Protecting Kenyans working abroad


A Qatar Airways aircraft takes off. FILE PHOTO | AFP

If you travel abroad using our beloved national airline, Kenya Airways (KQ), upon boarding it on your return journey you feel as if you are back in Kenya.

It’s the ever-smiling Kenyan crew, with the female cabin crew crowned with beautiful Maasai beaded headbands for me. I know that many other Kenyan passengers feel the same way. So I recently cheated on my national airline as I flew on Qatar Airways and had to transit through their hub in Doha.

It was a ‘boarding a KQ flight’ déjà vu experience. You get off the flight from Nairobi and have to pass through a US federal penitentiary level security screening before getting to the main terminal. Manning all the security positions are various shades of brown. Kenyan brown.

Like Kinuthia, Wafula and Ochieng varieties of brown. I knew I was at home when one of the officers went through my passport and said that my middle name was exactly like his mother’s.

Then he smiled and his eyes got a little watery. Just a smidgeon.

Suffice it to say that by the time I went through a second security check, as my final destination required extra screening, I had met Wangeci from Githunguri, Nyamweya from Kisii and a sullen-looking Mukasa from Uganda who wasn’t trying to have a chat that morning, banange!

There was also a whole bunch of Kenyan women in the bathrooms. Cleaners. And of course, a few cabin crew on Qatar Airways as well. In summary, on the face of it, Qatar is teeming with unskilled, semi-skilled and skilled Kenyan workers.

Last week, I touched on the fact that India is one of the countries with the largest diasporas. In legislating an emigration policy, the Indian government acknowledged that Indians have been emigrating for the last century and a half.

The artist formerly known as pre-colonial Kenya — a hodgepodge of multiple tribes blissfully living their best lives — was a recipient of Indian immigrants at the tail end of the 19th century. Indian “coolies” were sent to build the British government’s ode to East African colonisation: the railway line.

The Indian emigration policy is enshrined in the 1983 Emigration Act which provides a regulatory framework for emigration of Indian workers for contractual overseas employment and seeks to safeguard their interests and ensure their welfare.

The Act makes it mandatory for registration of recruiting agents with the office of a Protector-General of Emigrants (PGE).

The Act aims at specifically solving complaints that had emerged from Indian nationals abroad. These included employment contracts that were unilaterally modified or substituted to the disadvantage of the worker after his arrival in the host country or being put on different jobs from what they were promised and the horrific working conditions.

Where recruiting agents were found culpable, the PGE can blacklist the agents. There is also a whole list of countries, a majority of which are Gulf States, which are specifically earmarked in the Act requiring pre-approval of emigrants heading there for work.

Back in our motherland, we haven’t got to the legislative framework yet. But I did find a January 2019 speech by the then Labour Principal Secretary Peter Tum at a regional workshop. A few Gulf diaspora numbers were bandied about and then a whole admission was made that the Kenyan emigration policy was rather disjointed, but thunderous victory was declared that at least three bilateral labour agreements with the governments of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have been signed, together with the placement of Labour Attachés in the respective diplomatic missions there.

There is also a list of authorised recruitment agents on the National Employment Authority website which I didn’t get round to testing.

Our Kenyan brothers and sisters are flying our flag high in Qatar. We need to get a comprehensive approach to this critical destination for youth employment and the resultant foreign exchange to ensure a sustainable outlet for the ticking time bomb that is our youth bulge.

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