Delivered on Friday, 18th June 2021, During the 43rd Graduation Ceremony of Egerton University
The Chancellor of Egerton University, Dr Narendra Raval, made his first visitation to Nakuru Town Campus College on Friday 3 September 2021.
We are assembled here together once again to celebrate yet another happy day- a graduation of 2,322 candidates, leaving the doors of Egerton University to go into the world of work, either employed or self-employed.
Live and Die in My Motherland or Leave?
By Olive Nekesa Okumu
Some time back, my eleven-year-old sister, ever inquisitive and probing into matters one would think were above her age, asked me what my choice would be if I was given a second chance to be born and this time in any country in the world I fancied. I found myself too ready to answer. “Well”, I said, “I am not sure which country I would choose, but it would definitely not be Kenya.” My kid sister, who had obviously asked the same question of herself, said that she would choose to be born in Kenya time and time again because there was no other place on earth like her motherland.
I was reminded of that conversation when I saw the topic of this essay writing competition – “International Migration”. In fact, it seemed that the question of living in my country or migrating to another one had never left my mind. The dilemma it presented was deeply rooted in my being and the way I resolved it had everything to do with who I was and what beliefs and ideals I held dear.
There was a time when I too could not imagine leaving my motherland for any other country. Regardless of how magnificent another country might appear to be, the idea of relocating to it simply had no power over me. Even when my peers fantasised about living abroad, I remained the guardian of my conviction that I was in the right place, the place that was meant for me. I, therefore, could not help but wonder as to when my stance changed and for what reasons. Was it that I had stopped loving my country? Was it that becoming aware of the myriad of problems around me brought me face to face with the actual condition of my country and displaced my imagined version of it? Or was I hollowed out of all aspirations so that all I wanted was a better life, which I thought I could easily get elsewhere? Why would I, a twenty-year-old who has never set foot in another country, not want to live in Kenya for the rest of my life? After all, I used to belt out Sauti Sol’s “Live and Die in Afrika”, telling myself and the world that I would live and die in my motherland.
I gave myself time to look deep within myself to try and find the answers to my questions. I realised that no, I did not hate my country. I in fact loved my country and I was proud to be a Kenyan. What exactly was the issue then? Was it I that did not understand the meaning of loving my country and being proud of my nationality? If I was indeed proud to be a Kenyan, then why did I want to leave so badly? Why was the post “The goal is to leave Kenya and show fake patriotism by wearing the Kenyan flag wristband” always on my social media pages’ timeline? Why was the “American dream” my life dream?
It gradually dawned on me that I, as most of my peers, had imperceptibly bought the idea that the grass was greener on the other side. We had come to believe that life was better anywhere else except for where we currently were. This is the thinking of a multitude of people looking for ways to leave their country, especially people from countries considered to be “Third World” who wish to transit to the “First World”. We had convinced ourselves that by moving to more developed countries we would get a better shot at succeeding in life and accomplishing our life goals. And we had come to a point where nothing else, apart from the greenness of the grass, mattered.
I do acknowledge that the belief of a better life away from home may not be entirely a delusion. Many claims have been made to the effect that moving to a different country could be exactly what one needs to advance one’s career and expand one’s knowledge. Career advancement and expansion of knowledge preoccupy the minds of most young people and if they are shown the route to success in that direction they would pursue that route without a second thought. I too would not let go of the opportunity to advance to the next level of my career, and if that meant moving to another country then I would move in a heartbeat.
However, I can now see that this thought process is truncated. To begin with, how sure are we that as foreigners we stand a chance against the multitude of youth already struggling in their motherlands because they themselves cannot access the opportunities that we hope to get by moving to these countries? Are we really going to get the better conditions we enthusiastically hoped for or are we going to be despised because the reluctant hosts see us as desperate and a nuisance? Are we not likely to face hostility from the native citizens and won’t we have to suffer the humiliation of hearing “Go back to your country!” every single day? It is not a secret that uninvited immigrants are never received with open arms anywhere.
In as much as I wish I could avoid talking about, it is impossible to ignore the discrimination that people of colour face every day in foreign lands just for looking different. In the recent past the Black Lives Matters Movement gained attention all over the world, with millions of people coming out to condemn and protest against the mistreatment and annihilation of black people across the United States. If this was the fate of black people who were citizens of their country, how about those of us who have come from outside? We also witnessed discrimination against Asians during the Covid-19 pandemic as people from China in particular were blamed for the emergence and spread of the virus.
