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Mass of unemployed is new ‘tyranny of numbers’

By Jenny Luesby | June 11th 2013

By Jenny Luesby

Are people born mad, or are they made mad by what they live through? It’s a debate that has raged in scientific circles for decades.

For sure, incurable psychoses, such as schizophrenia, have been found to be more common where one or other parent previously suffered the same. But studies have also shown that the greater the number of children to a schizophrenic parent, the less likely they each are to become schizophrenic themselves: as if the influence of the parent is diluted.

Thus, it has become a scientific consensus of sorts, that how we are born can increase our risk of anything from breast cancer to obesity, but it is how we live, and the environment we live in, that makes the difference in whether those vulnerabilities turn into active conditions and diseases.

Which makes the choices we make about our environments the absolute last word in all that we become. Yet for our youth, that is truly a dilemma. Because for our young generation, environment hasn’t been a real, big starter on their side.

A Kenyan graduate who has slogged through high school, got to university, enjoyed the grand crescendo of graduating, only to spend the next four years without getting even a job interview, despite endless days of printing and delivering CVs, is at an environmental disadvantage of collossal proportions — compared with graduates who arrived on the job market in smaller numbers and during better times of rapid job growth.

In fact, our unemployment rate has climbed exponentially the last few years, from 40 per cent to now 54 per cent — meaning the majority of our nation’s adults are without any living, across both formal and informal sector jobs. Our very small slice of formal sector jobs has literally shrunk, and growth in the informal sector hasn’t even barely kept pace with the new Kenyans coming through into the labour market.

Civil war ahead

Indeed, maybe this is the new ‘tyranny of numbers’ that should be our national obsession: how we keep on growing in mass, and keep on shrinking in jobs, and where the inevitable endpoint is for that — the ‘timebomb’ as the UN calls it, the ‘civil war ahead’, according to our international financial institutions.

Instead, it’s a problem we mostly choose to ignore, even as our graduates turn into muggers, end up in Mathare in deep clinical depression, or hang themselves in their own family homes.

It’s so sweet for us all that we can carry on being so fine in the middle of a country where the basic human right to a livelihood is something only 46 per cent of us get to enjoy — and that includes all those earning maybe Sh200 a day selling water, or Sh100 a day digging ditches. Our unemployed majority cannot even make it into that ‘club of privilege’.

As a macro level environment, a society that has discarded the majority and doesn’t even care, is doing nothing, not mobilised, not looking, not wanting to know, might be as grim an environment as could exist for our disenfranchised youth. They are seemingly forever on the scrap heap.

But within macro environments there are micro environments too, and here is where we each do have some control — like the prisoner who can never have his own thoughts taken away. No adult anywhere can be so disenfranchised that others can stop them from working with like-minded teams to achieve at least one small space of progress.

By way of example, one self-starting youth group at the Coast caught attention some months back for devising a scheme where they offered to plant super-fast growing trees in front of grand houses and hotels that would protect residents from the sea winds, if the group only could have the trees, cut them and sell them, after a short while. That group ended up with wood to sell, grown on land they never needed to own or rent, because the growing trees, themselves, were a bonus to the land owners.

Talk about brilliant!

By contrast, this week I asked one young Kenyan, who was cleaning a floor, how he came to be cleaning and what his background was. He told me he finished high school, has diplomas, and is still getting more qualifications, none of which he is deploying in his floor cleaning, but that he was lucky, in fact, to hold his cleaning job, which he had the last three years, because most of his friends have no job at all.

In a nation where floor cleaning is lucky, I have wondered what I would do myself, born to a generation where living without a living is what we are asking of them. What lengths would I have gone to? How angry would I have been? How would I have tried to find a way forward?

My choice

For sure, these guys don’t lack for effort in trying to land jobs and works. But maybe, sometimes, they are taking the rulebook too seriously and still trying to succeed by walking down a High Road that isn’t going anywhere. Maybe the CVs are simply a mistake. Maybe the diplomas don’t make so much sense any more. Maybe the answer is now to say, ‘y’know, this High Road is going nowhere, so back to the drawing board, to see how we make it happen alone, on our own, for ourselves, and together’.

For me, if I were in that 54 per cent majority, the one environment I would want to be in would be inside the youth group determined to make it any way, together and on their own initiative.

It would be the environment I would look for — so as not to go mad. 

The writer is Consulting Editor at The Standard Group.

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