If there is one thing Charles Kitale regrets, it is returning home from Netherlands after getting his master’s degree. He got a scholarship to go to Hague seven years ago to study Conflict reconstruction and human security. After two years of intensive schoolwork, he was ready to come back and change the country.
“My course was tailored for people in developing countries who still struggle with internal conflicts clashes and conflicts, especially during and after elections,” he says.
Fresh from Erasmus University in Rotterdam, Kitale was beaming with enthusiasm over the numerous opportunities he felt he could take up. He was sure there will be many jobs that fit his skills. He was ready for a break from the manual work he had done as a student in Netherlands. In his mind, returning to Kenya was a welcome break from the toilets he had unclogged, the odd jobs with moving companies and the low paying jobs he took to sustain himself in diaspora.
“I thought Kenya would give me much better, because I had my academic papers. I wish I knew how wrong I was,” he says.
A few weeks after his return, he hit the ground running and started his pursuit for employment. Most offices where he presented his papers dangled a promise but never called him for interviews. Some people openly asked for bribes as soon as they noted he had studied out of the country.
“Everyone imagines you came back with a lot of money. When you mention that you went to school abroad, people think you are a failure because you came back to your country instead of staying in diaspora, even if it means being an immigrant,” he says.
After it became apparent that getting a job may not be as easy as he had imagined, he started selling ice cream in Nairobi’s Komarock estate. His papers remained neatly stored in the luggage he returned with.
“Getting a job is not as easy as people make it look. You try everything, and then you start getting depressed because you imagine there is something wrong with you,” he says.
Depression started sinking in. When he compared himself with some of his former classmates from the University of Nairobi where he got his undergraduate degree in anthropology, he realized he was lurking behind.
“Everyone seemed to have moved faster than me. Anytime I mentioned that I had gone to study in Netherlands and I am now back to look for a job, they would look at me like I am crazy,” he says.
It has been six years of getting hired on brief contracts, then being thrown into the world of unemployment for him.
His unemployment has pushed him to take up manual jobs in construction sites, where he does house paintings and other jobs that his people with his level of education would ordinarily not do.
“The reality of unemployment gets clearer to me every day. Everyday we read stories of companies that are downsizing and laying off employees. People are being thrown to the streets,” he says.
Kitale misses the Netherlands. He misses how systems there worked and jobs were awarded on merit, not because the job seeker knew someone in higher places.
“Even though I was doing manual work in Netherlands, I was paid well. I would get compensated per hour, and overtime and weekend duties were given even better pay. It motivated me,” he says.
His situation has made him understand why some Kenyans in diaspora would rather play cat and mouse games with immigration officials than pack up and return to the country.
“It is a stressful position to be in. Friends and family have so much expectations hoping that studying abroad enriched your CV and you will land a plum job. Employers on the other hand imagine you have so much money and you do not need a job,” he says.
He is however optimistic that someday, he will get a job to he is passionate about. His interest is in conflict management and community development. Even though he has not been able to find a stable job in Kenya, he says he is grateful for the friendly and welcoming nature of Kenyans.
“Friends offer to help and they always share with me when they hear of job openings. My family has also been very supportive,” he says.
He still believes that someday, Kenya will give him a reason to be proud to have returned.
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