At the height of the struggle for multi-party democracy which was in the early nineties, Kenya’s economy was also taking a beating from the Goldenberg scandal. In those days, it was fairly standard for a member of the working class elite to want to take their children to university abroad, more specifically to “the States”.
There were also a large number of economic refugees escaping the harsh operating climate that the Moi regime had established. From university lecturers and teachers to doctors and nurses, a notable number of professional cadres sought white collar jobs outside the country as the economic situation became dire with each corruption-riven month backstopped by a worsening political climate.
Getting visas to the United States and the United Kingdom in the early nineties was nowhere near as diabolical as it is today. Brain-drain Kenya edition was in full swing. Almost 30 years later, we are experiencing the positive benefits of the Moi-escapees and subsequent brain drains.
In April 2019, this newspaper published an article authored by Paul Redfern titled Kenya’s diaspora inflows rise by Sh75 billion. In the article citing a World Bank report, diaspora remittances into Kenya have risen to the equivalent of over three percent of Kenya’s gross domestic product. With the latest estimates of annual remittances of $2.7 billion, Kenya is the top for recipients of diaspora inflows in Sub Saharan Africa together with Nigeria, Ghana and Senegal. But Kenya’s numbers are just shy of 12 percent of Nigeria’s annual flows of over $22 billion and nowhere near the world’s largest diaspora recipient, India, at $69 billion.
Data from the Central Bank of Kenya shows that at 48 percent, the bulk of Kenya’s remittances originate from the United States, with 33.6percent sent from Europe and 18percent from the rest of the world. I’d hazard a guess and say that a significant amount of that “rest of the world” figure emanates from the Gulf region given the number of white and blue collar Kenyans working in the region.
So let’s take a step back here and take note of this not-so-anecdotal evidence of Kenya’s uncontrived exportation of human resources. I say uncontrived because it is not as a result of government policy, rather, it is the exact opposite in that it is a failure to provide sufficient jobs locally, in addition to socio-political factors, that has led to the intellectual exodus over the last 30 years.
If we were to take the factual view that we are incapable of providing jobs for all the students coming out of high school and university today, we should then be asking how we can make this problem of ours someone else’s solution.
A few years ago, I was in a conversation with a professional who claimed that the Chinese government had a specific emigration policy in light of the fact that the sheer population numbers would always provide a challenge to the government in terms of resource management. So the Chinese government policy would be to open up trade routes and infrastructure projects in other countries that would enable large numbers of Chinese citizens to move across and begin life where the government had opened business doors for them. This is not such an implausible argument when you look at the growth of Chinese residents in East Africa over the last 10 years that Chinese-funded infrastructure has taken root here.
That said, the difficulty of getting American and European visas, coupled with the fact that the competition for intellectually competent resources would be significantly higher there would make an emigration policy to those regions difficult.
However given the dearth of Gulf locals who can undertake many of the white and blue collar jobs on offer in the Gulf region, it thus goes without saying that perhaps a concerted effort to provide educated, articulate individuals whose background checks have verified their education levels, lack of criminal records, home town of origin including a physical address can become a government policy initiative.
Our problem of lack of jobs can become a solution to those countries that seek English speaking, educated and cheap labour.
Just like Ketepa has finally learnt to package our teas into attractively labelled and beautifully designed packs that can stand muster on any international supermarket shelf, so too should we package our labour to make it globally attractive. The benefits are there to see: unceasing foreign currency remittances that contribute to the shilling’s stability and can also be leveraged for future foreign currency borrowings.