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An interesting phenomenon is taking place in Britain — many Kenyans are packing their bags to return home.
Decades ago, when Britain was a land of opportunity, everyone took a flight to London and to enjoy a share of the UK’s cake but times have changed.
The slow economic recovery in Britain has left many foreigners and Britons out in the cold. The cost of living has escalated four times than wages. The threat of job losses hangs over them.
The rapid rise in poverty levels is giving rise to fears of a social crisis. A shock report by the food giant Kellogg reveals that hard-up families cannot feed their children properly.
One in eight school children are going hungry during the current six-week school holidays as poor parents, who depend on state-funded free school meals, cannot afford food.
Children are not the only ones suffering. Their elders are as well. Poverty is rising rapidly. There has been a 600 per cent increase in food banks and the government has authorised over one million Britons to get free meals.
Severe budget cuts have hit the National Health Service forcing patients to wait 14 weeks for medical care as austerity measures bite. Only the wealthy have escaped these problems.
Some Kenyans are well-off but most are not. They are bearing the brunt of financial cutbacks, deteriorating social services, job losses and business failures. It is no surprise that many are planning to return to Kenya to look for new opportunities.
Take for instance businessman Joe Mwai. After being in the UK for two decades, he finally voted with his feet and left to set up home in Kenya. He could have stayed on but chose to return and happily calls himself a “returnee.”
He has spent the past few years trying to find his footing in Nairobi, but shuttles between Britain and Kenya as his family is still here.
NOT EASY AT HOME
“My desire to return to Kenya was inspired by the need to give back to our community by imparting experiences, knowledge and skills gained during my 22 years stay in the UK,” he says.
He concedes cautiously that it is not an easy ride and those yearning to return to Kenya permanently should look at the reality on the ground. “To be honest, it is not easy for someone who was used to a different system like the one we have in the UK to settle in Kenya, but you adapt with time.”
His return to Kenya was inspired by two Kenyan politicians who visited his security monitoring services business and, impressed, asked him to start a similar venture in Nairobi.
“I set up a branch in Nairobi in 2011,” he says. “It specialises in CCTV installation, servicing, audit as well as upgrade of the latest technology.”
A miracle happened when Joe returned to Kenya. In 2006 he was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes at London’s Guys Hospital and warned he would be on medication for the rest of his life. His cholesterol levels increased and his weight shot to 98 kilogrammes.
In Nairobi, he consulted a doctor for a different ailment, when he mentioned his diabetes, he was put him on a tough exercise regime. “Within six weeks I had shed 16 kilogrammes.”
On his return to London, his doctors were confounded — there was no sign of diabetes.
Londoner Stessy Nyaga, 23, President of Diaspora Youth Empowerment, is eager to contribute to Kenya’s socio-economic development.
“It has been my ambition to move to Kenya and transfer my skills and launch my Forensic Diagnostic Laboratory there,” Stessy says. “I recognise the growth potential that forensic science is able to provide in Kenya by contributing to nation-building in several aspects.”
She adds that “the state of the British economy has also made it increasingly difficult for Kenyans to be successful in the UK since exhausted markets and change in political parties have created occupational panic among the youth. They however need to be empowered and informed about investing in Kenya and encouraged to be part of a powerful economy.”
However, she says, even as Kenya is pushing for a brain gain, Kenyans in the diaspora who are keen on moving back are worried about insecurity.
“There is no simple transition process for those who wish to move back from the diaspora. Young people are unaware how they can transfer their skills back home and create jobs, build infrastructures,” she says.
“The advancement in technology, travel, social media and information has created a generation that is innovative and confident, but it has not been realised how these professional skills and talent can be used in Kenya.”
Leicestershire-based Human Rights lawyer Tito Mbariti, who attended Kenya School of Law, says if the government wants to attract Kenyans in the diaspora, it should provide vital facilities to attract them.
Kenyans will ultimately return home with their skills, experience and savings and invest in specialist fields in the same way as happened in India which saw foreign-based Indians returning to their country to build IT technology cities such as Bengaluru and Hyderabad, he said.
KENYA IS HOME
“East or West Kenya is home for me,” says financial expert Alice Nyaga, who has been in the UK from 1992, and dreams of returning home. “Relocation is traumatic and needs proper financial and social planning.”
Joe Mwai agrees that it’s not easy to just pack your bags.
“Those who wish to return to Kenya should be diligent as the Kenya they left many years ago is the not the same,” he says.
– By Shamlal Puri London Correspondent for The Standard