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Winging it: Youth’s quest for riches with no savings

By Peter Theuri | August 24th 2021
Two women shopping [File]

You Only Live Once (Yolo) is a distasteful byword by the youth for justifying some of their rash decisions.

The popular mantra has over time anchored a lot of catastrophic financial decisions that have left many of them in a financial rut.

While the conventional ways to wealth are mainly through diligent saving, sheer hard work and shrewd investments, a majority of today’s youth are looking for overnight riches.

Experts accuse them of spending more than they make, leaving little or nothing for investments.

But some reckon while the youth’s predicament is largely of their own making, society is also to blame.

“There is little to no mentorship by older people who made money in real and usually slower ways,” says Al Kags, the founder of Open Institute, a non-profit that works with governments and civil society organisations to promote open governance and citizen participation.

He says when asked about the secret to success, some successful individuals give vague answers, such as “work hard and believe in yourself.”

“Youths are not told about the long sleepless hours (spent in pursuit of wealth). Too much airtime is given to tenderpreneurs and politicians, who got rich quickly. You cannot trace their businesses or explain the jobs that made them so,” he says.

Lured by the mushrooming of sports betting companies and casinos in the country, many young people now waste their money in gambling with the hope of making millions overnight. More often than not, they end up counting losses. Reports indicate that in 2019 alone, local punters wagered more than Sh30 billion in a single month.

Lost in the frenzy, they continued to pour money into the betting black hole in the hope of finally hitting the jackpot.

Others have fallen victim to Ponzi schemes that promise quick returns. 

According to X N Irakin an associate professor of economics at the University of Nairobi and a columnist with The Standard, society has failed to inculcate the values of saving and financial prudence in the youth.

“The youth behave as they do because we have taught them so. We have degraded hard work and praised shortcuts,” says Prof Iraki.

“In other countries, entrepreneurs, self-made individuals are heroes and role models. Why can’t we do the same? We should also stop gambling unless it’s for noble causes like building schools or hospitals.”

Njau Gitu, the director of Australia Education Global Advisors, also feels society has failed the youth, faulting the education system for what he claims is an unsatisfactory attempt at teaching financial literacy.

“Our youth have unfortunately been injected into get-rich-quick schemes by our leaders, corporates and politicians,” says Dr Njau.

“We need to embrace financial literacy in our education curriculum as a core subject like communication skills right from lower levels of school to university. That way, the youth shall learn values of hard work through savings and investment and avoid these manipulative schemes.”

For his part, Anthony Manyara, the Kenya University Students Association’s president, says a lack of opportunities leads the youth to make bad choices in their pursuit of wealth.

“Today more than any other time, inequalities are widespread and complex and affect many areas of people’s lives. Youths are the most hit. Unemployment, ravages of the Covid-19 pandemic and hard economic times all beleaguer the youth,” says Mr Manyara.

He says the pressure to succeed is further compounded by social media, where many flout superficial wealth.

“This, in turn, puts so much pressure on their peers who feel like they’re being left behind or they’re not working hard or are not fashionable enough. Consequently, this results in get-rich-quick schemes that create an impression that participants can obtain this high rate of return with little risk and with little skill, effort, or time. And this always backfires and finds expression in depression and apathy after loss,” he says.

Open Institute’s Al Kags says the youth are not very optimistic about living to a ripe old age, which informs their unregulated spending habits, and their appetite for gambling.

He says this was evident in an informal survey in which he interviewed about 200 young people.

Kags says the survey findings painted a picture of pessimism, where a majority of respondents could not see themselves as 50-year-olds with families.

“They, therefore, have no reason to save,” he says.

Ebrima Fatty, the founder and chief executive of AfricaSokoni, says society has to inculcate the culture of decent and honest living by preaching the virtue of honesty and hard work.

He also says “working smart” (knowing the right thing to do and when) may shorten the road to success for the youth, hell-bent on cutting corners.

“Anyone trying to achieve success in a decent way knows that there’s only one way to do so and that is through hard work,” he says

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