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Back in June, the Kenyan government issued a quit notice against the expat community. This isn’t the first time the Government has issued such a statement; both Daniel arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki delivered comparable threats during their presidential reigns.
The notion was delivered by the State Department for Immigration, and it stated that the Government would not renew permits for expatriates whose terms have expired unless it was proven beyond doubt that no Kenyan could perform their jobs.
There are two main motives as to why this notice has been issued again and these are reminiscent of past reasons. The Government believes that there are a number of foreign nationals illegally requiring permits. Furthermore, NGOs often pay expats up to four times more than what they pay Kenyans to do identical jobs.
According to Government data from April 2011, expatriate Indian workers formed the bulk of foreigners issued with work permits, followed by the Chinese. Between the period of 2007 and 2010, 26,077 foreigners were issued with work permits. However, only 14,000 of this figure were actually working. That equates to 12,077 living in Kenya without employment, or living on expired or cancelled work permits.
Understandably, given these figures, there is a love-hate relationship between Kenya and the expat community. This tenuous rapport is deep rooted in Kenya’s history. In 1896, work began on the Kenya-Uganda railway, finishing in 1901 in the city of Mombasa. During this period, a substantial portion of east and south Africa was under British rule. Having no local expertise, British colonialists brought in hundreds of Indian citizens to lay the railway.
The Indian workers, after being in Kenya for years, found a second home in the country and their numbers have increased since.
Around the world, many employers recruit foreigners. If the expertise cannot be found in the local community, businesses have no choice but to find those with the know-how from other countries. Many understand that it is a necessary evil, whereas some see it as racially biased.
Essentially, the sad truth is that many foreign firms and organisations have abused Kenya’s hospitality. The expulsion tactic, therefore, is not unwarranted. Kenya is not about to embark on a mass exodus of expats, it simply wants the Kenyan people to have a fair chance of employment, of which they have not had thus far.
There are plans in motion to make this a reality. Initially, the Government will begin by not allowing expats to undertake jobs that Kenyans are perfectly qualified for. Looking further ahead, organisations should begin transferring specialist skills to locals, giving them opportunities to develop. The Government wants companies and businesses to give Kenyans the opportunity to understand how foreign experts work.
Kenya does accept a portion of the blame in regards to the country’s labour market. There are issues with the education system; with a lack of technical skills training, and practical colleges being turned into academically-lead universities. A lot of the jobs in Kenya are based in infrastructure, and many contractors are having to ship-in masons and welders because of these educational faults.
Many blame the expat community for Kenya’s high unemployment rate of 50% and are pleased that an expulsion is underway. However, regardless of expat workers, the economy would need to grow at over 8% a year, for 10 years, to lower unemployment levels.
Kenya is treading a tricky line at the moment, not wanting to fall into the same prejudice trap as South Africa or South Sudan.
The country is very aware that there are thousands of Kenyans working in other countries, and that much of the upmarket economic activity is expat driven. Without foreigners, the future would look bleak for the hospitality industry, consumer goods businesses, and high-end real estate.
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