Why so many youth want to leave Kenya

Surveys found the numbers rising from 35% in 2019 to 52% in 2022

In Summary

• Search for jobs and further studies top the list of reasons cited 

Kenyans seek services at Nyayo House on Monday
Kenyans seek services at Nyayo House on Monday
Image: MINA

An increasing number of young people would leave Kenya if given the chance, with the search for job opportunities and higher education being key reasons. Research shows a lack of confidence in the country's future is intensifying the desire to move abroad.

In 2022, a survey conducted in Kenya and 14 other African countries showed 52 per cent of persons aged 18-24 were thinking of moving to another country. The survey, titled 'Africa Youth Survey', was commissioned by the Ichikowitz Foundation.

The most common reasons given were the search for jobs, education opportunities and the desire to experience something new. One in five respondents cited corruption as the top factor pushing them away from their countries.

An almost similar study published in 2019 by Afrobarometer stated that at least 35 per cent of Kenyan youth were considering leaving the country.

Looking at the difference in the numbers wishing to emigrate, 35 per cent in 2019 and 52 per cent in 2022, there is a clear increase in willingness to emigrate among the youth.

Jobless graduates question their degrees.
Jobless graduates question their degrees.


"The youth aren't prepared to wait for handouts. They want to be in charge of their own destinies," Ivor Ichikowitz, chairman of the Ichikowitz Family Foundation, says of the survey findings.

"They will start their own businesses and move to where they believe those greatest opportunities lie. They will leave their homelands for the chance of a better life."

Interestingly, there's a strong interest in self-employment among the youth. Some 78 per cent of respondents in the Ichikowitz survey said they planned to start a business within five years.

Asked what they would do if given $100 (Sh13,000), half the youth said they would use the money to start a business. Lack of capital was cited as the biggest obstacle faced when starting a business.

An earlier survey conducted by the Aga Khan University in Kenya found that 48 per cent of the youth wanted to get into business, far higher than those interested in getting into law, teaching, medicine or engineering.

A similar study done by research firm Geopoll in six African countries revealed that 42 per cent of youthful respondents wanted to invest in small-scale businesses.

Emigration and entrepreneurship seem to be the paths most young people want to take. This is borne out of a realisation that formal jobs are difficult to get.

Indeed, official statistics show that only 14 per cent of working-age Kenyans are employed in the formal sector. Everybody else is either running a small business (including farms) or employed in such enterprises.

There is widespread apprehension in Europe, North America and Australia about large-scale migration from Africa but data shows the fear is misplaced. According to the African Centre for Strategic Studies, Africa accounts for only 14 per cent of the global migrant population, compared to 41 per cent from Asia and 24 per cent from Europe.

Emigration is not easy. As many Kenyans are finding out, getting the necessary travel documents and work permits costs time and money.


Nancy Wangui, a 33-year-old mother of one, plans to get a job in the Gulf states despite all the horror stories she's heard about domestic work in those countries. She needs to raise money for her daughter's fees in secondary school.

"I talked to an agent who told me to pay Sh35,000 for a passport and other documents I will need to travel," she says.

Wangui does not have the money because she has been without stable employment for a while. It's a cruel twist of fate that the lack of money can lock out an individual from income-earning opportunities.

An article published in the magazine 'Comparative Migration Studies' advances the argument that people migrate only if they have the ambitions and resources to make this happen. Wealthier and middle-income people migrate more often than poorer individuals.

"Although poor people do also migrate, they tend to do so less often, and if they migrate, they tend to do so over smaller distances," the article states.

"This also seems to explain why the skilled and relatively wealthy are over-represented among long-distance international migrants."


Emigration is a key plank of the government's policy in the William Ruto presidency. According to preliminary data from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, about 4 million Kenyans were living and working abroad as of 2022.

"We want to export 3,000 to 5,000 Kenyans every week so they can work abroad to sustain their livelihoods and bring money back," President William Ruto said in November last year.

Relocating abroad is one of the most important decisions anyone can make in his or her life. When you choose to live abroad, you leave behind your family, friends and social support systems.

You will be joining an entirely new culture and way of doing things. If married, the relationship will be strained by the long-distance separation.

There are many success stories of Kenyans whose lives vastly improved on relocating abroad. There are equally many tragic stories of Kenyans who lost everything in foreign countries.

Having some cash reserves on arrival would be the ideal situation, but most people travelling for overseas jobs arrive at their destinations with very little money.

What does one do to get a job in another country? The first step is to obtain a passport. This is the most basic travel document. Ask around and get as much information as possible to help you identify a suitable country with suitable jobs.

Recruitment agents are useful, but be wary of paying for services, such as visa applications, which you can obtain by yourself at a much lower cost.

To protect yourself from fraudsters, deal only with validly registered recruitment agencies, whose details are available on the National Employment Authority's website (

Furthermore, the website contains a list of requirements which Kenyans intending to work abroad must fulfil.

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