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Why our youth must be helped to fully utilise their potential

Young people have every opportunity and right to participate fully in the national agenda. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

In the recent past, I have encountered several young people who have confessed to the use of drugs, and especially marijuana, or weed as it is popularly known.

What has been surprising is the confidence and total ease with which they admit to their use of the substance. I must confess but I have wondered whether the recent campaigns by the Roots Party might have left a root in the minds of our young people – normalising what has hitherto been considered abnormal. This raises serious questions as to what we intend to do with our young people – a large and critical segment of our society.

That Africa hosts the youngest population in the world is not news. A recent report cited by Business Daily ranked Kenya as one of the highest youth-populated countries globally. Kenya’s ratio of youth stands at 20.3 per cent, above the world’s average of 15.8 per cent and 19.2 per cent for Africa. In Africa, a report by Cities Alliance indicates that almost 60 per cent of Africa’s population is under the age of 25, making Africa the world’s youngest continent.

This is a highly energetic generation that urgently needs to find legitimate and practical opportunities for self-expression. The last thing anyone would want to do is to weaponize them by destroying their sense of destiny. Instead, it is imperative and absolutely urgent for us to prepare our young people for the future that awaits them, by harnessing their great potential. It is, therefore, unfortunate, that this same group has been targeted and at times lured into such vices as drug and substance abuse and violent crimes.

Reports indicate that many countries with high cases of drug and substance abuse among young people, also face the challenge of high levels of violent crime, especially by and among the youth. This is a dangerous prospect, especially in a difficult economy such as ours.  Therefore, creating opportunities primarily for young people should be at the core of our national agenda. It is encouraging that there are robust conversations in many quarters about youth empowerment and inclusion through mentorship.

In a world that is variously complex, it is crucial to intensify mentorship and training for this upcoming generation. Guidance is needed in the area of self-leadership to develop strategic decision-making and to influence positivity and productivity in their lives. In a generation where truth has become a continuum, and the boundaries between right and wrong are completely blurred, training in critical thinking and its components is an absolute necessity.

While young people have every opportunity and right to participate fully in the national agenda, they have often been left on the peripheries of decision-making processes that define the foundation and course of their future.

Ultimately, non-integrated strategies lead to low engagement in gainful employment and at times contribute to job mismatches. Such mismatching has been shown to be a major contributor to the lack of interest and passion to participate in nation-building with their gifts and talents.

Kofi Annan once said, “Any society that does not succeed in tapping into the energy and creativity of its youth will be left behind.” Thus we should muster out collective efforts and be intentional about influencing them by affirming their aspirations and nurturing their gifts and talents.

Furthermore, we must model a positive perspective to work as a divine mandate to be embraced, and not as a curse to be shunned. Get-rich-quick schemes must be discouraged, and instead, expose our young people to explore and experience the dignity of work. This will create a strong personal self-drive and increase self-awareness and self-efficacy to pursue their purpose in life.

Thus the ongoing review of the CBC curriculum should enhance the intentional tapping of the latent potential of our youth and children. At the same time, we must strongly condemn and punish those bent on destroying our young people through drugs and substance abuse. For truth be told, God has given each of us brains, but some choke them with smoke, some drench them with alcohol, and others sterilize them with drugs.

Then they wonder – How come my neighbour is doing better than me!