Today's Paper

It's a fallacy, the youth is not a ticking time bomb

By XN Iraki | Published Tue, February 13th 2018 at 09:14, Updated February 13th 2018 at 09:23 GMT +3
Kenyan junior Belinda Macharia play golf during junior Africa challenge in south Africa on August 28, 2017. Belinda emerged 2nd position in the girls under 7 years category, she qualified for the kids Golf world championships held in Malyasia.

Youth is perhaps the best days of your life though some think it is the childhood. Once you have lived past two stages, one can look back and compare.

If the best days are about happiness, it is the childhood, no worries, protected by the society and the parents.

If we look at it from an economic perspective, it is the youth. For once, you have the world at your feet and the future in your hands. With no responsibilities, you can dare to dream.

Youth is also characterised by idealism, a firm belief in how things should be and not how they are, from economics to politics and even relationships.

This is why we see the youth as rebellious.  Luckily, that idealism spawns entrepreneurship. No wonder Gates was 19 when he set up Microsoft and Zuckerberg was 23. Both Larry Page and Sergey Brin of Google were 25 when they founded the firm.

 Idealism allows youth to take risks that are often rewarded. Youth have time to restart, learn from their mistakes and grow their firms.

The idealism of the youth is supplemented by optimism.

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Globally, youth tend to be optimistic.  But that optimism is not inborn or innate, it is built over time by parents and institutions. Schools, churches, governments, media and even peers should continually buoy that optimism. The relentless search for mentors by the youth is about shoring up optimism.  

 How much do we contribute in raising the optimism of the youth? Are you among the growing army of pessimists claiming that our youth is a ticking time bomb?

Yet they constitute our greatest resource, our future.

Noted how nations with dwindling population such as Russia and host of other European countries are worried?

It seems though illegal immigration into Europe is frowned upon by voters; it makes economic sense going by dwindling populations as most immigrants are youth, likely to contribute economically to host countries.

I have noted that in most countries, youth, including students pay subsidised fares just like senior citizens.

Most youths have no money and depend on their parents. Giving them subsidised services is a great idea as it gives them a sense of belonging and care.

Through procreation, the youth ensure another generation will take over from them. But idealism of the youth has been misused too. Sugar mummy and sugar daddies exploit the naivety of the youth and their idealism that life should be good with no risks and no costs.

 Many wars and political violence is centred on the youth, with politicians exploiting their idealism. A visit to any war cemetery bears the fact that many casualties of war were youth.

Let us be blunt, the charged political environment in the last few years has attenuated the optimism of our youth by cross-pollinating it with uncertainty.

When will they finish school? Will they get jobs?  Where will they invest? 

Disadvantaged backgrounds

 Replacing optimism with pessimism has made our youth less confident to face the reality, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

We have repeatedly observed that kids from poor backgrounds are nowadays doing worse in school than in the past when poverty was their greatest motivator.

Noted domestic violence involving very young couples in their 20s?  Our youth have been exposed to so much pessimism that they have learnt to be helpless. How can we shore up the optimism of the youth?

Let us start with what they love - sports.  In every village and hamlet, there should be sports facilities, from soccer fields to even golf courses.

Once they realise they can be Wanyamas, Tiger Woods or Salahs, they will be confident.

Sports facilities are only found in schools.

No wonder gambling magnates have found a ready market.

I have in my possession a photo taken in 1938 depicting an inter-farm competition in the former white highlands.

Even that early in the life our republic, the settlers realised the need to keep their workers, most who were youth busy.

It is no better in the urban area, where high rise apartments are competing for sunshine like trees in a tropical rainforest.

Yet, there are no sports facilities. It is no wonder alcoholism and drug abuse are so popular in Kenya. What are the other interests of the youth beyond sports?  Can we invest in them?

We must create economic opportunities for the youth. Every time I visit fast food chains such as McDonald’s, I always find university students flipping burgers or serving tables.

The same applies to the pubs. What of our students?

We could argue that Kenya’s population growth is much lower and leads to the shortage of labour, easily filled by students.

In fact, lots of Kenyans who immigrate abroad put them work as students and eventually take themselves through school.

By focusing on labour-intensive industries such as textiles, we can create lots of jobs for the youth. High-tech careers with high barriers to entry and based on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics can give our youth lots of jobs beyond our borders.

If we become productive, we would create more jobs for the youth. Only that increase in productivity kills jobs before creating more. Think of introduction of computers. Our youth is a firework waiting to be ignited and explode into an economic boom for the country.

How can 35 per cent of the population be a time bomb yet we admire them, even dying our hair to look like them? 

-The writer teaches at the University of Nairobi

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