BY KENYATTA OTIENO
An old acquaintance once told me that he is not planning to leave Nairobi even if he loses his job. The guy had managed to escape the poverty of Nyalenda Slums in Kisumu so there was no way he was going back to a life he was trying his best to forget.
“If you happen to hear of my death, make sure that I’m transported in a hearse while my head is facing Nairobi. If that wish is not honoured my hearse will not get to Kisumu,” he hilariously told me.
Those words might have been said in jest but they carry the burden of first generation rural-urban immigrants. The push factors that force them out of rural areas or less endowed urban centres to the city of Nairobi and the pull from economic opportunities cannot be under estimated.
Recently, I bumped into a young acquaintance in his twenties, born and bred in Nairobi but now happy as a farmer in Kisii. He reminded me of other two that I had met earlier in the year with the same story of moving back west to the counties. I was surprised.
The people who have moved into the city will go to any length to remain in Nairobi while some who were born and raised in Nairobi have had enough of it. From my limited circles of friends I have noted that most of the young successful people in the informal sector of Nairobi are first generation immigrants to the city who with their back against the wall of fear of going back to their rural homes choose to fight and succeed at all costs. Most of the people born and raised in Nairobi suffer from familiarity complex so they end up average.
Our parents worked in the city then retired back to their countryside homes. They were loyal to one employer, working while looking forward to a pension. Times have changed, most of the jobs today are on a contract basis, and even when terms are permanent most of the young people are not known to stay in one job for long.
The typical Nairobi bred young man out of college will strive to have a job and side hustles. The three acquaintances had all worked in the banking sector before they either left or the system pushed them out. Two of them have graduate degrees and they had tried to run businesses in the city before shifting to their rural homes. One of them who lost both parents a few years ago is happy to live in a three bedroom house without worrying about paying rent as he tries his hands in vegetable farming.
Lack of opportunities
After discussing with the three about their challenges, I realized that they had all gone through a lean time in the city where at best they lived from hand to mouth. Going west to them was more of taking a break while looking around if they will see something worth their time and effort. In a few months, one of them had borrowed a loan from his parents to set up a bakery; the other threw his mind into his parents’ dairy farm while the third one is happy as a vegetable farmer.
As more people are coming into the city to look for the dwindling opportunities, some souls are courageous enough to go in the opposite direction. These three might look like a negligible percentage but am sure there are many others out there who are rewriting the rural urban migration trend.
A lot has been said about Devolution and how it is changing mindsets in Kenya even if we devolved corruption as well. Many professionals moved from Nairobi to serve in the county governments all over the country. The pull here was a lucrative county government job but to my three friends, there was not strong pull but a chance to take a break from the bustles of the city. I see a time when these two groups will converge to transform the landscape in the counties.
Social change is slow and tedious. Measuring social change is a complex process balancing figures and contexts. The gains in Devolution may look slow but Devolution is doing a lot in the character and outlook of Kenyans in the rural areas. Out of one successful idea or venture, many more usually die along the way. The good thing about such failures is that they leave imprints on the people involved. These imprints come in handy as experience in the next venture.
Whatever happens to my three friends, they have definitely changed the mindset of a few young people who cannot wait to leave their rural homes for the city. This is a positive sign that positive things are happening below the glare of the media and for sure when the revolution will blow up, it will not be televised. Keep your ears to the ground.