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Migration and Inclusive Growth: as the lens of Kenyan migrants

Migration and inclusive growth through the lens of Kenyan migrants

Before I joined the African Migration and Development Policy Centre (AMADPOC) as a research assistant I never thought of myself as a migrant. My main goal was to try and win a scholarship to study in the University of Nairobi then think about work after that. As a Kenyan citizen born and raised in Kisumu County, I moved to Nairobi as many other Kenyans do, looking for opportunity. To me then, migration had always meant movement to another country, involving only the person who was interested in moving and their close family. Since coming to AMADPOC, I have had the opportunity to work on a number of projects that have broadened my understanding of different aspects of migration. Being part of the MIAG workshop has shown that thinking about migration can take very different approaches. MIAG aims to understand whether recent migration within and to Africa is contributing to more sustainable and inclusive growth (IG) on the continent and if so, to what extent. It enables policymakers and practitioners to harness this knowledge for more IG in Kenya. The workshops objectives on the project were to:

  • make the selected stakeholders understand the aims, purpose, rationale, methodologies and impacts of the project
  • get critical feedback from them on the project
  • help in identifying other participants of the project and provide different mechanisms of disseminating events associated with it.

There were however, specifics aspects of the research I wanted to understand in more detail that I hoped would be answered during the workshop, such as:

  • What does getting a better understanding of inclusion mean in the context of growth?
  • What level of knowledge and understanding do others have on migration dynamics in Kenya and how does it differ from my understanding?

The workshop started with a lively introduction with all the participants sharing and discussing their personal objectives for the meeting. Generally, many wanted understand the connection between migration and inclusion in more detail but also wanted to get a better sense of how the project was relevant and important to them. What also stood out was that people were keen to discuss how migration and growth leads to development of the lives of Kenyans and the Kenyan economy. For instance, one of the participants from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs mentioned that this project would provide the Government of Kenya (GoK) with an improved understanding on how the Kenyan diaspora could be better organised to promote Kenya’s development. Another attendee, who runs his own online business – UKDUKAS – pointed out that this research has the potential to offer him new and different strategies for increasing sales to his immigrant target audience.

The participants stressed that Kenya’s economy has been booming and gross domestic product (GDP) has increased by around 70 per cent.>They went on to highlight, however, that only a select few sectors and groups are enjoying the benefits of this growth. The majority of common citizens are left out of this growth process with many having to work in the informal sector to meet their basic needs. This is a strong indication of the inequalities of Kenyan society and limitation of IG right now.

A scenario put forward by one of the participants was a good illustration of why the Kenyan economy is booming – due to real estate – but how at the same time, this burgeoning sector is failing wider citizenry. He pointed out that in 2012 the 1987 Property Act was ratified which had prompted growth in the real estate industry. Now the common citizen is distraught and small businesses are closing due to bad policies that do not promote their development. For this to be solved they agreed that the GoK must provide equal opportunities in its services and goods to all residents in the country for growth to be inclusive, equitable, multi-sectoral and sustainable. For example, a member suggested that the GoK could equally distribute resources through similar payment of taxes and provision of basic amenities, particularly in sectors such as manufacturing.

It was also noted that growth in relation to migration is occurring in four key sectors: real estate, services and hospitality, agriculture and retail, as well as in small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Participants discussed how it is relatively easy to find informal jobs in these sectors, particularly for the youth in rural areas. Poor youth employment was identified as a huge issue in Kenya so it is common to find many young Kenyans trying to supplement meagre salaries by taking on additional jobs informally, such as selling clothes on the streets at night. In comparison, the Kenyan diaspora are investing in real estate for higher profits while the Lebanese and Chinese migrants have been capitalising on the service and hospitality sector, predominantly building hotels in partnerships with Kenyan nationals who can more easily get permits.

The Big Four Agenda (2017–2022) is a plan introduced by His Excellency President Uhuru Kenyatta to promote development in Kenya. It will do this by:

  • targeting value addition and raise the manufacturing sector’s share of GDP to 15 per cent by 2022
  • focus on initiatives that guarantee food security and nutrition to all Kenyans by 2022
  • provide Universal Health Coverage (UHC) and guarantee quality and affordable health care to all Kenyans
  • provide at least five hundred thousand (500 000) affordable new houses to Kenyans by 2022.

Most internal migrants were thought to be moving into the agricultural sector, seeking employment. People who live in Nairobi are communicating daily to rural areas like Kiambu to work harvesting on tea, coffee or flower farms. The retail sector has also been facing major economic boosts owed to international migration through many trade expos from Turkey, Dubai and Egypt.

There are noticeable higher economic boosts that can be linked to migration; the stakeholders felt that poor city planning in Kenya was not allowing for effective expansion of certain social amenities which was discouraging human development. In addition, poor road and electricity infrastructure was seriously restricting the performance of businesses, especially during rainy seasons. However, some of the migrant participants were quick to observe that the GoK were making good strides to rectify these problems, as seen through the various infrastructure partnership deals with the Chinese government.

The workshop discussions also revealed that Al-Shabaab is a concern and an insecurity and ongoing threats of terrorism meant that some foreign business owners were withdrawing from investing in Kenya. Another significant challenge is that corruption was seen as a leading cause of reduced IG in the country. One participant argued that for inclusive governance to occur then the government should come up with policies that curb corruption. He also pointed out that if corruption persists then investors will stop investing in Kenya.

From these conversations I was able to gather different perspectives on inclusion and at the same time understand that I was a major part of it. We are all responsible but the GoK is obligated in offering favourable conditions for people to capitalise on opportunities in ways that might make growth more broad-based. The participants underlined that more activism from citizens combined with more appropriate policies could result in increased inclusion in Kenya. One participant pointed out that laws are in place to deal with some of these problems but are often not backed up with effective implementation. He called on migrants to claim their rights and advocate for better evidence-based policies to be implemented. Another participant was not in agreement, saying it is the responsibility of the GoK to teach her people about policies through civic education as it is the basis of knowledge for numerous policies and civil rights in Kenya.

The complexities of migration in Kenya are a reality that clearly came through in the lively discussions amongst such a broad range of delegates. Many people are continually moving in and out of the country seeking a multitude of opportunities. Participants in Group A were identifying major migrant communities of Somalis, Chinese, Indians, Nigerians, Cameroonians, Turks, Lebanese, Iranians, South Sudanese and Indians. Also, countries like USA, UK, Germany, Canada and South Africa, who have some of the highest diaspora levels. Despite all these interesting migration dynamics it was almost unanimously felt that there was need for greater inclusion in many different aspects of growth in Kenya as presently, growth is not necessarily combining with development that is more egalitarian. No concrete answers to this problem were offered on the day but we hope that as the project develops solutions will become more apparent.