Home to around 550,000 refugees in 2015, Kenya is experiencing a refugee crisis that has received very little international attention, and continues to display no sign of improvement. Sufferers of drought, famine and political oppression from the nations of Somalia, Ethiopia and South Sudan flee to Kenya so that they may find salvation and seek asylum. They dream of a haven in which they are no longer persecuted by a corrupt government, nor starved by poor harvest. Statistics hale that more than 85,000 households in Somalia alone have fled to Kenya in search of protection (UNHCR), evidently depicting the unease felt by refugees in their home countries.
In 2016, the Kenyan government proposed a widescale shut down of its refugee camps. The proposition included a shutdown of Dadaab, which is the largest by population in Kenya and houses approximately 270,000 refugees as of 2017 (UNHCR). This proposition was influenced by the economic issues the Kenyan government faced in keeping the camps open, as well as the security concerns instigated by the notorious Al-Shabaab group. However numerous organizations including the African Union and the United Nations pressured the Kenyan government to retract its decision, insisting that the Kenyan plan to shut down the camps and send refugees back was an unjust violation of human rights. As a result, Kenya’s high court voted to overturn the proposal in 2017, with Kenyan judge John Mativo reporting that “the government’s decision specifically targeting Somali refugees is an act of group persecution, illegal, discriminatory and therefore unconstitutional.” (Refugees International).
The High Court's decision was a good one for refugees in the short term, however it is not sustainable for Kenya or the refugee population in the long run. Although refugees are no longer required to return to an impoverished nation, their future success does still remain in question. The majority of refugees are unemployed and have not integrated into Kenyan society. Moreover, Kenya has spent more than $7 billion on Dadaab in the last quarter century (Reuters), with the sum considerably larger when other refugee establishments are factored in. The nation has invested sizeable amounts of capital into refugee camps, but can Kenya finance this for much longer? What is to happen to these displaced persons in the long-run?
Whilst the United States Institute of Peace focuses on ending the conflict in these war-torn nations, it must be ensured that the residents of Dadaab and other camps gain access to a prosperous future. It must be guaranteed that refugees reduce their dependency on the Kenyan government and foreign aid programs, therefore working towards self-sufficiency.
In order to achieve this goal, the United States has already dealt a hand through microfinance investments.
As of this fiscal year, USAID has provided $6 million towards microenterprise in Kenya (USG). Repeatedly proven through numerous studies, lending to the poor can pave the way to their escape from the ‘poverty trap’, a phenomenon in which the poor remain poor, resulting from a lack of capital and poor investment credit. “Poor Economics”, a book claiming to provide “A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty”, studies and compares research across several LEDC’s around the world; it concludes that it is becoming increasingly difficult for the poor to grow their businesses, due to an inability to ‘borrow to cross the hump’ (Banerjee and Duflo 223), the hump referring to the amount required in business investment for market survival. To overcome this, the creation of enterprises by refugees must be further stimulated. Loan schemes previously administered by the USAID’s Development Credit Authority, as well as the Kenya Commercial Bank, have shown remarkable success, where ‘Over 80% of those interviewed agreed that the loans given under the DCA guarantee made a difference in their lives.’ (USAID).
Regrettably, another large barrier exists. By law, refugees residing in Kenya are allowed to join the workforce, however a case study conducted in Nairobi claims that this is not the reality of the situation. The Hague Process on Refugees and Migration, in collaboration with Maastricht University’s Graduate School of Governance, found that a major issue thwarting refugee employment was that Alien ID cards are needed to obtain work and business permits, the problem being that ‘The government of Kenya has ceased to distribute these to refugees’, making them nearly impossible to acquire (Sturge). Without these cards, refugees are limited to small informal jobs, and cannot legally start their own businesses. Hence, to promote an environment of financial independency for the asylum-seekers, corruption must be reduced within the Kenyan Department of Refugee Affairs, as well as the Kenya Investment authority and the Department of Trade.
Once the previous issues have been addressed, refugees will legally be allowed to set up their businesses. Yet, for them to truly succeed, their products must be advertised to foreign markets, as to increase their economic yield. Under the African Growth and Opportunity Act, Kenya qualifies for duty free access to US markets, placing them at a significant advantage over non-AGOA nations. Nonetheless, with the aid of the Export Processing Zones Authority, a program run by the Kenyan government, this exposure can further be increased, as it allows firms across Kenya to gain contact with investors so as to expand their businesses.
Through the economic empowerment of refugees, the growth of terrorist organizations such as Al- Shabaab will be reduced as many will reconsider joining now that they have the financial means to survive. This will ensure peace and stability within the camps, as well as protecting Kenyan citizens.
During his 2015 trip to Kenya, Former President Barack Obama prophesized that "No country can achieve its full potential unless it draws on the talents of all its people". The refugees are now here to stay, therefore it must be certified that they are treated as equals and are given the opportunities to thrive & succeed.
Works in print
Banerjee, Abhijit V, and Esther Duflo. Reluctant Entrepreneurs, Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty. PublicAffairs, 2011.
