That Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i had to intervene and order the deportation of seven Chinese small-scale traders in Nairobi is an indictment of the officials charged with enforcing work permit rules. There has lately been an apparent influx of Chinese merchants in Nairobi and other towns across the country, indicating a possible laxity by Immigration and security personnel to keep out illegal immigrants. Not long ago, it will be recalled, Dr Matiang’i, in response to an outcry over foreigners taking up jobs at the expense of Kenyans, tightened the policy, requiring them to apply and only come over after being granted work permits.
This was part of the stringent measures by the government to ensure that the foreign job applicants’ skills are vetted to confirm that they belong to specific categories. According to the official policy, it is only the foreigners who have the skills that are not readily available in the country who qualify to be issued with work permits. This is meant to ensure that jobs that Kenyans can do are not given out to foreigners at a time when the country is in the grip of an acute unemployment crisis. Clearly, selling goods at a retail market is not one of those skills for which work permits are issued. This is, indeed, an abuse of the policy, considering the acute unemployment rate, especially among the youth. According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, 7 million Kenyans were unemployed last year, with some 1.4 million, the majority of whom are young people, desperately looking for jobs.
It is quite possible, therefore, that these Chinese petty traders the CS ordered thrown out came in on tourist visas, which do not allow them to work in Kenya. Others could be in the country illegally and there has been a marked increase in such cases in recent times. A thorough investigation should be immediately carried out to find out how these traders ended up at the popular Gikomba Market in Nairobi, in the first place. However, the Immigration officials did not have to wait for the minister’s order to crack down on the foreign traders.
The influx of Chinese workers and traders is a major problem that has also been witnessed in Tanzania and other African countries. In Dar es Salaam, there has been mounting resentment over the undercutting of local traders, leading to clashes between Tanzanian and Chinese hawkers. It is a crisis that needs to be seriously addressed to avert chaos.
As we have argued before, a country that hires foreigners, especially in the midst of an acute unemployment crisis, betrays its own citizens by denying them opportunities. This is grossly unfair.