By now you could be thinking, “Oh she is such a naysayer. Why can’t she just embrace the positive without bringing up the negative?” I also wish I could, but that would mean choosing not to see. I am not trying to put fears and limitations on anybody’s ambitions and goals but surely it is worth seeing the full picture before deciding to make a move.
My second consideration is that, even if the grass was greener on the other side, it is not our grass. The truth is that we were not born to live on the sweat of others, that we cannot live with our dignity intact if we only benefit from what others have created. Is it not common sense that the grass is greener on the other side because someone is watering it? Does it not then follow that if you want it to be greener on your side you should water your side too? That got me thinking as to why we cannot strive to water our side instead of always being attracted by the lush green that is in someone else’s yard. It surely cannot be that hard to improve the living and working conditions of our people, can it? Those aspects of our reality that make us feel we live a wretched life and that make us pity ourselves have existed all over the world at one time or another. The difference is that, unlike us, all these other countries that we see as having “greener grass” have simply come up with better ways to address the problems they once struggled with. We too, then, can follow their example. All of us! Our government, too, must strive to find better ways of dealing with issues affecting the life of its people so as to make them want to stay. Otherwise, who is going to work towards growing our economy if everybody is gone?
I, therefore, have come to doubt that it is necessary or desirable for us to move from our motherland. I now know that I do not want to leave my country. Why would I if I do not hate it? I love my country and I am proud to be a Kenyan. I have come to terms with the fact that loving my country does not mean thinking or saying Kenya is the best country in the world. It also means admitting that as a country we should do better and we ought to do better because we have the potential to do better. I also know that it is not that those who want to leave are less patriotic than those who want to stay and they should therefore not be patronised because at the end of the day we are all Kenyans. But when, ultimately, it comes down to making a choice I sincerely hope that we all choose to live and die in Kenya and not leave.
On behalf of the University Management Board, University Senate, Staff and Students, I welcome you all to the 45th congregation of Egerton University graduation ceremony. The theme of this graduation is “A University Education for Development”
It gives me and the University Council pleasure to welcome you to the 45th Graduation Ceremony of Egerton University – one of the leading Universities in the region.
Reversing Emigration: Implications for Policy Makers
By Peter Ondari Rosana
Traditionally, international migration trends involved people migrating from countries with less advanced living standards to those which had prospects of a better quality of life. Most of us are familiar with this trend where emerging economies have been losing millions of their productive citizens to the developed world. However, some emerging economies are now investing in pull factors that can work towards overturning this trend, and hopefully slow down the urge by citizens to settle in other countries, or even entice those who have already migrated to return “home”. As a result, some destinations that were not very popular are now beginning to attract huge numbers of migrants. In this essay, I attempt to understand why this trend is gaining popularity in some parts of the world. I also draw some lessons for emerging economies like Kenya on how to slow down emigration of productive citizens through reverse emigration.
As earlier noted, most international migration tends to be from countries with less favourable conditions to those with better living standards and relative peace. Currently, the most industrialised nations like the USA, France, Germany, the UK, and the United Arab Emirates are the leading destinations for such migrants. For instance, in 2016 alone, the USA recorded 1.8 million cases of legal immigrants. Reports show that over 80 per cent of the population of the United Arab Emirates comprises of legal immigrants who primarily provide the workforce for the industries in that country.
On the other hand, countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Mexico, and China, are among the leading nations in the number of emigrants. What factors could be causing this trend, and how are they likely to evolve? We can only answer these questions by conducting a trend analysis of these factors and understanding the conditions in these countries. This knowledge will help us identify patterns and project what to expect over time. Based on current trends and mitigation strategies, the most likely result is a reversed order of migration, a situation called reverse international migration.
