Kenya at a Glance
Working in KenyaiStockphoto
Coffee is one of Kenya’s main exports and an important source of income for many people working in Kenya.
By working in Kenya, you will contribute to East Africa’s biggest economy. The country has a gross domestic product larger than that of Burundi, Rwanda, and Uganda combined. In 2011, the Kenyan economy grew by a respectable 5.1%.
The government is currently planning to transform the nation from its current status as a developing country and emerging market into a middle-income country within the next two decades. Such an increase in general economic growth, average income, and standard of living would benefit everyone living in Kenya. However, Kenya faces a number of obstacles to overcome if it wants to achieve this ambitious goal – but more on that below.
Resources and Agriculture
When it comes to natural resources, Kenya’s assets are abundant wildlife and arable land. The Kenyan highlands in particular are a fertile agricultural region. In spring 2012, the Kenyan government announced that oil reserves had been discovered in northern Kenya. So far, it remains unclear what effect this will have on the people living and working in Kenya. According to the IMF, they could probably start exploiting these oil reserves by 2020.
At the moment, the overwhelming majority – over 70% of the labor force – is working in Kenya’s agricultural sector. Much of the work remains at subsistence level, but Kenya has a flourishing agribusiness as well. Farmers and cattle herders produce corn, wheat, sugarcane, and rice, as well as fruit, beef, dairy, hides, and skins. Above all, coffee, tea, and flowers are among Kenya’s most important exports.
Manufacturing and Services
Although many residents are currently employed in agriculture, the primary sector creates less than a quarter of the GDP. The remaining 76% are generated by the laborers and employees working in Kenya’s manufacturing industries and service sector.
In addition to vehicle assembly, cement production, and small-scale consumer goods (e.g. textiles, furniture, food and drinks), Kenya’s industrial activity also focuses on the petrochemical sector. Oil is imported, refined or used for petroleum-based products, which are then re-exported. However, in a surprise move, the Kenyan government announced in 2013 that the only oil refinery in East Africa was too heavily subsidized and might have to close by the end of the year.
In any case, manufacturing is not nearly as significant as the service sector. Kenya is the East African hub for finance, tourism, and communication technology. Due to its breathtakingly beautiful scenery, Kenya is a popular holiday destination for visitors from Europe (especially Germany, Italy, and the UK), India, other African states, and North America. In 2010, the number of tourists reached an all-time high, with over one million travelers – a boon for everyone working in Kenya’s hospitality industry. This number increased even further in 2011.
Apart from tourism and banking, it is information and communication technology that will shape Kenya’s economic future. In 2010, an estimated four million Kenyans were online. Barely three years later, this number had multiplied by four, and over 30 million people had cell phone subscriptions as well. With the global rise of smartphones and the mobile Internet, these figures predict a boom for those working in Kenya’s IT/CT business.
Problems and Potential
To keep profiting from its strategic location in East Africa, its natural assets, and human resources, Kenya has to address several problems that hamper its economic development. Fortunately, the recent presidential elections – in March 2013 – did not threaten the internal peace again, in contrast to the violent unrest in 2007.
However, Kenya began to change the entire nation’s administrative structure, breaking up seven provinces into 47 smaller ones: this project requires lots of time, energy, and red tape. Beyond such political challenges, the government needs to combat inflation, help diversify Kenya’s exports, continue to support its well-developed private sector, increase transparency, and improve the national infrastructure.
Opportunities for Expats in Kenya
New infrastructure products may also opportunities for foreign investors and expats interested in working in Kenya. To build roads and transport hubs, tap new energy sources, and create a better communications network, Kenya needs the expertise of its university graduates, as well as more foreign specialists working in Kenya.
Most expatriates are employed by the regional and continental headquarters of IGOs and NGOs (the UN, the World Bank, the Red Cross, etc.) or by the Nairobi branches of multi-nationals like BASF, Coca Cola, or PWC. With projected growth rates of 5 or 6% in the near future, there is going to be a demand for highly qualified people working in Kenya.