Caution Needed in Ongoing ‘’highly-paid’’ Expatriate Debate

Caution Needed in Ongoing ‘’highly-paid’’ Expatriate Debate

Even before President Kenyatta had landed back from the land of Seretse Ian Khama, the small twitter dove flew ahead of him with good tidings that Kenyans living in the land of the man who famously asked his party members to get him a ‘’tall slim and good looking’ lady for wife would henceforth receive fair treatment with regard to local jobs that otherwise belong to the Batswana.

While addressing Kenyan professionals and business people living in Botswana, president Uhuru reportedly told the gathering (to great applause) that he had met President Khama who promised to solve the problem (of work permits) as soon as possible. Meanwhile in Nairobi, the NGOs Coordinating Board convened a meeting to cancel work permits for some foreigners working in Kenya. The irony in the two cases could not be starker.

Hue and cry about expatriates in Kenya arose from allegations of alleged disparity between expat salaries and those of Kenyans employed by the same organizations. But wait! Till recently, Kenya has been hosting perhaps the highest concentration of NGOs and other humanitarian organizations on the continent. Even for those without local operations, Nairobi has strategically served as their base for operations in the horn of Africa and beyond. Simply, Nairobi has been the ‘head office’ and with it, the flow of big grants (money) that Kenya did not even solicit for. The result being jobs we could not create ourselves. Literally, Kenya has been eating from other people’s treasuries because the development (donor) world is an industry in itself-(you will feel it once Daadab is closed).


The number of Kenyans holding ‘NGO jobs’ cannot be wished away even if for argument’s sake expatriates were earning five times the locals. In the big scheme of things, thousands of Kenyan families are beneficiaries. In many cases, Kenyans employed by NGOs on ‘half pay’ may be earning far more than their public service counterparts. Folks it is a favor, period! If you doubt it, look at the USAID slogan: ‘’From the American People’’ means just what it says. It is other people’s taxes we receive. It is their sweat, not ours. It is ‘living’ not ‘dead’ aid.

Besides Nigeria, Kenya is known to have some of the most ‘nomadic’ people yet not all Kenyans in diaspora (estimated at over 3million) are in business. Many are ‘expatriates.’ In America alone, reports say there are now entire residential areas ‘colonized’ by Kenyans. That is how Kenya earns hefty remittances. In 2015 alone, Kenya ranked third tying with Senegal behind Nigeria and Ghana respectively with a record $1.6 billion (Sh163 billion) in remittances, according to the World Bank. That amount comes directly to finance real estate development and other needs like education besides funding local enterprise, amounts almost equivalent to Eurobond earnings. Are we being reciprocal?

Even in the aftermath of the Brexit, the world is irreversibly on an integration tangent. Exclusionist policy just won’t cut. Already many ‘Brexiters’ are ruing their win. But while Britain may have the economic size and history to want to claim’’ independence from immigrants (never mind their colonizing past), African countries like Kenya need to attract all the resources they can and not just in form of FDI but development grants as well which inevitably come along with grant managers from abroad.

Fact is, in the wake of terror attacks in recent times, many an international organization chose to downsize or relocate altogether and Ethiopia, even with its limited democratic space but known for relative security has benefitted at Kenya’s expense. Needless to say, jobs (for Kenyans) were lost. Lesson! While we rile at two or five ‘expatriates’ who may be earning what they would probably be earning in their home country anyway, we must not forget there are tens, perhaps hundreds of locals who earn their bread courtesy of those few ‘mzungus.’ To cut the same limb you are perched on is a debacle. And don’t forget, another fifty thousand plus of Kenya’s jobseekers will graduate this year.

So until, Kenya begins financing projects abroad, with the slogan ‘’from the Kenyan people’’ or ‘proudly Kenyan,’ don’t bite the fingers that feed you. Do spare a thought for Kenyan expatriates in Botswana and Tanzania.

Jackson Kiraka Consultant- COMESA and Executive Director-RiimNet-Africa This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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RiimNet-Africa is an independent regional Research, Policy and Advocacy think-tank which brings toge...