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Ideas & Debate

Open door policy could raise Nairobi’s status as African economic hub

A section of Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NMG
A section of Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Earlier this year I went to London for a work assignment and only encountered a living, breathing English native a full 24 hours after landing.

The immigration officer at Heathrow airport was a lady of Indian extraction, who happily described her last holiday in Kenya a few years ago and shared how she was a first generation Indian but naturalised UK citizen.

The driver who drove me to my hotel was a Hungarian who was now working in London under the free labour movement that the European Union policies provided.
I was checked into the hotel by a Polish receptionist, and found that most of the hotel staff were largely from Poland and the Czech Republic. It was only when I went to the client’s offices the next morning that I finally encountered native English speakers.

In a paper title Brexit and the Impact of Immigration on the UK by Jonathan Wadsworth, Swati Dhingra, Gianmarco Ottaviano and John Van Reenen, the writers reveal that European Union (EU) immigration has tripled in numbers in the last 20 years. In 2015, there were around 3.3 million EU immigrants living in the UK up form 0.9 million in 1995. Around 2.5 million of these immigrants are aged between 16-64 and about two million are productively working.

EU countries account for 35 per cent of all immigrants living in the UK with the greatest concentration in London. EU immigrants are on average more educated than the UK-born and almost twice as many of them have some form of higher education (43 per cent compared with 23 per cent UK born).

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Why is this relevant to Kenya and the East African Community (EAC)? President Uhuru Kenyatta’s speech at his November 28, inauguration generated food for immigration thought.

Assuming his speech is expeditiously turned into policy, EAC nationals will only need an identity card to work, do business, own property, farm, marry and settle in Kenya.
This is regardless of whether their own governments reciprocate the same benefits.

Within three hours of that speech, a friend of mine from one of the EAC countries sent me a clip of the president’s speech and said that she could now buy a farm in Nanyuki as she had always desired.

Clearly, the speech got some excitable EAC traction and one that demonstrates the potential for significant intellectual and financial capital for Kenya.

Save for our incessant five-year political bickering, we do have a stable economy, a well educated populace and a reasonably good infrastructure to attract EAC nationals to live, work and do business here — especially considering that our national carrier’s network connectivity ensures you are a maximum of 90 minutes away from every EAC capital.

Together with the policy to provide visas on arrival for African passport holders, the president’s proposals can be interpreted through the futuristic lens of making Nairobi an international financial centre as well as the region’s foremost conference destination.

The fact that we will be able to attract EAC’s top talent to work makes us an even more attractive destination for foreign direct investment as the talent gene pool just got that much more enriched.

Multinationals and international agencies operating in Africa looking to do their conferences should now consider Kenya as their first choice of conferencing due to the ease of visas for conference attendees.

Notably, there is also a potential knock on effect on the residential real estate as demand for good quality housing for the incoming business and professionals should increase, as the buyer and tenant pot has now expanded beyond Kenyan borders.

However, an unintended consequence will be that it may provide a potential avenue for “regional hot money” investments which may drive up the cost of real estate for genuine Kenyans as we saw with the Somalia piracy proceeds that had a direct knock on effect on prices of land in Karen, Nairobi and Nyali in Mombasa.

London has also experienced the same with the average native Englishman unable to afford central London housing due to Arab, Russian and Chinese demand driving up property prices.

Strengthening of county economies will be critical so that native Kenyans still have opportunities for employment and business outside of Nairobi, which will ensure that competition for jobs, as well as xenophobic tendencies do not start to prevail.

If successfully executed, Kenya’s open door policy will dilute Nairobi’s status as belonging to Kenyans only and elevate its stature as an African economic hub which will be a big game changer for the politics of this country.

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