There are several factors that cause international migration. These conditions help us understand why people are migrating the way they do and the likely changes in migration trends. The first one is the economic status of the countries of origin compared to the destination country. For instance, about 870,000 migrants moved into the USA from Mexico between 2013 and 2018. Most of them moved there to look for employment opportunities and better economic standards like markets for their goods. Secondly, people move to other nations in search of quality education. This is most prevalent among African nations from which people move to the UK, USA, and India because these destinations have some of the best higher learning institutions globally. The third factor is climate change. Countries like Bangladesh and Kiribati are among the most affected because of climatic effects like cyclones and rising sea levels. For example, about 1/7 of the population in Bangladesh is projected to have migrated from there by 2050. Afghanistan is also experiencing prolonged drought, making it one of the most uninhabitable nations in the Middle East. Lastly, some of the countries experiencing the highest levels of emigration are those experiencing political unrest and civil war. Countries like Burkina Faso, Myanmar, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, and Libya are among the most affected. The political turmoil in these regions has driven thousands of people out of those nations as they seek better living conditions for their families.
Despite these prevailing circumstances, current and past trends show a possibility of reversing these operations. Governments are working tirelessly to make their nations more habitable. International bodies like the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) are also working towards resettling many displaced people back to their original countries. If the current measures are implemented efficiently, analysts project that by 2050 people will be migrating back to where they are moving from today. The conditions driving them out of their home countries will no longer exist. Alternatively, the increased population could reduce the pull factors in these destinations. For instance, if the population of industrialised nations increases significantly, there will be population pressure, and access to social amenities like healthcare facilities and jobs will be affected. Those living in those countries will likely have to move out in search of better conditions. This will, in turn, present further opportunities and challenges to both the sending and receiving countries.
In many nations, governments are as well working to create more employment opportunities. For instance, the migration rate from Mexico to the USA will likely reduce significantly by 2025 under President Andres Manuel. In August 2022 alone, his administration created over 20,000 jobs in Mexico City. The quality and availability of compulsory education have also increased over the past few years, increasing the number of professional workers. Lastly, the government has a job creation scheme in the Caribbean that will ensure that over 80 per cent of the population lives above the poverty line. On the other hand, the USA is working to reduce illegal migration from its southern border and to deport illegal immigrants back to Mexico, reversing the migration trend forcefully.
In education, Africa now has some of the best universities in the world. For example, the University of Johannesburg was founded in 2005 but is currently ranked among the top 500 universities in the world. Other institutions like the University of Cape Town and the University of Witwatersrand also rank highly on the global scale. In Kenya, Egerton University is now attracting global attention and has several international students from the rest of Africa and Asia. The University has also formed partnerships with other universities like the University of Ohio, and students can come to Egerton or go to Ohio to study. The need for quality higher education is now met locally, and countries like Kenya, from which people moved for further studies, could become major destinations for international students.
Thirdly, several bilateral and multilateral environmental agreements and organisations have been established to curb climate change. For example, the United Nations, founded after the Second World War, took up the responsibility to devise ways of managing the environment. They have developed sustainable development goals to reduce global warming to at most a rise of 2 degrees Celsius within the next 100 years. In Bangladesh, the government is offering adaptive services to over 40,000 families to cope with climate change. They have also set up 224 new cyclone shelters. Kiribati is equally doing an excellent job by building dykes, traditional sea walls, and planting mangrove forests to alleviate the displacement rate by sea level rise. Finally, water-rich river basins in Afghanistan are being diverted to fill drier ones and get water for irrigation. The government is also investing heavily in drought-resistant crops and research to boost the nation’s food security. Over time, these places vulnerable to climate change will become more habitable, attracting people to migrate and live there.
Lastly, the intensity and cases of war in most parts of the world are now reducing. Once a haven for terrorists, Somalia now has Dowladda Soomaaliya– the government of Somalia. With governance in place, terrorism and insecurity are bound to reduce. Former USA President Barrack Obama also withdrew all combat activity from Afghanistan and instead started offering support to the locals and their defence forces. In Myanmar, it is projected that military rule in the nation will soon end, and they will form a central government. With working rules in place, developers and investors will migrate there and get citizenship, reversing the migration trend. In addition, organisations like the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force are also working to restore global peace. Once countries like Libya regain political stability, their economic development will be rapid since they have resources like natural gas. Consequently, people will scramble to settle in the country instead of relocating from there.
This reverse migration trend will have some implications for policymakers in both the sending and receiving countries. First, the sending countries are likely to face labour shortages as their workforce migrates to other countries. There is also the possibility of experiencing brain drain if skilled citizens opt to settle elsewhere. On the receiving end, there may be technology transfer, a need for new immigration policies, and reduced diaspora remittances. While the emigrants may also move out with some skills, these abilities may not be applicable or recognised in their new residence, making it hard for them to settle and adapt. As this trend starts to set in, policy makers from both nations need to assess the impact of the phenomena, form partnerships, and device ways of dealing with any challenges that may come with the shift.
