Kenyans: The grass is greener elsewhere

I recently hosted a group of 15 young people for a town-hall discussion on the State of the Nation on Citizen TV’s Daybreak show.

The youth were reflecting on President Uhuru Kenyatta’s speech outlining his development achievements and challenges that the nation was facing.

Most of the contributors felt a great disconnect between the President’s words and the reality on the ground. Others felt that the CEO of the country was simply ignoring their plight.

But it was the words of a young lady that caught my attention. She said that finding a job in Kenya was akin to finding the proverbial needle in the haystack.  

In her experience, getting a callback from employers was almost never guaranteed no matter how qualified you were and when you do get called the voice on the other end would publicly ask for a bribe before providing the job.

The young lady then exclaimed that her only hope was in finding a way to move to another country. Her comment was immediately applauded by those who were in attendance. Chances are, the other country she was thinking about, is either in Europe or the northern part of the Americas.

There are at least 180,000 Kenyans in Europe according to United Nations data. A Bloomberg report puts the number of Kenyans in the United States at 120,000 while those in South Africa are said to number 40,000.

In terms of the bigger picture some recent data by the Mo Ibrahim foundation may redefine what you think about migration and Africa in 2019. For example Africa is not a continent of massive exodus. African migrations represent only around 14% of the global migrant population.

For those who migrate only about 25% of them go to Europe. 67% of the world’s migrant population is hosted by Africa and (no surprise here) Rwanda is the third most welcoming country to migrants at world level.

It is amazing how a bit of data can challenge long-held stereotypes that we have held about our continent. We need more of these.

I recently moderated a conference at the London School of Economics. Several attendees of African origin revealed that they had grown up in Europe/America but migrated to Africa. This now seems to be a common trend and it is important to understand why and it’s impact on the continent.

But not all the data in this 2019 Mo Ibrahim Forum report is flattering to the African continent.

In 2019, the whole continent’s GDP is still smaller than that of the UK, for a total population nearly 20 times bigger. And if that doesn’t worry you then the fact that almost 16 million young Africans are currently facing unemployment should.

In South Africa, the second largest GDP on the continent, 55% of young people are jobless. Whilst not excusing any acts of violence it makes sense that these young people would be so frustrated as to mete out their anger on anyone they view as a stumbling block between them and jobs.

Nevertheless the xenophobia attacks that we have recently witnessed will not lead to more opportunities for the locals.

In Kenya it is 20% of the population who are unemployed according to the World Bank. Sadly the trends show that the situation is not getting better.

According to US-based Pew Research Centre 54% of Kenyans would move to another country if they could immediately. Of those Kenyans saying they wish to leave the country, 55 per cent listed the US as their preferred destination. The Pew survey however did not ask why Kenyans would want to leave their homelands.

But moaning about the problems of Kenya is nothing new. Realistic solutions and the right people to implement them makes a lot more sense.

A story told by the Ivory Coast’s Minister of Petroleum during the just-held Ibrahim Governance week in Abidjan is something to think about. He said that, “ I used to be Budget minister and we realized that when we lowered taxes, we actually made more money. We used to tax laptops at 35% but then we lowered it to 6%, and people bought more laptops.”

At the same forum the President of the African Development Bank Akin Adesina challenged young people to look at agriculture as a potential career. He challenged them by stating, “If you want to be a billionaire go into agriculture. Who can eat oil? Who can smoke the Internet? But you all ate breakfast this morning. So we have to encourage more young people to get into agriculture.”

Unfortunately, Adesina has not factored in the cartels that surround the agriculture sector and milk seasoned farmers dry by diverting fertilizer and other government subsidies and delaying Government payment to ensure that the farmer sells to brokers at rock-bottom prices. This is a tiring subject that would require a lengthier article to tackle.

Is it time for Kenya to think about different ways to achieve development? Are there competent people to implement those ideas? Did President Uhuru Kenyatta reflect on that data as he prepared his state of the nation address, which he delivered during the first week of April?

Whatever the answers are to that question, the lady who talked about moving abroad for opportunities is tired of waiting. As soon as she can get a ticket and a visa to another country, then she will be gone in a flash. Just another statistic in a report about the number of those who leave the country every year. But who is going to give her an alternative.