Al-Bulushi, Samar. “Kenya’s Refugee ‘Problem.’” Africa Is a Country, 26 May 2016, africasacountry.com/2016/05/kenyas-refugee-problem/. Accessed 8 Mar. 2017.
African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). Office of the United States Trade Representative, 26 Sept. 2016, ustr.gov/issue-areas/trade-development/preference-programs/african-growth-and-opportunity-act-agoa. Accessed 14 Mar. 2017.
Camp Population Statistics by Country of Origin, Sex and Age Group. UNHCR The UN Refugee Agency, 31 Jan. 2017,
reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/REG_H04CampPopulationbyCoOSexAgeGroup%28Final%29January2017.pdf. Accessed 4 Mar. 2017.
“Congressional Budget Justification FOREIGN ASSISTANCE Fiscal Year 2017.” U.S. Department of State, www.state.gov/documents/organization/252735.pdf. Accessed 9 Mar. 2017
“Dadaab to Stay Open, but This Is a Not a Durable Solution.” IRC Europe, 10 Feb. 2017, www.rescue-uk.org/press-release/dadaab-stay-open-not-durable-solution . Accessed 28 Feb. 2017.
* “DCA EVALUATION KENYA IMPACT BRIEF.” United States Agency for International Development. www.usaid.gov/sites/default/files/documents/2151/Kenya_DCA_Impact_Brief_final.pdf . Accessed 12 Mar. 2017.
Goitom, Hanibal. Refugee Law and Policy: Kenya. Library of Congress, 1 Mar. 2016, https://www.loc.gov/law/help/refugee-law/kenya.php . Accessed 2 Mar. 2017.
Lee, Esther Yu Hsi. Kenya To Close Refugee Camps Citing Economic Issues And Fear Of Terrorism. ThinkProgress, 9 May 2016, thinkprogress.org/kenya-to-close-refugee-camps-citing-economic-issues-and-fear-of-terrorism-75828416f8a1#.b810j5oek . Accessed 28 Feb. 2017.
*Mbithe, Mwewa Naomi. “THE EFFECTS OF MICROFINANCE SERVICES ON THE GROWTH OF SMALL AND MEDIUM ENTERPRISES IN MACHAKOS COUNTY.” University of Nairobi, 2013, chss.uonbi.ac.ke/sites/default/files/chss/NAOMI%20MBITHE%20MWEWA%20%20D61-63103-2010.pdf . Accessed 11 Mar. 2017.
Mission & Vision. EPZA, www.epzakenya.com/index.php/about-us/mission-vision.html. Accessed 14 Mar. 2017.
Obama, Barack (ObamaWhiteHouse), “"No country can achieve its full potential unless it draws on the talents of all its people." 26 Jul. 2015, 7:45 PM. Tweet. Accessed 15 Mar. 2017.
Refugees International Applauds Kenyan Court's Decision on Dadaab Refugee Camp. Refugees International, 9 Feb. 2017, www.refugeesinternational.org/advocacy-letters-1/2017/2/9/dadaab. Accessed 11 Mar. 2017.
“Refugees in the Horn of Africa: Somali Displacement Crisis.” United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees., 1 Mar. 2017, data.unhcr.org/horn-of-africa/country.php?id=110. Accessed 3 Mar. 2017.
* Sturge, Georgina. “Migrant and Refugee Integration in Global Cities.” The Hague Process on Refugees and Migration, 2014, thehagueprocess.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/NairobiTHP.pdf. Accessed 5 Mar. 2017.
The Economist, “Kenya Says Go Home.” The Economist Newspaper, 14 May 2016, www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21698675-or-are-refugees-bargaining-chips-kenya-says-go-home. Accessed 11 Mar. 2017.
UN General Assembly, Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, Treaty Series, vol. 189, p.137, United Nations, 28 July 1951, Geneva, http://www.refworld.org/docid/3be01b964.html . Accessed 28 Feb. 2017.
Vision, Mission, Core Principles. The United States Institute of Peace, 3 Mar. 2017, www.usip.org/about/strategic-plan/vision-mission-core-principles. Accessed 14 Mar. 2017.
“Welcome to U.S. Commercial Service, Kenya.” Export.gov - Center Content, 2016.export.gov/kenya/. Accessed 13 Mar. 2017.
Yackley, Ayla Jean. “Kenya Will Close World's Biggest Refugee Camp This Year.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 23 May 2016, www.reuters.com/article/us-humanitarian-summit-kenya-somalia-idUSKCN0YE2E8. Accessed 12 Mar. 2017.
The Remnants of Apartheid: South Africa’s continuous struggle for ethnic equality
After painstaking efforts made by Mandela to end the suppressive and separationist regime embedded into South Africa’s judicial system, he was finally released from imprisonment in 1990 after having spent 27 years confined behind bars, an experience which he optimistically defines as a “long holiday” (Wooldridge, 2013). His release marked the commencement of a new era, an era in which the segregation and oppression would cease to exist. The transition out of apartheid was not launched smoothly, incurring much violence and resistance from oppressors: four years of negotiations took place, triggering numerous outbursts of political violence and protest killings. A multitude of obstacles delayed the process, the final impediments to peace being the Afrikaner extremists and the Zulu Nationalists of Inkatha, two parties with very opposing views. However, all was overcome, and on April 27th 1994, the first election where Blacks could vote was held, where the African National Congress (ANC) won a landslide victory.
