What you need to know:
- The psyche of most Arabs is to see blacks as slaves, and I believe the mistreatment experienced by Kenyan workers in Saudi Arabia is largely due to this long-held view.
- The only thing that will break the cycle of abuse for Kenyans in the Middle East is severing the agreement entered into between Kenya and Riyadh to export domestic workers to the Gulf kingdom.
- Saudi Arabia is not a country that is known for respect for human rights—least of all, those of people they deem to be beneath them, such as Kenyans and, indeed, the whole of black Africa.
A documentary by CNN in 2017 showed Europe-bound African migrants stranded in Libya being auctioned and sold as slaves.
Most of the merchants were of Arab descent looking for cheap labour. This is not surprising; the history of Arabs has always been interlinked with slaves from the continent.
The East African coast is dotted with historical slave markets that stretch from Mombasa to Kilwa, in Tanzania.
The psyche of most Arabs is to see blacks as slaves, and I believe the mistreatment experienced by Kenyan workers in Saudi Arabia is largely due to this long-held view.
The only thing that will break the cycle of abuse for Kenyans in the Middle East is severing the agreement entered into between Kenya and Riyadh to export domestic workers to the Gulf kingdom.
I am certain that the agreement does not include Kenyan nationals returning home in body bags or in skeletal form after being starved in a foreign country.
The government tells us that they are glad Kenyans have found employment abroad, but at what cost? The risks of working in Saudi Arabia are two-fold.
First, it is the inhumane and degrading treatment endured by Kenyan workers. The second is the damage to the country’s pride.
Saudi Arabia is not a country that is known for respect for human rights—least of all, those of people they deem to be beneath them, such as Kenyans and, indeed, the whole of black Africa.
The suggestion by Macharia Kamau, the Foreign Affairs principal secretary, no less, that Kenyan workers are mistreated in Saudi Arabia because they are not obedient is not only shocking but shows how government officials know little of their legal duty to Kenyans.
For Kenyan workers to speak up against the injustice they endure abroad at the hands of their cruel employers, means they know the value of their lives and the human dignity they deserve.
Castigating Kenyans for allegedly not being obedient workers in the face of torture and dehumanising treatment is legitimising forced labour and modern-day slavery.
The government’s failure to stop the abuse of Kenyans in Saudi Arabia highlights the imbalance of power between the two countries.
Kenya’s sovereignty should not only be pleaded for political reasons but also when the country’s pride and its people’s human rights are being violated.
The government has a duty of care to Kenyans not just at home but abroad.
The defence of Saudi Arabia as an ‘ideal’ employment country for Kenyans, despite cries of torture and deaths of Kenyan workers, shows the government values diaspora remittances above human rights.
There are multiple concerns for a country to think it fit to rely on markets abroad to employ its people rather than create employment opportunities at home.
Working in your country gives you dignity and respect that is often elusive abroad.
In a country such as ours, where most opportunities go to the politicians, it means there is leadership failure first, and secondly, the huge salaries of those paid to create employment such as politicians show no value for money to date.
In short, successive regimes have failed the youth and, if the trend of young Kenyans dying abroad is not reversed, many more lives will be lost.
The promise made constantly by politicians of job creation rings hollow as more young people look beyond the borders for employment.
It’s not a promise but an excuse for politicians to gain employment for themselves at the expense of many unemployed Kenyans.
President William Ruto’s UDA party came to power on the promise that its bottom-up economic model is the magic wand that Kenya needs to unlock prosperity.
He now has his work cut out for him. He must start by, first, returning home Kenyans languishing in Saudi Arabia.
Ethiopia has stepped in with a long-term plan to rescue its nationals from Saudi Arabia and some Ethiopians have been repatriated.
The return of Kenyans from Saudi Arabia can be staggered, as Ethiopia is doing, but first, there must be a policy in place to help those who return home with medium- to long-term socioeconomic support.
Secondly, our education curriculum should be shaped to offer more skills that are fit for employment and entrepreneurship.
Thirdly, the creation of employment and other economic activities should be taken more seriously.
In that regard, the youth should be funded well to pursue important skills required for the job market and in the establishment of businesses at home.
Corruption also plays a big part in derailing global industries and other enterprises as investors are harassed for bribes.
The money meant for industries is siphoned by those in charge. A government that is serious about creating employment and economic opportunities must first end corruption. We should take pride in exporting skilled labour, not toilet washers.
The 13th Parliament should prioritise rescuing Kenyans from death in Saudi Arabia and returning them home, not their allowances. It is their role to legislate for job creation at home that will give us pride.
Ms Guyo is a legal researcher. [email protected]. @kdiguyo