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What to Do with the Returnees?

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An article in the East African this weekend brings up the prospect of a substantial number of diaspora Kenyans returning home in the face of the global financial crisis. Either because they have lost their jobs, or because they feel their have more options in Kenya, an increasing number are returning home rather than waiting out the situation abroad.

What does this mean for the country? Well, first, at an individual level, families who have come to depend on remittances will find life a little harder, as contributions that used to come in hard currency are now going to be in shillings, and may be further reduced if returnees are unable to secure the same level of remuneration that they were receiving abroad. Second, it could have a very disruptive effect on the employment market, with a sudden influx of people competing in an already-crowded jobs market.

Resident Kenyans needn’t be too worried, however. These days, experience of working abroad, while valuable, does not have quite the cachet that is used to, and resident Kenyans today can compete with the returnees on an even footing. Resident Kenyans may actually find themselves at an advantage; not only do they have up-to-date knowledge of the local market, but they probably also have better local contacts and more realistic salary expectations.

The returnees might also have a beneficial effect. If they’ve managed to scrape together some savings, they may be minded to set up businesses of their own when they get back, thus providing jobs locally, which are desperately needed as we all know. From what I can tell, while there is plenty of opportunity, costs are significantly higher than a returnee might expect, so let’s just hope they’ve been saving notes rather than pennies.

How one views the returnees depends on personal circumstance: they’re either a threat or a welcome development. Regardless, there’s no stopping them. Unlike foreigners, we can’t stop prodigal children from coming back home.

[Image by VolkanoBoy]

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