More than 2 decades later, remnants of the apartheid notoriously boast their prevalence, continuing to create mass social & economic divide amongst South Africa’s citizens. It is of little surprise that the complete reformation of a nation’s way of life has been harder than simply signing a piece of paper; this was a system instilled into the South Africa’s customs, infrastructure and economy.
Improvements have been made, yet the African nation still has many milestones to reach. A recent advancement includes the National Development Plan (NDP), which aims to ‘eliminate poverty and reduce inequality by 2030’ (GOV.ZA) .Although the average income of black households has increased by 169% in the last 10 years, the average white household still holds an income of more than 6 times its black counterpart (Futurefact), thus a clear indication of the long-lasting effects of the apartheid. This is akin to the situation of African Americans in the United States, where although the law no longer directly promotes their oppression, there clearly exists an unjust distribution of wealth amongst black and white citizens.
The nation’s social framework similarly plays a role towards the hindrance of blacks in South Africa. For example, the Group Areas Act of 1950, a law which was not repealed until 1991 (LawConnect), mandated where people of different ethnicities were allowed to live and reside. South Africans of Black and Indian descent were made to live in townships, excluded from ‘white-only areas’, thus instigating the removal of many non-white people from their homes, and their forced relocation to these urban developments. All laws endorsing racial segregation were repealed in 1994 following the ANC’s victory; however, there still persists a social barrier that is clearly linked to ethnicity. This is supported by the fact that 55% of black nationals continue to live in these townships (Futurefact). Some have moved into previously ‘all-white’ neighborhoods, namely the middle-class blacks, yet the majority remains, many of whom are forced to stay due to a lack of necessary capital for relocation.
Employment trends also depict a grand unjustness within the nation. Statistics indicate that the unemployment rate of black South Africans stood at 40% in 2013, five times their white counterparts, where the unemployment rate stood at 8% (Statistics South Africa).This inequality is primarily attributed to the poor education received by blacks in South Africa, as the majority of the unemployed blacks are non-skilled workers. As they come from poor backgrounds, excelling in education becomes more difficult, be it due to financial constraints, poorer education systems in black-majority areas, or coming from a culture which doesn’t value learning as highly. Either way, it is evidently a case of the poor remaining poor whilst the rich get richer.
The ANC itself has attempted to implement policies to correct this ethnic inequality however it is not helped by developing a reputation as a laughing stock in contemporary politics, due to many rather ‘gut-busting’ incidences incurred with its leader President Jacob Zuma. This has been shown time and time again, such as through the president’s response when asked about the HIV epidemic, where he claimed that “a shower would minimize the risk of contracting the disease” (Cutting, 2016).Other examples include the fake sign-language interpreter at Nelson Mandela’s Memorial service, or using the nation’s money to build himself a swimming pool, which he preaches is a safety measure against a spontaneous fire.
The president himself claims that “the organization (ANC) is in trouble”, thus, this begs the question as to whether or not South Africa’s governing body remains the best party to take on the role of eradicating the remnants of the apartheid, or whether this situation requires external intervention. However, one cannot deny the efforts taken by the African National Congress to battle the inequality that continues to reside in the many neighborhoods and provinces across South Africa. Countless attempts have been made to battle this, through public investments, land redistribution, amongst other projects, yet the fact still remains:
Being born black puts you at a severe disadvantage in South Africa.
Cutting, R. (2016, November 2). 18 Ridiculous Jacob Zuma quotes that’ll make you seriously question his presidency. Retrieved April 23, 2017, from The South African: https://www.thesouthafrican.com/18-ridiculous-jacob-zuma-quotes-thatll-make-you-seriously-question-his-presidency/
Futurefact. (n.d.). futurefact - researching the minds and moods of South Africans since 1998. Retrieved April 23, 2017, from futurefact: http://www.futurefact.co.za/index.php?option=com_phocadownload&view=category&id=1:2008-conference-downloads&download=10:the-changing-face-of-suburbia&Itemid=137
GOV.ZA. (n.d.). National Development Plan 2030. Retrieved April 23, 2017, from South African Government: http://www.gov.za/issues/national-development-plan-2030
LawConnect. (n.d.). APRIL27, 1950: SOUTH AFRICA PASSES GROUP AREAS ACT, FORMALLY SEGREGATING RACES AND BEGINNING ERA OF APARTHEID. Retrieved April 23, 2017, from GETLEGAL.com: http://public.getlegal.com/legal-info-center/april-27-1950-south-africa-passes-group-areas-act-formally-segregating-races-and-beginning-era-of-apartheid/
Wooldridge, M. (2013, December 11). Mandela death: how he survived 27 years in prison. Retrieved April 23, 2017, from BBC NEWS: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-23618727