Kenya should plan better for labour exports


Some of the youths who claim to have been duped by a recruitment agency over Qatar World Cup jobs, protesting outside the Uasin Gishu County Commissioner’s officers in Eldoret town on September 14, 2022. 

Photo credit: Stanley Kimuge | Nation Media Group

Stories of the inhumane treatment of Kenyans in Saudi Arabia abound in our media. Kenya must do everything to help its citizens in distress, particularly in countries with a not-so-good human rights record.

But should this justify a total ban on labour exports, particularly to the Arab world? The answer is no. Amongst the worst social and economic ills countries do face is unemployment. 

Progressive countries report employment data on monthly basis in their mainstream media. In Kenya, one has to dig into the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics data to get a glimpse of current unemployment figures.

Unemployment means the state of being without any form of work. There are many forms of unemployment including seasonal unemployment, hardcore unemployment and hidden unemployment.

 One best way to combat unemployment is to reduce the geographical immobility of labour. 

Many people have the right skills to find work in Kenya but factors such as structural characteristics of the economy impede employment.

Artificial legal constructs

State boundaries, which are artificial legal constructs, have rendered labour immobile. Economic rationality demands these boundaries ought to break to enable humans to attain their desired goal of employment. 

It is imprudent for citizens of one country to mourn of lack of employees whereas millions of well-trained youths elsewhere are turning to crime for lack of employment.

 There are many labour-deficit countries in the world. Globalisation and technological change have shaped the world’s job market. The scale of the problem varies hugely between countries. 

Japan is one of the countries most severely affected by labour deficit, with 89 per cent of companies familiar with the problem. Japan is one of the first industrialised nations to experience a rapidly ageing population and a decline in labour market participation.

Out of all Western European countries, Germany has the highest rate of skill shortages with 51 per cent of companies experiencing them.

Labour participation is projected to fall in all world regions in the coming decades except sub-Saharan Africa. This affords this region a unique opportunity for labour export. Kenya should, therefore, plan for that not-too-distant future by encouraging the export of its excess labour.

It can use several strategies. First, it can establish a standalone diaspora ministry. President Ruto promised this during his inaugural speech. Such a ministry would help identify countries requiring labour. It can assign officers who would help establish linkages between local and international labour agents. 

Such a ministry can also establish an emergency desk to help diaspora Kenyans in distress. A legal framework is needed to give effect to the workings of such a ministry.  

Senate endorsed my bill which sought to streamline these issues but the National Assembly term lapsed before the passage of the law. 

Diaspora cabinet secretary once appointed can take up the lapsed bill.

Second, Kenya should establish training centres that are geared towards labour export. They can teach, among others, foreign language skills. This can position Kenya positively in the global labour market. Skills in languages like French, German, Mandarin and Arabic would help travelling Kenyans remain competitive.

Foreign embassies

Third, Kenya should invest in opening more foreign embassies as a deliberate effort to increase labour exports. Most overseas countries are served by singular Kenyan embassies located far away from divergent nations. Countries with huge potential to host Kenyans like Canada and Australia should have multiple embassies. 

Countries with declining birth rates like China should occupy priority slots for nations needing larger diplomatic representation. Regional integration to new emerging markets like DRC should be on top of Kenya’s labour export strategy.

Fourth, Kenya should deliberately support its technological giant Safaricom to be a global brand. That would help Kenyans working abroad send back remittances at a cheaper rate. Countries like South Korea deliberately promoted global champions like Samsung. 

Likewise, Safaricom occupies a special space that would help Kenyans living in the diaspora in boosting remittances, and above boosting Kenya’s global brand.

 Fifth, Kenya should reduce and abolish bureaucracies that hinder cross-border relationships. Kenya can consider being a visa-free country to as many countries as possible without the demand for reciprocation.

It can make passports issuance easy and flexible. It can establish strategic citizenship schemes aimed at luring citizens from rich countries to settle in Kenya, hoping to boost cross-border linkages, which ultimately boost labour export.

Mr Kang’ata is the Governor of Murang’a County.


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