In conclusion, no one may like to live in hostile conditions. For this reason, governments are working to ensure such circumstances are alleviated. They are bound to succeed. This will reduce the rate of migrating out of such places. Eventually, people will start moving back to those locations; a situation called reverse international migration. Whether in a few or many years, reverse international migration is inevitable.
The Destiny of the ‘Third World’ Is in Our Hands
By Erastus Wambiakale Otieno
The issue of emigration from ‘Third World’ countries in search of livelihood opportunities in countries that are deemed to be better economically endowed has generated quite some debates. On the one hand, human beings will always move in search of livelihood opportunities so such migration may be deemed as normal. On the other hand, such migration can pose a serious threat to Third World development because of the opportunity cost in terms of the potential loss of human capital that such countries do not always have plenty of. However, some of the migrations have been more about the desire to experience what other parts of the world have to offer based on the imagination that the local is probably inferior. The expression “the sun always shines more brightly in the neighbour’s yard” comes to mind. Unfortunately, this is an attitude that many people in the developing world have embraced. A substantial number of Third World citizens often think that their grim material conditions can be cured through emigration to other parts of the world that they consider to be boundlessly endowed.
Occasionally, I have wondered what would happen if all the emigrants fleeing one problem or the other back at home for a good life in other countries were bold enough to choose to stay and fight to change the circumstances that push them out. That would immensely benefit the Third World source countries because their skills, both hard and soft, their talents, and their wealth would remain in the home countries where they are sorely needed. They would be a very valuable resource, which would greatly enhance the economies of the source countries. Emigrants do not necessarily like the lives they live away in foreign lands. If they had the option they obviously would want to stay at home, yet the reality demands that they emigrate so that they can take care of the needs of their loved ones and the extended families back at home. But the question that emerges is: do these emigrants ever give a thought to the irony in the fact that their emigration plans often result in them contributing to some of the issues they are trying to escape from like poor management, which they cannot address when they are away? After all, the majority of the nations to which they relocate have faced similar problems in the past but the citizens chose to confront the issues head on instead of fleeing to other countries which could have offered them opportunity for a better life and escape from the chaos of home.
For instance, in response to social and economic inequality, food shortages, poor governance, and unfair taxation policies that were prevalent in their country in the late 18th century, the French people did not flee from their issues, instead, they confronted them head on in what culminated into what we now know as the French Revolution. The revolution had far reaching consequences that are still evident to date in the French political, social and economic sphere. Similar corrective upheavals have been experienced in other parts of the world, some more comparative to the success of the French Revolution than others. Similar issues exist in many Third World nations and they call for a similar bold response with a view to correcting the anomalies. Perhaps the French Revolution offers a lesson for the total overhaul of the Third World economies that need to be emulated in order to stem the migrations that are increasing alarmingly.
There are those who highlight what they see as the advantages of emigration because those who go out to look for work send back money in the form of remittances. They argue that such money sent by emigrants can help to improve the economies of their families as well as the source country generally. Whereas it is true that some countries have come to rely significantly on remittances from such emigrants for foreign currency that advantage does not compare with the benefits that the host country derives from the migrant workers. To start with, emigration often brings benefits to the host country in terms of workers with rare skills and technological advancement which often prop up the economies of the host countries. Often, such skills are also passed on to the workforce of the host countries through apprenticeship. Therefore, the benefit in terms of skills that the host countries derive from migrant workers cannot compare to the benefits of the source countries in terms of remittances. If anything, the source countries are the net losers because they often lose highly skilled manpower, which amounts to loss of productivity, which undermines the economic future of the country.
Africa has a lot of potential when it comes to skilled and unskilled labourers. Unfortunately, we do not fully capitalize on that potential. Several reasons have led to this, but the main reason is that manpower has been flowing from these countries to developed countries for years. Doctors, engineers, teachers, lawyers, and other professionals go abroad to find jobs. How then will the Third World economies such as Africa’s grow if professionals leave to take up jobs abroad? We can only achieve transformation if these people stop emigrating and try to create back home opportunities similar to those that lure them abroad. A simple strategy, therefore, would be to discourage emigration from the Third World by offering the professionals incentives to stay. Perhaps all citizens should see it as their duty to pressurize the respective governments to take appropriate steps to meet the need for the citizenry to live a decent life instead of leaving the problems unresolved so that emigration becomes the easier option.
