Will Kenya Ever Be Good Enough for Kenyans?


Will Kenya Ever Be Good Enough for Kenyans?

As a Kenyan living in Kenya, the last few months have been difficult to say the least. Like many others, I have watched the prices of basic goods and services quickly skyrocket.. It’s become a running joke, but the truth is that KSh 1,000 doesn’t get you much nowadays. To make life bearable under these increasingly strenuous circumstances, I’ve had to cut down my monthly spending on non essentials and started considering price over brand preferences. Cooking oil is cooking oil and tissue is tissue because every single coin counts. However, the most upsetting bill has been the inflated cost of power. I now get almost half the tokens I used to get for the same amount of money just a few months ago. It is preposterous, and the fact that it will only get worse is infuriating.

The much derided Finance Bill 2023 is currently in effect despite protestations by the parliamentary opposition and efforts by Busia Senator Okiyah Okoiti Omtata to challenge it in court. In fact, it is highly likely that the series of opposition-led maandamano gained traction on account of Kenyans’ struggle to make ends meet. You don’t need to look at the anger and angst displayed during the protests to get a sense of our collective national disillusionment though. Simply talk to anyone and it’s obvious that all is not well.

I, like many Kenyans, barely survived the economic downturn during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was a brutal reminder that you can do all the planning and saving in the world, but there’s so much that is out of your hands. We can’t predict or prepare for pandemics or wars-like the one in Ukraine—or the blowback from climate change or the prevailing economic mess that is Kenya. Ordinary citizens can only do so much, especially in an unsupportive environment.

And so as tends to happen,  a perusal of social media sites yields recent conversations about people wanting to get away from Kenya, to take advantage of global opportunities. To most, Kenya is described as a quicksand trap with opportunities only available for those who know the right people and are willing to play into corruption and mediocrity. Other countries, especially in the Global North, are described as paradises where hard work is recognized and rewarded. 

There’s little surprise then to know that even the government, including President William Ruto, is now tasking Kenyans to consider seeking greener pastures elsewhere – that there are plenty of opportunities in places like Saudi Arabia, Germany, Barbados, the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada. The President’s idea is that for Kenya to achieve its economic goals, at least 1 million of us need to work abroad and make remittances. 

At the face of it, the plan to grow the numbers of Kenyans working away from home makes sense given that the country is now earning more foreign exchange from diaspora remittances than its major exports including coffee, tea and horticulture. Data from the Central Bank of Kenya shows Kenyans working abroad remit an average of $4 billion annually (much as there has been a drop due to inflation and the global economic slowdown) and the government’s hope is that amount will increase exponentially after the desired 1 million Kenyans travel abroad to work under the program. 

And so just like every other Kenyan wanting the best for themselves and their families, and given the it-will-get-worse-before-it-gets-better state we find ourselves in, I have seriously considered applying for a job abroad and leaving the country.  Yes, leaving Kenya is an option but I am not ecstatic about it, because you only need to look at the ways in which Black people are being treated globally to see why it’s not an exciting proposition. Of course there’s the argument that not all Black people are suffering and that it’s a minor inconvenience considering the better prospects in their adopted homes, but I beg to differ. Being regarded as a second-class citizen anywhere doesn’t sound like an appealing life.

And yet amidst all the hardships and uncertainty for locals,  there is a thriving expat community in Kenya, whose reality is best understood through the fact of life that Kenya is a pretty amazing place if you’re an expat. One only needs to scroll Twitter (or X now) and see the expats, especially of the tech-startup variety, going on about how amazing Nairobi is and how they are considering making it their second home. While we’re being pushed out, Nairobi is constantly being ranked as the best city in Africa for expats.

It has taken time, but that feeling that has been eating away at me around this which I couldn’t quite figure out finally came to me. It is anger. I am angry. Angry that the best thing my country can see for me as a young person is unemployment, low wages or getting shipped off to another country to break my back to send remittances home. My country does not see me as a source of innovation and ingenuity so it  doesn’t try to figure out how to make Kenya work for me so I can stay and thrive here. 

It is no secret that the relationship between the state and the youth of this country has been fraught to say the least. Kenya is a young country in all definitions of the word, with about 75% of the country under the age of 35. Unfortunately, the government’s policies and plans are not a reflection of a willingness to grapple with that reality. I would also like to enjoy this Kenya that is being enjoyed by foreigners. I would also like to be good enough for Kenya.


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