Nairobi at a Glance
Working in Nairobi
The National Economy
As the largest and most dynamic economy in East Africa, Kenya is the growth engine of the region. In turn, Nairobi is Kenya’s busiest business hub. More and more people start working in Nairobi as the labor force keeps shifting to the urban areas.
Generally speaking, however, plenty of employment in Kenya still depends on agriculture. Although the service sector contributes a far higher percentage of the GDP, most Kenyans are involved in farming or cattle-herding. Some toil at subsistence level, others work in huge agri-business operations. However, things are different for those working in Nairobi, but more on this below.
The country produces coffee, tea, flowers, fruits, and vegetables for the export market. Since the manufacturing sector is small, Kenya imports a lot of essential resources and equipment, like iron, oil, chemicals, vehicles, machinery, and consumer goods. This partly explains why Kenya has accrued a hefty foreign debt.
Many Kenyans – especially if working in Nairobi – also earn a living in the service industry. Tourism is a major field of employment, but communications is a key market too and one in which Kenya leads the East African community. The “mobile revolution” is transforming life in lots of African states.
In 2011, 2012, and 2013, Kenya’s GDP increased by 4.3%, 4.1%, and 4.7%, respectively. The people working in Nairobi generated a large part of this impressive output. Unfortunately, Kenya is facing several challenges which could impede its economic growth.
Overreliance on exports leaves Kenya vulnerable to crises afflicting its trading partners – the Eurozone is one example. A high inflation rate in Kenya has led to rising food prices, though it seems to have stabilized for now at just under 6%.
Kenyans are apprehensive about several political issues as well. Corruption, or a certain lack of transparency, can be a ubiquitous problem for anyone working in Nairobi.
A more pressing concern was the presidential election in March 2013. The last electoral process in 2007 caused severe social and ethnic tensions to erupt. Violence disrupted the lives of many people, not only among those living and working in Nairobi. Fortunately, the electoral process in 2013 was largely peaceful again.
However, the Kenyan economy needs to grow yet more strongly and to attract more foreign investors in order to combat widespread poverty and the huge household deficit. If the Kenyan nation can weather such potential crises, the country’s expanding economy will offer new chances to its expanding population of both locals and expats.
Agriculture and Manufacturing
The prospect of employment opportunities makes quite a few Kenyans succumb to the lure of the capital. As mentioned above, agriculture plays a smaller role in Nairobi than in other parts of the country. However, people working in Nairobi still engage in dairy and poultry farming or horticulture. Nairobi is also home to the Nairobi Coffee Exchange, where the coffee harvest is auctioned off weekly to exporters.
The industry for petroleum refinement and re-export of oil-based goods is obviously located on the coast. Nonetheless, Nairobi’s manufacturing sector provides some jobs. The laborers working in Nairobi’s factories produce, for instance, cement, textiles, and processed foods. Companies like Bamburi Cement (construction materials), Unga Group (flour), and East African Breweries (beer) are some of Nairobi’s larger employers. Incidentally, neighboring Uganda has the second-highest alcohol per capita consumption in Africa (according to a WHO report), so brewing is a lucrative business in the region.
There is, too, a large informal industry, called jua kali. This expression derives from the Swahili for ‘hot sun’. While working in Nairobi as an expat, you will see street hawkers with makeshift open-air stalls. Jua kali is an essential source of income for the poor segment of an urban population growing more rapidly than the official labor market.
The Service Industry
For the most part, those working in Nairobi’s service sector are the driving force in the local business world. It provides for the city’s highly qualified elite, as well as the rising urban middle-class. Nairobi is a national travel and transport hub and the center of Kenya’s hospitality industry. International hotel chains like Hilton are based in the city, and Nairobi houses the headquarters of Kenya Airways. With various international trade shows hosted at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre, Nairobi is an important destination for business travel in Africa.
Furthermore, there are plenty of people working in Nairobi’s finance and real estate industries. Insurance companies, large banks such as Kenya Commercial, and micro-finance organizations abound in East Africa’s commercial center. Besides the booming communications market – names like Safaricom come to mind – numerous residents working in Nairobi address the needs of the local population. Retail, education, healthcare, and community services require an increasing number of personnel.
To sustain economic growth, create new jobs, and provide a higher standard of living, Kenya needs to keep investing in health, education, and infrastructure, and to revamp its local travel and tourism sector. From a business and trade point of view, Nairobi must increase contact and cooperation with both countries in Africa and around the world, especially with regards travel and jobs.
As of 2014, there are various projects in the pipeline. They could offer jobs to those considering living and working in Nairobi and make everyone’s life a little easier. For example, in November 2013, work began on a new Nairobi-Mombasa railway. It is a project financed with USD 5.2 billion by the Chinese government and is expected to be completed by 2017. It is hoped the railway encourages further growth through cheaper and faster transportation, and generates employment in supporting sectors.
A refurbished road network should also come as a great relief to plenty of employees working in Nairobi. It’s not only about the boredom of getting stuck in a traffic jam. Experts estimate that hundreds of thousands of dollars per day are lost due to traffic congestion! This figure takes into account fuel costs and losses in productivity.
All these plans could be a convenient chance for foreign experts who are interested in working in Nairobi. However, you should take into account that such mega projects are mostly tackled in cooperation with Chinese businesses, who are currently making inroads into the African market.
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