Why the youth feel left behind by the society

Whenever I speak with our youth —and I speak to very many of them as part of my daily duties— the question of how to deal with youth and challenges which face them remain a black spot in Kenya today. And its getting worse as days, months and years go past even as nothing seems to be done to help the situation.

For most youth who I directly relate with in many different ways—and they are to be found all over the country, Kenya is now than ever before, in need of leaders with bold visions and actions to ensure prosperity and broaden opportunities for the youth as a way of addressing one of the main challenges facing the country.

Ticking timebomb

For some years now, youth unemployment has been described as a ticking bomb, with frustrated young men and women susceptible to drugs, prostitution, or even being lured into terrorism. This is especially so because unemployment in Kenya is marked by inequality and discrimination as Kenya’s youth unemployment is higher than national unemployment average. Access to gainful employment and income opportunities for young people in Kenya is hindered by corruption, the lack of capital, information, and relevant skills, among Kenyans, most of who are youthful population.

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With our youth facing their normal fair share of life challenges related to their age, a proper response to youth challenges needs the involvement of young people themselves in decision-making and political leadership. Many youth believe this to be a panacea to the challenges facing them.

Complete letdown

However, when one looks at the Kenyan situation, more than other years before, we have had many youth in leadership positions including elective positions-with a more youthful parliament in the history of Kenya to boot. Studies have shown that most of the leaders are only young in age – but they have not supported youth causes. Instead, they have continued to entrench patronage and sycophancy because this is the environment in which they have been socialized and groomed into positions of power.

Most county assemblies throughout the country have more youthful Members of the County Assemblies (MCAs) and one wonders why they have not been at the forefront in pushing for youth issues and solving some of their pressing issues.  Sadly, more of this order have joined in the gravy train within county leadership.  

It is against this backdrop that one can understand why this is the sorry situation because with about 78 per cent of the Kenyan population under 35 years old, youth can change the voting profile of the country, but all in just in name. Without a focused strategy that appreciates the fact that leadership is inextricably linked to their wellbeing, youth will remain just that.

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With a sluggish growth of the formal sector jobs thousands of university graduates graduating every year, a mismatch between the aspirations of young people and the opportunities available to them is the yawning gap.

What to do

But this situation needs to a rethink. Kenya must invest in the development of its human capital through policies and actions that expand the education and skills development opportunities afforded to the youth; the provision of an enabling economic environment; and the creation of adequate numbers of decent jobs that will be for the youth and working-age adults without discrimination.

Secondly, with the youth unemployment rate that has doubled and the regular unemployment rate, the question is about the future of jobs. It’s not only about how to get ­­your first job, but also how you can be competitive for the second and third one. And I expect this trend to continue. Therefore, the activism of youth in Kenya will make all the difference.

And, importantly, youth need to speak up and speak out, and organize themselves and they need to lend their voice to the causes — whether that’s on social media or by joining organizations and associations and making sure their collective voice is heard by all. And the Government, like all of us, must listen.

Thirdly, better engagement for youth and enabling them to be part of tackling these challenges is the solution — whether in health, economy and SMEs or issues related to peace-building or even national cohesion. One can actually say that there’s no peace without the youth. We need to work with them and believe their abilities to help in shaping their own future.

Fourth, one of the setbacks in efforts to turn around the fortunes of the youth is failure to adequately implement the existing laws. The National Employment Authority Act 2016 and the Amendments to the Public Procurement and Disposal Act 2015 are in existence but the statutes have been undermined by implementation bottlenecks. These laws are yet to make a real difference required.

Fifth, county and national governments have failed to agree on where youth function lies. Creating synergy between national and county government should therefore be a priority. Devolution should reinforce participation among marginalised groups.

Ultimately, our politicians must distinguish between problems that are urgent and those that are important, and the importance of this one will not diminish, tragically, for years to come.

Prof Mogambi, Communication and Social Change Expert, teaches at the University of Nairobi. Email:  hmogambi @ yahoo.co.uk

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