Above all, youth need a place at the high table

Kenya joined the rest world in marking the 19th International Youth Day (IYD) yesterday. We engaged youth representatives from across the country in extensive discussions on issues affecting them.

UN frameworks jointly call for the provision of spaces for young people to be productively engaged in political, civil and social matters in recognition of the potential great contribution that youth inclusion can make to national development, peace and social cohesion.

Locally, IYD activities have been augmented not only by county governments, civil society and international development partners holding discussions and events with young people from across the country, but also by digital communication channels in an effort to heighten engagement, understanding and action.

Who’s in, out?

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In Kenya, youth aged between 18 and 35 years old constitute about 35per cent of our national population, with about seven million of them unemployed despite their energy, vibrancy and creativity.

While they remain an asset to the country, their exclusion, non-involvement and disempowerment from critical national development matters, makes them susceptible to anti-social and criminal influences which not only undermines their future prospects, but the country’s too.

The celebration of this youth day has provided an opportunity for the country to reflect and deliberate on how to create safe spaces for the development of our young people while making them aware of the opportunities created and availed to them by the government to contribute to national development.

The opportunities created by the government have taken the form of nine affirmative funds, initiatives and programmes which have seen young people make significant contributions to the national fabric.

They include the Kenya Youth Employment and Opportunities Programme (KYEOP), the Youth Enterprise Development Fund (YEDF), the Access to Government Procurement Opportunities (AGPO) programme, the Government Youth Internship Programme, Huduma Centres access facilitation, Higher Education Loans Board (HELB), National Youth Service (NYS), National Industrial Training Authority skills training and apprenticeships (NITA) and the Ajira Digital Project.

The private sector has on its part made big strides in creating opportunities for the youth. For instance, Tujiajiri Enterprise Development Programme by KCB Bank has trained over 10, 000 youth in agribusiness, automotive engineer and other trades and skills and Equity Bank’s Wings to Fly programme that has benefited over 14,000 youth with scholarships and pre-university internships.

These initiatives as well as those undertaken by many other private sector players smaller and yet impactful ways, are changing the lives of young people and need to be an integral part of the private sector’s operating philosophy.

The government’s Big 4 Agenda, with its focus on enhancing Manufacturing, Food Security and Nutrition, Universal Health Coverage and Affordable Housing, provides great opportunities for young people to not only make a good living. The food security and nutrition, and enhancing manufacturing pillars offer the lowest hanging fruits.

What will work

The governments initiatives in catalyzing agricultural and livestock production with the requisite value-addition; cotton production and textile manufacturing; leather processing and manufacturing as well as the Blue Economy, offer renewed opportunities for young people to apply their energy, creativity and innovation to not only earn a living but to make Kenya a world-class exporter in these sectors to mirror the coffee, tea and horticultural sectors.

If we make a concerted effort to integrate the youth into these value chains, this goal can be achieved in a short span of time.

Kenya’s proportion of urban population is projected to reach 50 per cent by 2030, following global urbanization trends and bringing with it challenges such as inadequate housing and infrastructural services as well as overcrowding, disease and poverty in informal settlements.

This makes this year’s IYD theme of “safe spaces for youth” even more poignant, because it is expected that these young people will live in urban areas and unless we develop urban areas that promote participatory planning, development and civic engagement, then the youth will be left behind and every effort to access opportunities created for them, stifled.

Youth and Big 4

Once again, the Big 4 Agenda with its twin focus on affordable housing and universal health coverage seeks to address this and in so doing create the ‘safe spaces’ for young people to live and work, in an increasingly urbanising country.

Therefore, in marking the National Youth Week and International Youth Day this year, it has been clear that by committing ourselves to implementing the Big 4 Agenda, we will be fulfilling this year’s global theme and in so doing moving the nation forward by creating the opportunities and future that the youth of Kenya deserve and need.

I call on our young people to remain steadfast and resilient as they take advantage of these opportunities and face the future with confidence because Nafasi iko safe: Husika (Your space is safe: Engage).

Prof Kobia is Cabinet Secretary for Public Service, Youth & Gender Affairs

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international youth dayyouth agendaunited nationyouths