About three years ago, when African Americans protested the murder of George Floyd and to stop police killings of black people, African migrants stood with them. I was captivated by the wailing and lamentation by a woman in a very familiar Kenyan Luo Nyanza accent. Her fervour during the protests was unmistakable, it was deeply felt, especially in the way she disrupted traffic while pushing for justice for George Floyd. Unfortunately, she was using all that energy to push for justice in her host country and make it better at the expense of her home country, which needed such protests even more to demand for justice, social change and development. I could not stop reflecting on the magnitude of the social change that the kind of energies she invested in the George Floyd protests in USA could bring about if she invested them in Kenya.
It is apparent that emigration has a direct negative impact on the countries left behind, but in the long run it will adversely affect the receiving countries in terms of the potential of social instability because of discomfort with the migrant workers due to the consciousness of their outsiderness. Therefore, even as the source countries ought to do everything to minimize departures, the receiving nations have everything to gain by minimizing immigration of Third World citizens to their countries as a way of maintaining social order. Such a step would benefit the receiving countries’ economies by preventing overpopulation, which would put a strain on social services leading to unrest such as happens often in South Africa. One way of doing this is to make demands on the source countries to strengthen their economies and social services in order to encourage the citizens to stay at home.
It is in same vein I think USA should re-examine its Diversity Immigration Visa Programme which has the potential of escalating emigration especially given the attraction that USA is for potential Third World emigrants for whom USA represents the solution to their problems. As it is, the visa programme has already caused substantial brain drain from the Third World through loss of talented skilled workforce and academic personnel trained for several years in the source countries. The programme lures and makes them lose motivation and desire to work in their home countries. Additionally, through the United Nations Charter, developed countries should assist Third World countries to find a long-term solution to the push factors of emigration. It is not lost to me that eliminating emigration completely is a tall order but minimizing it to the lowest rate can make a big difference for such Third World countries with high emigration rates Such as South Sudan. Certainly, addressing both the push and pull factors like the Diversity Immigration Programme will stabilize Third World countries and help them to develop by refocusing their minds and energies.
My Two Cents’ Worth on Migrating to Explore the World
By Alexander Makau Mukiti
I bet you two cents that the first white man to discover Africa was armed with nothing but faith, in a poorly made canoe. He must have literally bumped into Africa, and if the monsoon winds had stirred him just a little bit to the right he would have ended up in Australia or Antarctica. I will go out on a limb here and assume that he was a man – yes, I dare you to accuse me of misogyny.
Sometimes I bury my head in my sheets and imagine him seated miserably in his backyard filled with regret, anger and disappointment that his life had not panned out how he had pictured it. C’est la vie – such is life; sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. I know that’s how I would have brushed it off, but, no, his head is spinning and his heart is thirsty for an adventure, something to jump-start his adrenaline. So curiosity, boredom, and a mid-life crisis lead him to set a journey. With no direction in particular but great desire to stimulate himself, he sails south. Somehow he survives the terrors of the sea, and, by grace and mercy, his voyage lands him on this beautiful continent. And this arrival turns the wheel of time for some historic events to happen in and to Africa.
The white man is met with open arms, and with astonished, yet smiley faces and warm hearts. He’s mesmerized by these amazingly textured human beings with thick hair and dressed in animal skins. He is dazzled by the languages, and he is amazed to see the kind of religion we had going on here, but he still considers our way of life “primitive”. He gets deeper into the continent – well, actually, the “big country,” according to him, and he stumbles upon these breathtaking landscapes, all green and unpolluted, and he suddenly gets ideas. He looks around him and sees a backward, retrogressive country, a country sitting on a lot of potential. He is filled with greed to turn this sanctuary into his own, and his feelings of being a failure suddenly disappear. He is overcome by a sense of superiority, as well as by so much ambition that he can literally taste it on the tongue. All the things he has so far not felt in a long time come rushing back to him like a moth to a flame.
