Emigration can be source of economic dynamism in Kenya

Little boys taking water for drinking on a street of Kibera. [iStockphoto]

The World Bank recently released its annual World Development Report 2023, which addresses the promises and pitfalls of immigration around the globe.

About 184 million people (including 37 million refugees) live outside of their home countries. The report's message has several implications for us as a country. The government estimates that about 3 million Kenyans live outside of the country.

Last year remittances from our diaspora totaled just under Sh500 billion. Clearly, emigration can be a major source of economic dynamism if we do it right. The World Development Report's Chapter 5 discusses how countries like ours can leverage migration for development. In particular,

We will only be able to benefit from emigration if we do it right. Doing it right will mean setting up a functional education system that is good enough to produce well-rounded individuals that can compete favorably in the higher end of the international labor market. Notice that this would be akin to investing in high-end service exports in which case aiming to be globally competitive would have positive spillover effects in our own domestic economy.

Aligning our systems

Importantly, our goal should not be to train automatons for foreign economies. In other words, we should not subordinate our education systems to foreign labor demands. We should also not end up with a bifurcated education system in which one segment produces globally competitive labor, while another produces barely literate people.

The government should aim to improve our education system so that it produces the best possible workers for our economy. If we do that then the same graduates of the system will be good enough to do well on the global labor market.

Having a coherent approach to this policy question is important. This week, President William Ruto suggested to his guest, the Japanese Prime Minister, that he would seek to align our education system with that of the Japanese in the hopes that Kenyans would then be able to find jobs in Japan.

Reactions to the president's statement rightfully pointed to the folly of aligning our systems to foreigners', without first resolving the question of what our education system is meant to do for us.

Hoping to increase emigration of skilled workers to Japan is not necessarily bad. However, doing so would only be beneficial if we align our education system not to foreigners', but to the needs of our economy first.

- The writer is an Assistant Professor at Georgetown University Twitter: @kopalo