should not have been born in country X?
This victory is the continued removal of discriminatory provision against worthy Kenyans no matter where they live, where they were born or what other citizenship they hold. This victory is also about evolving as a nation and boldly clutching on to the lessons of growth where we make laws and policies that serve our best interests and our humanity.
And because short history of diaspora Kenyans proves we have never shied away from a battle larger than self, we are looking to up the ante on the implementation of voting rights. It is not enough that the constitution allows us to vote. The current situation is like getting the rights to sleep in the warmth of your mother’s house but being denied the key to enter that house. We hold sacrosanct the right and responsibility to vote and understand fully the power of one vote. That day will come soon when all Kenyans, no matter where they live, will matter, and will belong.