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Kenya’s economic woes force many abroad

Hopefully, many more are determined to weather the storm as the economic conditions slowly improve

For the last year, the incidence of long queues at the immigration offices in Nairobi paints a picture of a high number of Kenyans seeking approval to migrate to other countries in search of greener pastures. This phenomenon has been prompted by the high cost of living and lack of employment opportunities brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent government policies aimed at addressing the country’s debt servicing issue, both of which have significantly disrupted various sectors of the economy. Leaving the country appears to be the only viable alternative for many Kenyans.

Kenya’s economy achieved broad base growth averaging 4.8% per year between 2015 and 2019, significantly reducing poverty from 36.5% in 2005 to 27.2% in 2019. In 2021, the economy staged a strong recovery, with the economy growing at 7.5%, although some sectors remained under pressure, reducing the GDP growth to 4.8% in 2022, according to the World Bank.

The number of laid-off workers rose to 2.94% from 2.89% in September 2022, according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics. This simply shows that over 80,000 Kenyans lost their jobs within the first 3 months after the 2022 August general elections. Moreover, Kenya’s job market is currently struggling to absorb the growing number of young people entering the workforce every year, leading to a high unemployment rate. Some have already left, while others are getting ready for that ‘special’ journey.

Agnes Kitavi is a 22-year-old single mother who left Kenya for Saudi Arabia to work as a house help.

“I used to work in a hotel where I was being paid KSh 400 shillings per day, which is equivalent to USD2.8, which was too little to cater for my needs. The problem with Kenya is that most of the employers demand bribes in exchange for a job. Things are not easy here in Saudi Arabia. We go through a lot, but I chose to support my family,” Agnes told us.

“My name is Duncan Okindo; I am in my mid-twenties. Life in Kenya is not as I thought it would be. The economy is doing badly, and to get a job is so hard. I’ll soon be moving to Switzerland.”

Many others are considering leaving the country to look for better wages abroad. The government is even encouraging this trend.

“I have signed bilateral agreements with Saudi Arabia, UAE, Germany, Canada and many other countries. We are employing possibilities, and as a result of what I have been doing, between now and January (2024), the first batch of 10,000 Kenyans will be leaving to go and work in foreign countries so that they can support themselves and support Kenya because many countries have established a strategy on how to grow their foreign exchange earnings,” said President Ruto during media engagement at State House, Nairobi, on 18th December 2023.

Earlier, opposition leader Raila Odinga had pushed back against the idea, stating that “it is the responsibility of the government to create jobs in the country, not to look for jobs outside.”

In August 2023, the Kenyan government sent 76 nurses to work in the United Kingdom as part of an agreement that would see Kenya send more than 20,000 nurses to work in the UK in the coming years. Last month, the government announced plans to send more than 2,500 nurses to Saudi Arabia as part of a bilateral agreement on health partnership between the two countries.

This comes at a time when the country is grappling with the shortage of nurses.

The president of the National Nurses Association of Kenya (NNA-Kenya), Collins Ajwang, highlighted poor employment terms, lack of incentives and failure to provide resources as the driving cause for nurses to prefer working abroad.

“How do you expect to retain nurses working on daily wages or on locum terms where they are paid peanuts like KSH25,000 a month,” said Ajwang.

The Kenyan government is targeting KSh 1 trillion in remittances by Kenyans working abroad by 2025.

Meanwhile, some Kenyans argue that, east or west, home remains the best. Unlike the fleeing population, this group of Kenyans are so optimistic that the situation will get better sooner or later. In addition, they hope that their contribution and cooperation with the government will transform Kenya into a better place.

Many have been forced to engage in menial jobs for survival because they lack money to start up a business or the luxury of waiting until they can get their dream jobs.

I spoke to Hassan Kashuqji, a 24-year-old Kenyan who would rather stay back and try to make things work.

“In my country, youths are the backbone of the future. If we stay and fight later on, we will prosper. This inflation will not stay forever,” he posits.

Hassan points out that corruption is deeply rooted, and for one to get a job, one needs to know someone in a higher office.

“Once you step out from the university, people expect you to get a job the following month, but it’s totally different. You need to know someone to get a job, but I hope luck will fall on me. However, I would advocate for self-employment.”

Brian Ochieng, 26, says, “I have utilized AI to write e-books where I sell them on social media platforms and make a living out of it. I’m planning to double my effort and reach out to many people going forward.”

International relations expert, Paul Agina, speaking to Pan African Review, says that the lack of companies that can employ masses of graduates is the biggest cause of unemployment not only in Kenya but also in Africa at large.

“Our universities release close to 60,000 graduates every year, but in our country, we don’t have those companies which employ en masse. That’s why many prefer going abroad than wallowing in poverty with a hope that one day they will come back and help their country.”

He, however, adds that the country loses youths at a tender age, only for them to come back as retirees with very little to show.

“By a large extent, we are losing the youths who have been trained using taxpayers’ money and would, by a large extent, assist the growth of our economy. To a smaller extent, I say yes because, at times, instead of struggling and not seeing ends meet, one decides to choose the lesser evil: make a few coins and support the family back home,” Agina says.

It remains unclear whether or not the trend of Kenyans leaving the country for greener pastures will worsen. Hopefully, many more are determined to weather the storm as the economic conditions slowly improve.

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