In 2015, Club Madrid, an organisation that brings together former presidents and prime ministers from democratic states, identified exclusion of youth from the economy as one of the primary drivers of violent extremism globally.
They declared that, “Systematic exclusion creates injustice and unfair treatment (and) can produce a toxic mix that allows violent extremism to flourish……political leaders everywhere have a duty to represent all their citizens, empower women and young people, and ensure that individual, group and community have equal access to economic development and other opportunities.”
Whether or not poverty, unemployment and other manifestations of economic exclusion and marginalisation directly fuel violent extremism, has been a subject of debate. It is not in dispute, however, that the exclusion of individuals and groups from the economy and society tends to entrench real and perceived inequality and inequity.
A World Bank study on conflict and uprising in the Arab world reinforces the view that while these two factors alone may not always trigger extremist violence, their relationship with ethnic, sectarian, economic and religious grievances matters, especially where those who feel marginalised resort to violence.
“The risks of having such extreme views is higher among the youth, those who struggle in life, have limited freedom to make decisions about their life and are willing to sacrifice their life for an idea,” concluded the study. The upshot is that real or perceived marginalisation among individuals and groups can exacerbate underlying tensions, leading to insecurity and instability. Hence the need for economic inclusion.
An inclusive economy is one where everyone can access available opportunities to improve their lives. Peace, stability and democracy can only be achieved where all citizens feel included in their country’s economy and society. This brings us to the issue of youth economic empowerment. Young people constitute majority of the population, making them highly vulnerable to social inequalities stemming from unequal, unfair allocation and distribution of resources.
The life choices youth make are influenced to a great degree by prevailing social and economic context. Lack of access to decent opportunities to improve their overall wellbeing severely limits their ability to play their rightful role in society. A growing youth population with limited economic opportunities is vulnerable to political and ideological manipulation, thus posing a security threat.
It is notable that the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) report attempts to provide a mechanism for addressing the economic exclusion of youth. While alluding to the “continuing legacy of marginalisation of some groups and areas” it specifically proposes ways of alleviating inequality and inequity affecting youth.
Key among these are measures supporting youth to initiate and grow businesses. Some of the proposed reforms include efficient business registration, exemption from payment of income tax for a period of seven years, establishment of business incubation centres in every ward and prompt payment for goods and services supplied by micro and small enterprises.
Despite various policy and institutional reforms aimed at promoting youth in business like the Youth Enterprise Fund, Ajira and others, young people continue to face many hurdles in attempting to set up commercial ventures.
Tax and other incentives will encourage youth enterprise by reducing the risk and cost of starting a business while sustaining positive cash flows, a key factor in business survival. Youth SMEs will be empowered to do more business with government at national and county level without fear of inordinate delays in settlement of invoices.
BBI also recommends a four-year grace period for repayment of loans given to students in tertiary learning institutions by the Higher Education Loans Board. The loans will also be exempt from interest until such time as the beneficiary starts to earn an income
Such economic affirmative measures will not only encourage more youth to venture into business but also shield them from vagaries of unemployment such as servicing student loans while ‘tarmacking’.
With access to financial support, the youth are likely to be self-reliant and thus more resilient to negative ideological influences often blamed for recurrent political violence and insecurity in Kenya.
Kenyan youth continue to excel in digital innovation, clear evidence that with the right support, they can be transformative economic agents. Moreover, a shrinking pool of idle youth curtails the space for radicalisation and recruitment into violence.
However, youth participation in the BBI process is critical to the realisation of these progressive measures. Political goodwill across the divide is also crucial in ensuring our young people are not left behind.
This discussion should be cascaded to the county level where a lot of work on tackling insecurity and preventing violence extremism is going on. Local initiatives to build community resilience should be aligned with the broader goal of economically empowering youth, women and other marginalised groups.
Beyond economic empowerment, other challenges affecting youth including access to quality healthcare, education, training and mentorship should also be integrated into the BBI agenda.
Whereas the over-arching goal of the BBI process is to end the perennial cycle of election violence in Kenya, the quest for political stability cannot be realised without an inclusive economy and society. Such balance is crucial for sustained prosperity for all, more so, our young men and women.
Mr Mwachinga is an Advocate and Partner at Viva Africa Consulting LLP. [email protected]