The Kenyan community in Italy


With respect to other African countries, especially those of the north, Kenyan immigrants in Italy are few and rarely mentioned in the statistics of immigrant populations. According to 2004 statistics, Kenya does not appear among the first 50 listed countries with the greatest number of immigrants in Italy. There are approximately 2,000 Kenyans with a regular residence permit.
An article regarding the role of Kenyan immigrants in national development states that Kenya is not yet subject to heavy emigration, and the move of high numbers of Kenyan immigrants abroad is a relatively recent phenomenon, mainly caused by unemployment even for those who have received higher education, and this is all due to the general worsening of national economy, political problems and the globalisation factors of the last twenty years.

The preferred countries for Kenyan emigrants are: the UK, USA, Canada and other European countries. The majority of the emigrants have certain technical and business ability; they are qualified (doctors, nurses, technical assistants, accountants, researchers, teachers); managers and owners of various activities who are seeking qualified people to employ and good business opportunities. There are also the students, who probably account for the majority of emigrants who, after terminating their studies abroad, decide to continue and work in the various fields in their host countries.

In the States, where there is the highest number of Kenyan immigrants, the Kenyan Community Association (KCA) was established in 1997 with the aim of promoting political prosperity, economic and social development in Kenya. The KCA also invites Kenyan emigrants in other countries outside the States to take part in their activities with the aim of uniting all Kenyan citizens who have left their country.

As Kenya is an important tourist destination, especially for the Europeans including Italians, a part of the Kenyan emigrants are those, mainly women, who get married to Italian tourists and later on invite their families to Italy as well. These in turn set up small businesses, importing various tourist souvenirs, exporting, on a small scale, Italian fashion clothing and other items. Another category of Kenyan immigrants is formed of the seminarists and the clergy, however it can happen that thy give up their religious education and ecclesiastic life and remain in Italy and begin working in other fields.

The majority of Kenyan students in Italy leave the country when they have terminated their studies, and decide to go back to Kenya or on to other countries, especially the UK and the States, where it is easier to integrate, given the linguistic, cultural and professional training similarities, without having to learn a new language and translate their qualifications which they obtained abroad. In Italy, for example, due to the different education systems between Kenya and Italy, a qualification obtained abroad must be recognised by Italian education to be considered valid; furthermore, Italian, like all Latin origin languages is generally difficult to learn for English speakers.

Those who, like myself, decide to stay in Italy when they have finished their studies, start working with the hopes of having a better standard of living with respect to that back home in Kenya, especially when, after a long time spent abroad, personal hopes and expectations change.
They want to reach their personal aims, which would be difficult in Kenya, and stay in Italy to make their dreams come true, or to obtain Italian citizenship. In my opinion, each immigrant has his or her own personal mission that they must pursue and fight continuously to attain.

However, staying outside the homeland does not preclude the chance of going back to Kenya and leaving the new country, but the balance between deciding to go back or to stay is often heavily weighted toward their new cultural situation. There is the fear of having to begin all over again, to learn how to fit back into the old context, and there are also various other factors: such as age, whether one has a family or not, what the relationships are with the original families (strong or weak bonds), again if the family is poor or well-off, if there are concrete chances for social and economic growth by returning home, and many more besides.

By Joseph Mwangi Waweru