By Machel Waikenda
Every political administration world over has its peculiar challenge of the moment to deal with. Mzee Jomo Kenyatta had to deal with the twin challenge of landlessness and Africanisation of the economy.
Daniel Arap Moi had the challenge of the HIV and Aids pandemic and reintroduction of competitive politics.
The Kibaki administration had the youth bulge to sort out, and an underperforming economy to correct. All the manifestations of a disillusioned youth population became clear during the Kibaki regime. The youth rose against the State. The rise of illegal gangs became pronounced, the most prominent being Mungiki and Mombasa Republican Council.
No wonder that the Ministry of Youth Affairs and some of its institutions were created by Kibaki. It was not an afterthought, but a calculated policy interventionist strategy to retain a finger on the pulse of Kenya’s most populous constituency.
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The Uhuru Kenyatta administration has inherited many of the challenges borne by each of the previous administrations, with land issues and youth unemployment being most prominent. In fact, youth issues as described by Agenda Four of the National Accord, are not at risk of being forgotten as they are now squarely in Mr Kenyatta’s hands.
For Kenyatta, it comes at a worse period when the country has recorded tremendous gains in education. This means the youth have higher expectations, are more aware of their rights, better organised and are looking to engage government positively.
Fortunately, all indications are that President Kenyatta is aware of the task ahead and has committed to resolving the pertinent issues. The Jubilee Manifesto takes cognizance of the fact that the youth have many unmet needs that must be addressed.
To further cement his commitment to a youth agenda, the president has promised to establish a Youth Affairs Department in his office so that youth issues become an agenda for discussion at the highest office.
The promises in the Jubilee Manifesto include allocating 2.5 pc of national revenue annually towards establishing a Youth Enterprise Capital Fund designed along CDF model to enable youth access interest-free business financing either individually or in groups without the requirement of traditional collateral.
Others are enhancing youth-specific affirmative action on Government procurement to 30% ensure participation of youth-run enterprises in economic development and establish innovation centers to support the emerging generation of highly creative Kenyans.
Poignantly, the President has also committed to ensure youth and issues affecting them become a function of ALL government ministries. This means all government departments will be required to put in place measures to ensure their programmes are youth-friendly.
Unlike in the past when the youth have taken government promises with a pinch of salt, they appear to be in no doubt this time. They have faith that the President will deliver. This faith is probably borne from Mr Kenyatta’s and his deputy’s youthfulness, and the fact that the Jubilee coalition campaign was to a large extent youth-led.
His success will be determined by viability of youth-focused policies, adequacy of resources allocated to youth programmes and degree of mainstreaming of youth issues by government departments. How radically the President moves to ensure a clean break from the past, as well as how he gets county governments to play ball on his youth plan, will also determine his success.
The immediate concern will be employment creation. This is a physical and economic transition from being dependent on others to being independent. Key in this transition is access to a job.
The President will create jobs for the youth in line with the Jubilee manifesto. This will be achieved through interventions such as economic growth, promotion of modern agriculture, entrepreneurial development and vocational skills development. The Jubilee government has prioritised these areas.
Government will need to focus on developing emerging sectors that are attractive to the youth such as sports and performing arts. In furtherance of this, the president has created a Ministry of Sports, Culture and Arts, which will be responsible for this development.
To strengthen this, the President could begin by fast-tracking the recently-formed National Youth Council (NYC).
The council is an organ of the youth by the youth for the youth, and through it youth will speak in one voice.
The Council is mandated to, among other things, be their voice and bridge to ensure policy makers are kept informed of views and aspirations of the youth; regulate and co-ordinate activities and initiatives being undertaken by youth groups, youth-focused community-based organizations, and other organisations. The NYC will also promote and popularise the National Youth Policy.
The NYC is also expected to lobby for legislation on issues affecting the youth, liaise with other organisations to ensure young people gain access to resources and services appropriate to their needs and promote inclusion of youth agenda in the formulation of policy by public institutions and organisations.
Kenyan youth have reason to be hopeful. The President has already demonstrated his commitment especially through the nominations his party made to the National Assembly. In the 2013/2014 budget, government has shown this commitment by allocating an enhanced Sh25.8 billion for youth development services.
Five years is a short time, but there is no doubt that President Kenyatta will perform to, and beyond, expectations. He will put thousands of youth to work and put Kenya on an unprecedented development path.
Writer is TNA Secretary of Arts and Entertainment and Director of Communications.