Why Kenyans want to leave their homeland

The Nakuru County Commissioner leads a procession endorsing anti-corruption efforts, on April 11, 2018 in Nakuru. PHOTO | AYUB MUIYURO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • Young people see no hope in Kenya, as cartels have worked to ensure only bad politicians can thrive in positions of power.
  • Anti-immigration rhetoric from ultra-right politicians has reached fever-pitch in most of the possible destinations for Kenyans.

As activist Miguna Miguna dramatically fights to return to his nation of birth, some Kenyans would prefer to leave quietly the huge prison they think their country has become.

In multiple interviews with the Sunday Nation, Kenyans cited graft, tribalism, and impunity as the main push factors for leaving, but the respondents seemed unaware of the difficulties awaiting them abroad if they landed there without the kind of skills Mr Miguna boasts as a Canadian-trained lawyer.

Seemingly envious of the dehumanised Mr Miguna, Kenyan youth wish they had an opportunity to be anywhere other than their homeland.

The Kenyan-born, Toronto-based, political activist was deported for the second time over a week ago despite High Court orders to allow him in.

Trev Kamau, 25, wishes he was the one being shoved onto a plane and taken to Finland as soon as possible because he cannot find a job in Kenya, thanks to corruption.

A study released recently by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission reveals that graft is endemic across the country, with the police leading the sleazy pack.

Mr Kamau comes from an upper-middle-class family living in the upscale Runda estate.

“You have to bribe for any service in this depressing failed state we call our country,” he says.

Cushioned by his ethnicity and class from what most Kenyans go through, Kamau doesn’t understand what poorer youth in Mathare, Kayole, Kibera, and rural outposts experience in search of daily bread.

He’s not alone in trying to seek a better life away from home.

A study last month by the Pew Research Center indicates that more than half of Kenyans (54 per cent) would love to relocate to a different country.

Those who have left the country say life is better out there, especially because of higher-quality housing, education, and healthcare.

Assaya Imaya, a Kenyan living in London, says he never knew what he was missing when he contentedly lived in Nairobi after graduating from the University of Nairobi.

“I first moved to Malawi and I was able to lead a life I could hitherto only envision in wild dreams: a big house, a car, eating out. I had never imagined going on holiday until I stepped out of Kenya,” he says.

Standing well over six-foot tall, Mr Imaya can jump across puddles of water and sewage on Nairobi streets with more ease than most Kenyans.

He is not just about to leave the leafy South-Croydon suburb and return to his beloved country of origin to suffer bad services.

He says he’s yet to see a pothole in his London neighbourhood, and if he complained about anything, the authorities would listen to him and act immediately.  

As unemployment rises to over 40 per cent among Kenyan youth due to corruption and political uncertainty, leaving the country has become the only valid dream for most of them.

“To get a job in Kenya you must come from the politically correct tribe, and all other qualifications are secondary,” Wilson Kaikai, an economist with an international development organisation, says.  

He alleges that “corruption is so pervasive that for one to join the police, one must pay up to Sh400,000 in a bribe”.

This creates a vicious cycle of theft.

Once you fork out such huge bribes, you are forced to engage in corruption to recoup your money and pay your seniors interminable protection fees to survive on the job, Mr Kaikai says.

The ruling class has managed to desensitise youth not to bother fighting for a better Kenya or for anything for that matter — except when there is some looting from fellow poor people to be done in the melee.


In memes, youth made fun of the dehumanising images of a fighting Mr Miguna being dragged into a plane.

They seemed to wonder why he was resisting, instead of sprinting to the aircraft ahead of his tormentors and the pilot, never to come back to a sordid life of poverty in Kenya.

They thought him lucky to have Canada as a place he could call home, away from this heart of darkness, where only corruption, police brutality, and government ineptitude can flourish.

Young people see no hope in Kenya, as local and international cartels have worked to ensure only bad politicians can thrive in positions of power to facilitate theft.

Except in a few opposition zones, most Kenyan politicians likely to be calling the shots in the next 20 years are either well-known mentally unstable drunkards, drug peddlers, lords of impunity, tribal war-mongers, or land-grabbers with international criminal records.

Lilly Okech Richards, a Kenyan based in New Jersey, slightly disagrees.

She says Kenyans cannot blame the leaders “entirely” because it is “unrealistic to expect a government to do everything for us”.

Ms Richards, originally from Uyoma in Siaya County, now heads an organisation called Kwitu (Kenyan Women in the US) to support and empower Kenyan immigrant women.

Life is not always smooth in the western countries most Kenyans want to flee to.

The price of basic goods and services is about 50 times higher than in Nairobi, but the salaries will not be proportionately fatter.


A spot-check by Sunday Nation around Chicago revealed that an avocado costs an equivalent of Sh500, while a one-bedroom apartment will set you back around Sh200,000.

Our respondents abroad said racism remains a reality in developed countries.

Anti-immigration rhetoric from ultra-right politicians has reached fever-pitch in most of the possible destinations for Kenyans.

Adjusting to life abroad is hard because Kenyans are used to chaos, violence, and bad smells.

According to Mr Imaya, the learning curve is steep.

“It takes time to understand the system and to transform from the Kenyan way of life, including unlearning bad driving habits.”