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Does Kenya Have a Problem with its Non-Residents?

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What could have been a very useful post on the Kenyan Entrepreneur blog was slightly derailed last week by a commenter who could not see any good coming in non-resident Kenyans (NRKs). “Joe” was firmly of the opnion that NRKs who stayed abroad were “losers” who were simply too ashamed to come back home with their tails between their legs after failing to make a success of their lives.

Needless to say, there were some who concurred with him, while others were rather vociferous in their disagreement. What did seem to be glossed over was whether people’s subjective experiences were the basis for forming any sort of overarching opinion.

There is no doubt that there are NRKs who are working in menial and low-paid jobs abroad. But then again, if we think of other reasons they have gone abroad, they might have very good reasons for choosing to stay abroad. And while some may be toiling for very little reward, the fact that remittances are a significant source of foreign currency in Kenya shows that there must be some who are successful enough to support both themselves and their families back home.

While resident Kenyans may be looking to the growing middle class to lift the country out of its economic mire, it is important to recognise that NRKs also have their part to play. Not all of us want to get into real estate, or come back home to essentially start our careers again in a new environment. In addition, while there is some criticism of Kenyans who travel abroad for work or otherwise, where is the proportionate critique of those foreigners from all over the world who have decided to make their lives in Kenya? If Kenya is going to be a wholehearted participant in a global economy, it seems churlish to begrudge NRKs of the opportunities that other people consider a right.

Yes, the global financial crisis has had an impact on remittances, and there Panglossian commentators insisting that Kenya is better-placed to rideout the turmoil than most. However, simply because contributions may fall now, there is no suggestion that they will not recover in tandem with the global economy. By the same token, the resident middle class should not look upon NRKs as semi-foreign “others.” Rather, they should view them as a potential source of funding and knowledge transfer.

Ideally, it would have been interesting to see the Kenyan Entrepreneur thread develop into a conversation about how resident and non-resident Kenyans could collaborate on projects that would benefit the country as a whole. It’s a shame the post got threadjacked.

[Image by Alex Steffler]

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