Youth's exuberance is an underrated national asset

Thika Technical Training Institute celebreting with the trophy after wining Special composition on the theme "Protecting your online identity and reputation" for technical training institutes,National polytechnic National youth service during the Kenya Music Festivals on August 9, 2019. [Kipsang Joseph/Standard

Beyond land, oil and other minerals, the other precious but underrated national asset is the youth’s exuberance. Youths are full of energy — both physical and mental.

This makes them exuberant, full of dreams and aspirations. They see only possibilities; they feel invincible.

In the past, this youthfulness and its exuberance was used to wage war. Even today, most wars are fought by the youth, including street brawls.

A visit to the Commonwealth war graves in Mombasa, Nairobi, Gilgil, Nanyuki and other towns shows that the youth bore the brunt of world wars. This also applies to other wars.

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Some young men lied about their age to go to World War I or II. That could be classified as irrational exuberance.

Youth driven by such irrational exuberance have joined gangs, abused substance and taken part in other vices.

One such vice is alcoholism, which many youths resort to as part of their short-term exuberance. Teenage pregnancy is another result of short-term exuberance.

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The feeling of invincibility among the youth leads to irrational exuberance.

Because we grow slowly compared with other mammals, it takes time to start feeling the effects of ageing, tempting us to extend the age of irrational exuberance.

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In the past, mentoring and well set out rites of passage tamed this exuberance or channelled it to the right causes.

It’s in Kenya’s political arena where this irrational exuberance has been extended to limit.

One could argue that dying your hair to mask your age is part of this irrational exuberance.

Prolonging your stay on the political or corporate stage beyond the time limit dictated by reality is yet another facet of irrational exuberance.

What of rational exuberance? 

The energy and excitement of the youth can be a national asset if harnessed well.

Youth can work long hours and take big risks.

Any country that rides on this exuberance goes far. Think loudly, most immigrants are the youth, out to sell their labour and exuberance elsewhere.

Have you seen the boatloads of African immigrants in the Mediterranean Sea?

Have you seen South Americans crossing the Rio Grande River to the US?

While I do not support illegal immigrants, that is how far exuberance can take you.

Have you observed first-year undergraduates reporting to school on the first day and the exuberance on their faces? Or new immigrants to the city?

Armed with only exuberance, youth can travel across the world or country in search of opportunities, both entrepreneurial and educational.

In the US, lots of Nobel Prize winners are immigrants who went to America driven by youthful exuberance.

Youthful immigrants start more enterprises than other groups. In Kenya, the exuberant youths leave the villages seeking opportunities in the cities and away from their villages and hamlets. And they run the many small businesses that create over 83 per cent of employment opportunities.

Ever found a grey-haired man in an M-Pesa kiosk? It’s in the sports where the youthful exuberance finally flowers.

From football to basketball, games and sports are about the youth and their energy.

Even elite games like golf are built on youthful exuberance, with top players being university students.

Tiger Woods was at Stanford. In Kenya and across Africa, we see youthful exuberance as a nuisance. In fact, this attitude towards the youth has dragged Africa’s economic growth more than drought and war.

Instead of harnessing the youthful exuberance, we destroy it. I could be wrong, but I have noted that modern youths are less exuberant than in the past.

We preach pessimism on the street corners, in holy places, in our homes and in some media. The youth grow up in fear and pessimism.

Why else would a first-class honours graduate fail to create a job if there is no job offer?

Bill Gates was 19 when he started Microsoft. Zuckerberg was 23. Lots of startups in Nairobi are fruits of the youth’s exuberance.

Advertisers are the most ardent users of youth’s exuberance which they package very well. They know despite reality we all want to remain forever young. Suppose every industry and sector embraced the exuberance of the youth in the same way, see them as a national asset?

Any time I visit the West, particularly North America, I am impressed by the exuberance of the youth. Students flip burgers, wait on tables and do other jobs we think are odd.

Rural areas

But they get some money and financial freedom. With exuberance, they get better jobs in future.

But it’s also in the US, in the Deep South where a shortage of exuberance in youth and its consequences is too evident for all to see.

That is mirrored in our rural areas. It seems to me that our youth’s exuberance does not tamper with reality.

Our youth expect too much from society and leaders, yet they should take the lead, spawning new ideas and turning them into reality.

They should start small and with time on their side grow small businesses into big corporations and therefore inspire more exuberance in the next generation.

Interestingly, students prefer big Western firms as case studies, not the small firms in their midst. Parents, leaders, prisons, and schools should stop worrying about the youth.

Just harness their exuberance. The youth’s exuberance, if well packaged, could help Kenya achieve Vision 2030 well ahead of time.

We should even add youth’s exuberance to the Big Four agenda or declare it one of the many factors of production.

Are you a youth? Please share with us about your exuberance or lack of it.

 -The writer teaches at the University of Nairobi

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University of Nairobi