The white man travels back to his country and exalts himself before his family, friends and his government. He beats his chest, reassuring himself that he all by himself has discovered something more valuable than any man who has so far walked upon the planet. The geniuses of his time, he tells himself, have had nothing to offer to beat what he has achieved, and he dangles this carrot that is Africa before their eyes and says: “It is huge, greener than most places, fertile, full of resources: gold, lead, diamonds – you name it – and the icing on the cake, the cherry on top, is that it is all free and comes with free labour.” They are all hooked. So, in the years that follow that coincidental trip, Africa will be visited by explorers seeking a sight for sore eyes. In will come missionaries, who will kick off the ground running, and like a pressed child who has found a hidden bush to ease himself they will make it pour. Traders also will find their way to this ocean of resources. Everyone with a little bit of curiosity will be headed this way – including even people with inferiority complex disorder – because this will be the place whereby they feel like royalty despite their backgrounds.
News of this rare gem called Africa will travel fast, even at a time when there will be no social media and when different parts of the world will be invested with unknown diseases, for there will be no impediment to Europe’s interest in them. And, as fate would have it, Europe’s greed will be too much for it to contain, that it will rush to Africa. Different superpowers will camp in various places on the Africa, and I assure you they will not consult us first. The era of colonization will be upon our people, and it will be an altogether difficult time for us. I don’t know what sins our ancestors have committed then, or what they will have committed in their preceding lives, but the wages will be due.
If you read your history well you will most definitely come across the invasion of Africa and how different communities reacted to that hostile takeover. The white man literally migrated to Africa, took over our lands, and wanted to be treated like a god? But as sure as hell it wasn’t going to be that easy, for some communities resisted his rule.
The Nandi of Kenya, the Hehe of Tanganyika and the Ashanti of Ghana, among many other tribes, were not ready to play ball, and the price was too much to pay. Tribes like the Maasai of Kenya, the Baganda of Uganda, the Lemba of Zimbabwe, and many others collaborated with the colonizer, but their maximum cooperation with him did not go without bloodshed either. The Europeans relegated us to a sub-class of human existence to such an extent that it still stirs up bitter emotions among the older generations of our people whenever they go down memory lane and recall the cruel acts done unto them, their parents, and their siblings.
That single trip out of curiosity and adventure somehow left us, the black people, killed, homeless and governed by the white man. In our corner of the woods, we had the British, while across the river we had the French, and beyond the hills we had the Germans, and so on. Greed is an insatiable desire, and more often than not it blinded the white man so much so that that he tripped and fell on his brothers’ backyards. Yet on those days when they didn’t see eye to eye, when brother wanted brother’s piece of the pie, somehow it was our blood, we the Africans, that soaked the earth, because they enlisted our young men to fight their battles. This was settled by the treaty to partition Africa when the indigenous territories were enclosed in boundaries with restrictions of movement from one country to another, so that, even today, it is still a hustle to get a visa from one African country to another. When trouble stirred at home the white man also shipped us off to fight those battles for him as well. We fought alongside him in World War I and World War II, when diplomacy was off the table and each country wanted to show off their toys. The bill was ironically invoiced to us in a war that was clearly not ours.
In favour of logic and reason, it was beyond reasonable that the man had to go. A few educated men and women came together, strategized, incited, and took a swing at the Europeans. This revolution was historical, although not without its ups and downs and a lot of bloodshed – because the white man did not leave without a fight. We finally got our lands back, our culture and our people in different prisons. Ghana got her independence in 1957, Tanzania in 1961, Uganda 1962, Nigeria 1960, and Kenya in 1963 – and so did many other African countries.
To say my imagination of how these events transpired is wild would be an understatement. Each country, each community has their own story to tell of the harm done to it those many years ago, and these stories need to be heard because the pain inherited from those events these many generations has not yet dissipated. Most certainly one thing remains true: the relationship between Africa and the outside world is complicated. Those hundreds of years ago, when the white man wanted to break his monotony and stumbled onto the continent, he was welcomed with open arms until he proved himself otherwise, as I have just narrated.
What is ironical, or, rather, paradoxical, is that, for us, the experience is the opposite whenever we decide to explore and see the world beyond our borders. First, it’s a hustle to get a visa, even though some of those whose countries we may want to visit may not require one in order for them to visit us. And secondly, more often than not when we finally fly into those counties we are met with hostility at the airports, death stares on the streets, closed arms at the malls, and cold hearts at the restaurants. Today black people in the United States of America are still considered lesser human beings than European Americans, and whenever they walk on the streets it is as if they have targets pinned on their backs. Even with our artefacts still on display in their museums – and I dare I say an apology long overdue – many in those countries still do not accept us as fellow humans and certainly do not consider us worthy of their hospitality. I would not go so far as to condemn all Europeans and Americans on those grounds. As everyone knows only too well, every society has its good and bad apples. However, one cannot help but wonder why this problem persists in certain parts of the world despite the passage of so much time.
