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A generation of youth on the brink and the difficult choices they make

WORK LIFE
By Standard Team | June 20th 2013

By Standard Team

[email protected]

Kenya: He graduated four years ago with big dreams, holding out with pride his crisp university graduation certificate.

But the young graduate’s wait for a job soon stretched into months and then years.

Back in the Nairobi slums where all his friends were doing well from crime, his reluctance to be a gangster faded slowly. Tim, not his real name, started small, he says, stealing small items and selling them.

He calls it “hustling”, in the slum slang. Before he knew it, he had been sucked into armed robbery where guns were involved.

Tim, a father of three, is only one of the more desperate faces of millions of a frustrated generation of Kenya’s youth who have found it impossible to find jobs even after attaining university education.

New jobs

Today, The Standard can reveal that many of them have turned to crime, drugs and even prostitution to make ends meet.

Even as the country’s unemployment threatens to stir an all-out social crisis, the government has watched helplessly, unable to devise measures that would encourage job creation and match the annual demand for 500,000 jobs.

The economy created just a paltry 64,900 new jobs last year, according to official government data. Nearly a million people join the labour market every year. Industrialists blame the government for failure to stimulate fresh investment in manufacturing to generate new jobs.

Consequently, millions of brilliant young minds have been set up for a life of failure at best or at worst death. Poor families that have sacrificed everything — goats, cows, land and education loans — to see their now jobless young adults through school can’t understand why their children are unable to find work. Now years of not finding a job is turning families into distress.

Tim’s family for instance, hoped that their son would one day get a good job that would enable them move out of one of the city’s most dangerous settlements — Korogocho slums. A decade later it is dawning on them that life on the fast lane for Tim might never happen. Neither his wife nor his family knows his dark secret.

Tim graduated with an economics degree from the University of Nairobi four years ago. He was just short of a first class degree. Instead of a plum position that would utilise his knowledge with a financial institution earning a hefty salary, he turned out to be one of the victims of Kenya bulging unemployment factory.

 

He has stolen and robbed violently from many. And he claims to have killed at least six victims and badly injured many more in his life as a thug. But he recognises his days are numbered.

“My deeds haunt me but that is the only way I can live and feed my family,” says Tim who spoke to us from a nondescript location, armed with a Ceska pistol concealed by a slightly oversize jacket.

Nightmare

He agreed to talk to us only after persistent requests to tell his dark story, once shared in part in a KTN story. It included confirming our reporters identity, that we were not undercover police and that we were genuinely concerned about exposing the spiraling unemployment nightmare in Kenya.

Before turning to violent crime, Tim says, he had applied for more than 100 jobs in different companies and was shortlisted for interviews on a few, four to be exact. He has never been lucky. In the three years he has been living dangerously in the murky crime world, more than 20 of his accomplices have fallen to police gunfire. His chest bears the scars of battle from gunshot wounds.

Tim’s biggest fear is that he won’t be so lucky the next time. That he will fall prey to a hail of gunfire before he has lifted himself from crime and properly utilised his knowledge learnt from studying great economists like John Maynard Keynes or Paul Krugman.

Early this year, Tim watched as four of his accomplices were gunned in an exchange of gunfire with the police as they attempted to break into a house in Kayole.

Tim and another accomplice escaped with gunshot wounds.

The epiphany of his demise under a hail of gunfire haunts him every night he tucks in his three children to bed – a girl and two boys. He realises it is only a matter of time before the police catch up with him.

“This is the only life I know of, but it was never my wish to kill but you have to fight back,” says Tim in an interview conducted under strict conditions and privacy to protect his identity.

At university, he toyed with the thoughts of working as a bank teller. Now, he robs customers leaving or entering banks. Late last month, Tim and his gang had just waylaid a victim who had just made a deposit. But their plan went horribly wrong. One accomplice was shot, and succumbed to the injuries last week.

Ticking time bomb

It is estimated that seven in 10 unemployed people are below the age of 35, in a country where more than half of the population within the productive age are without jobs.

Official unemployment data, however, grossly understates the number of people without jobs because it only captures those who are actively searching.

It is certainly a much bigger problem given the number that have lost hope of gaining employment and have resigned to fate.

World Bank reports refer to the emerging unemployment crisis among the youth as “a ticking time bomb that requires urgent interventions.” Social scientists describe the problem as a disaster of boundless proportion.

Information from the Commission for University Education shows that 240,551 students joined local universities to pursue bachelors’ degrees last year alone. In 2011, the cumulative intake was 198,260.

The number of students in other institutions of higher learning is higher given the structure of the country’s college education.

Measured against Kenya’s ability to create new jobs, the educational institutions could be playing the role of holding-grounds for the next crop of murderers and carjackers, boxed into the dangerous vice for lack of opportunities.

Some 300 college graduates will apply for any entry-level job, according to estimates from recruitment firm Corporate Staffing Services.

Considering the growing number of college graduates entering the job market, a prospective employee could as well be competing for the same job opening with 500 others.

Gun-toting robber

Statistically, a fresh graduate would have 2 per cent chance of getting the job they have applied for. Poor employment creation policies have ensured that Kenya imports most of its needs, including eggs that can be produced at home, which in essence translates into exporting the jobs.

The result is soaring unemployment rates and the associated disillusionment, pushing some of the youth into deadly lifestyles.

But Tim is not the only one with broken dreams who has succumbed to crime. The ringleader of their crime gang has an MBA.

A gun-toting robber is a far cry from the lawyer Tim dreamt of becoming. Would he give up his life of crime for the straight and narrow? He shakes his head. “I am irreparable.”

He is too deep in crime to get out, he says.

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