AFRICA. Kenya is sending its unemployed university graduates to help reconstruct the civil-war ravaged countries of central Africa's Great Lakes region.
Laurent Kabila, president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, sent a special envoy to Kenya to request qualified personnel assistance. Rwanda and Burundi have made similar requests.
President Kabila is interested in recruiting about 10,000 secondary school teachers, construction and water engineers, human resources specialists, doctors, architects and statisticians. Rwanda and Burundi are interested in college lecturers, high school teachers and agriculture extension workers.
Political instability and ethnic massacres have reduced the number of professionals of all categories. Educated people were targets in politically instigated ethnic genocide in Rwanda and Burundi. However, in the former Zaire, President Kabila still distrusts civil servants who worked under the regime of deposed dictator Mobutu Sese Seko and would like to dilute the public service with a cohort of "neutral" professionals.
Sources in the ministry of foreign affairs said Kenyan professionals are too distant to be interested in the volatile politics of central African countries, yet too near home to be interested in taking lucrative expatriate jobs there.
Studies by Deloitte and Touche Management Consultants on Kenya's graduate labour market show imbalances in the types of graduates that Kenya would release to work in other countries. Of 10,000 students who graduate from Kenya's public universities each year, 90 per cent receive degrees in education, social sciences and business.
Joseph Mungai, secretary of the commission for higher education, says over-production of arts and education graduates had led to a surplus of unemployed graduates, while there is a shortage of foreign languages, mathematics and science teachers. The country is also short of doctors, engineers, dentists, statisticians, economists, systems analysts, architects and engineering technicians.
According to William Milne, a labour economist at the University of New Brunswick, Kenya would experience a major manpower problem if Congo and other central African countries were to offer attractive salaries. Professor Milne, the principal researcher for the manpower study project, argues that even before Central African countries showed interest in Kenya's graduates some had been seeking jobs elsewhere.
Since 1994, Namibia had been recruiting foreign languages, science and mathematics secondary school teachers from Kenya, while South Africa had been interested in clinical professionals such as doctors, nurses and laboratory technologists. Botswana has been interested in university lecturers and livestock extension workers.
A number of lecturers from Makerere University in Uganda are helping the rehabilitation of tertiary education in Rwanda. However, Uganda is seen as an interested party in political alignment in central Africa and accused of giving military support to Congo and Rwandan governments against their political rivals.
Aid agencies say it will not be easy for Kenyans or other expatriates to work in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda. According to Erna van Goor of Medicins sans Fronti res, clashes between government troops and armed groups in north-west Rwanda and Kivu provinces in Congo have virtually halted development activities. "Schools and colleges are closed in those areas and the entire population is dependent on humanitarian relief assistance," says Malini Morzaria, the MSF spokesman in East Africa.
The ministry of foreign affairs in Kenya says most of its professionals will be stationed away from "emergency security zones". But the insecurity could still deter Kenyans from such work despite economic hardships at home.