The first person that wanted to explore, see the world and all that, sent Africa down the colonization and slavery route, and with the kind of debt we have accumulated we might just as well end up in cages again, but that is beside the point. The question is: why doesn’t everybody settle in their own places and put a hold to this travelling and seeing the world that is, for the most part, misguided curiosity? Yes, it might cost us money, but our pride, dignity, and safety will not be compromised if we made that conclusion and remained stuck with it. We have everything we need here, and, as the saying goes, a flower must bloom wherever it was planted and trust it was not planted there by mistake.
The Lure of the Middle East: Must We Go?
By Martha Irene Mwende Wanjuki
Recently, there has been a rise in the number of semi-skilled and unskilled Kenyans migrating to the Middle East, particularly Qatar, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). In a report by the Labour and Social Welfare Committee, 80,000 Kenyans are working and living in Saudi Arabia alone. Most of them are serving there as domestic labourers.
I do not think there is a problem with these statistics. I am also a hardworking Kenyan and believe in moving in the search for new opportunities and for new ways of making a living. However, I have a big problem with the documented mistreatment of Kenyan migrant workers in those countries. A few weeks ago, I watched a video of a young Kenyan woman who had left behind a two-month-old baby to go to the Middle East to work as a domestic servant and who had been denigrated by her employer to such an extent that she was breastfeeding his puppies, and my heart sank.
Many families have been crying out to the government for help inbringing their daughters, sisters, or mothers back home from the Middle East due to forms of mistreatment that were not dissimilar to the experiences that that young mother was going through. Unfortunately, some have only received corpses, while others have been treated to news to the effect that their loved ones had died under mysterious circumstanes. Yet, even so, we have continued to hear of flights to Saudi Arabia with women filled with hope and ambitions. And this brings us to the critical question that we must all confront: Must we go? The simple answer is, No: we do not have to go because the government can create opportunities here in Kenya that are comparable to those that are available in the Middle East. Equally importantly, the mistreatment of our women in the Middle East threatens our dignity as a nation.
Between 2019 and 2021, the Labour and Social Welfare Committee reported that 90 domestic workers had died in Middle Eastern countries in the course of that period. Most of them, according to the report, hadpassed away due to violations of their rights and other forms of mistreatment. Furthermore, within the same period, there had been 1,908 calls of distress whereby some of the workers hadrequestedurgent assistance against such mistreatment. These are statistics from a publication of a government committee. Yet, unfortunately, the parliamentary publication only highlights the sad situations and leaves it at that. Nowhere in the report does it provide solutions or action-based mitigation in respect of the atrocities. For me, this is enough reason to believe that the government is partially responsible for the mistreatment of its migrant workers.
When the video of the Kenyan woman who was shown breastfeeding dogs in the home of her employer in the Middle East went viral, the Secretary General of the Central Organization of Trade Unions (COTU), Mr Francis Atwoli, did not say much except that the employment agencies responsible for hiring and transporting Kenyan women to the Middle East to work as domestic servants should be banned. However, he did make a statement that means everything if only everyone would listen to it. He said that the mistreatment to which the women concerned are routinely subjected is an indirect form of slavery and that it is better for us to stay here in our country than to sacrifice our dignity by taking up indecent jobs in the gulf countries. I reflected on this statement for quite some time, and it made a lot of sense to me. There is no doubt that it is far much better to suffer in your own country than to do so in a foreign land doing unthinkable tasks. And so, I believe we do not have to go!
There is a saying to the effect that necessity is the mother of invention, and the recent unemployment risein Kenya has caused youths to begin to apply their creativity in innovating opportunities to make a living. Every time I walk the streets of Nakuru and Nairobi I cannot stop applauding the levels of innovation that ordinary Kenyans in those and other parts of the country have achieved based on the businesses I see. I have met young women selling snacks and men carrying luggage for a living. These may not sound like decent jobs, but they feed their families and make a living out of them. Everyone can find something to do with a little change of mindset and willingness to take the “road not taken by many”, as mentioned in Robert Frost’s poem of the same name.
