Kazi Majuu: Risk or ease for Kenyans desperate to earn?
Omar Elmawi and Stephanie Marigu
Omar is a Lawyer and Executive Director of Muslims for Human Rights (MUHURI), Stephanie is a Lawyer, Gender Justice Advocate and Legal Advisor at Global Justice Group.
As we observe the world day against trafficking in persons, it is crucial to shine a light on the challenges faced by migrant workers and the need for enhance protections. In Kenya, where Foreign Direct Investment is shrinking, remittances have become a lifeline for our economic growth. With an annual contribution from the diaspora of nearly 600 billion shillings, these funds surpass the country's revenue from coffee, tea, and horticultural exports. Recognizing this, President William Ruto has set an ambitious target of having 1 million more Kenyans join the diaspora to propel economic growth. To this end, he has pledged to sign ten new bilateral agreements with regions such as the Middle East, Europe, and North America.
To simplify access to job opportunities abroad, the government has introduced the Kazi Majuu Platform. In the words of Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary, Alfred Mutua, - the platform “provides direct access to international job listings, eliminating the need for intermediaries and connecting job seekers with employment opportunities across the globe”. However, one month since its launch, the platform remains inaccessible to the general public, raising concerns about its efficacy.
While the government's efforts are commendable, they fail to address the main challenges faced by the diaspora community, particularly in the Middle East. Currently, the Employment Act of Kenya allows for foreign service contracts, creating an employer-employee relationship between recruiting agencies and migrant workers. This relationship imposes a duty of care on recruiting agencies, ensuring the safety and welfare of their employees. However, with the elimination of intermediaries through the Kazi Majuu Platform, questions arise regarding who will bear this responsibility and how grievances will be addressed.
Another concern is the verification of job opportunities posted on the platform. While the National Employment Authority will upload job advertisements by vetted and registered agents, the vetting process and agents' involvement in protecting Kenyans from exploitation remain unclear. It is crucial to protect the rights and freedoms of potential migrant workers to prevent them from falling victim to unscrupulous deals abroad.
The need for enhanced protection is evident from a report funded by the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery, which found that 98.73% of Kenyan migrant laborers returning from the Gulf countries experienced forced labor abuses. Even those who went through registered recruitment agencies faced exploitation, highlighting the urgent need for better safeguards.
Given the inadequacy of existing protections, the Kazi Majuu Platform must be designed to prioritize safe migration. Engaging returnees from the diaspora, especially survivors of trafficking and modern slavery, can provide invaluable insights for the development and implementation of initiatives aimed at ensuring the safety of migrant workers.
Unfortunately, neither the design of the Kazi Majuu Platform nor the drafting of legislation for renegotiating bilateral agreements has adequately included input from migrant returnees. To uphold the principles of good governance enshrined in Kenya's Constitution, it is imperative to involve all stakeholders, including agents and returnees, in internal discussions. Only through collaboration and transparency can we strengthen safeguards and protect Kenyans abroad while promoting sustainable economic growth.
While remittances have become a lifeline for Kenya's economy, the challenges faced by the diaspora community must not be overlooked. The government's efforts to promote job opportunities abroad through the Kazi Majuu Platform are commendable but require careful consideration of the safety and rights of migrant workers. By actively engaging with returnees and all stakeholders, we can build a platform that not only stimulates economic growth but also prioritizes the well-being of our fellow Kenyans abroad.