The reason why our youths oftentimes leave the country to venture out into other parts of the world is taht they want to take the smoother path instead of the grassy one. And, in the end, the smooth path oftentimes leads them into mistreatment and exploitation, so that they are left making distress calls and promising to make better choices if given another chance. It so happens that migrating to the Middle East is an easier route most people take to make ends meet. I do not blame them; I uplaud their bravery and determination in life. However, I think that there is a need to consider the bigger picture that lies in the consequences of such decisions. That path should be the last resolution after a person has exhausted all other alternatives. But this is not the case for most migrant workers because some go so far as dropping out of school to chase the “easy” money. I am of the view that we do not necessarily have to become international migrant workers in order for us to make a living. We do not have to go!
Philippinos by are by far the largest population of migrant workers in the Middle East, and they have also had their fair share of mistreatment scandals. However, unlike Kenya, the government the government of the Phillipines has in the past had to ban the deployment of migrant domestic workers to the Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia, as a way of enforcing remedial measures to the situation. For example,in the recent past, the government temporarily suspended the deployment of its workers to Saudi Arabia following a series of cases of violations of their rights. This paints a picture of a government that values its citizens’ welfare and life. It shows that the govenment upholds the dignity of its citizens and will not let them be reduced to slaves in a foreign land. Our country needs to take the same direction so as to protect our young women fromthe mistreatment and frequent deaths we have been witnessing in recent times. The Philippine government intends to lift the ban this November only becasue its officials and those of Saudi Arabia have agreed to reforms allowing for close monitoring of the migrant workers. Subsequent to the negotiations, the Workers’ Secretary in the country, Susan Ople, announced that Saudi Arabia had committed itself to collaborating with the Phillipnes on the matter and would henceforth support the rights of Philippino migrant workers as required by international law.
In Kenya, ont the other hand, the government has not made much effort as a collective unit. Rather, it has been left to a few philanthropists and organizations to take onthe role of philanthropists with respect to the workers who make distress calls. It is high time we took the initiative as a country and upheld the slogan, “We do not have to go until the necessary reforms are out in place!”
The newly formed government has started well. The Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary, Alfred Mutua, has made an official trip to Saudi Arabia following a talk with Mr Khalid Abdullah, the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to Kenya. Earlier, Mutua had met with the employment agencies responsible for the recruiting and transportation of migrant workers to the Middle East and had discussed the matter with them. The agenda of the meeting was to find out what might be done to ensure the welfare of Kenyan workers in foreign countries. Could this a sign of a new dawn for Kenya, especially for the people living in foreign countries as migrant workers? I am not sure, but it does not hurt to hope. I pray and hope that the government will take action required to improvethe wellbeing of Kenyans who venture abroad in search of greener pastures. After all, as John Locke observes in his Two Treatises of Government, the existence of government is throughthe people’s consent to protect their rights and act for the common good of the society. The government is, above all eslse, obligated to protect its citizens, including migrant workers, within and outside the borders, against all possible dangers.
As I have said herein, it does no harm to hope, but I continue to maintain that, until action is taken, we do not have to go! It behooves us to remain in our country and engage in other productive activities until we are assured that the problem has been corrected. We would rather have one bird in our hands while in our country than chase twobirds inthe Middle East as long as that part of the world continues to be so unpredictable.
Please do not take me wrong. I have nothing personal against the Middle East countries and the migrant workers who go there in search of opportunities to earn a living. What I am against is the blatant mistreatment and violation of Kenyan workers’ rights. This is why I will continue to recommend action – so that our workers can be safe in those countries. My problem with us is that, as things stand now, all we have is people talking and expressing concerns without intervening in the situation as much as we should.
There are many ways to kill a rat, and migrating to the Middle East is only one. There is not a day that passes nowadays that I do not find myself praying for the migrant workers’ safety and hoping that a day will come when we will not have to worry about their welfare. I am always hoping against hope that the government will find it in its heart to act on their plight as we we here at home continue to look foralternative ways of making ends meet. Until that day comes, in my view, we do not have to go!
Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Education, Hon. Ezekiel Machogu
Principal Secretary, State Department for Higher Education & Research, Dr Beatrice Inyangala
Chancellors of other Universities
Chairman, Egerton University Council, Dr Amb. Dr Hukka Wario
Council Members, Egerton University