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By Naisula Lesuuda

Kenya: As a young person, I share the pride and joy of what we — and particularly our parents — have achieved in the last 50 years. The last half-a-century has brought mixed fortunes for Kenyans, especially the youth.

For the youth of yesteryear, the 1960s and early 1970s was the era of great expectation and opportunity too. The country had just come from a difficult period of deep servitude under the British colonial administration, but it needed a complement of young, enlightened and energetic Kenyans to become the face of freedom and self-rule. But not all youth could be absorbed into the world of work.

As the country ploughed through the 1970s, those who could no longer wait folded their sleeves, took to the farms as others trained in different fields. Economists say the economy performed relatively well. But it was also a period of relative social disequilibrium as the country embraced changes inspired by developments taking place elsewhere in the world and transmitted to the youth through the mass media.

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As research shows, our economy was hardly doing well over the period between late 1980s and 1990s. In “Explaining African Economic Growth Performance: The Case of Kenya”, Francis Mwega and Njuguna Ndung’u say although Kenya had attained political stability, the years up to the late 1990s were characterised by low growth and limited economic transformation.

They attribute this to the introduction of competitive politics in the 1990s, which evoked ethnic tensions revolving around land ownership. This affected most young people who were majority in the population.

Yes, literacy levels rose by leaps and bounds. But the annual “pouring out” of hundreds of thousands of youth took place in an economy hardly churning out jobs.

The cost of living escalated as the society offered little safety nets for those aborted out of the formal economy.

I consider the emergence of a national phenomenon in which a few people became overnight millionaires (as they robbed the country) as the most detrimental to the collective psyche of the youth.

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Deceptively, this made many youths to believe there are shortcuts to wealth and material status. To some extent, this has persisted with many of my fellow youth shunning hard work in the farms as they idle in towns. As young people, we must acknowledge those who came before us could only do as much. But can we say we are ready to have the “development” baton passed on to us? Are we ready to take the wheel and drive Kenya into a middle-income country as envisaged in Vision 2030?

We do not have an alternative. We must seize the opportunities now open to us. Yes, some things have been bad, but there is optimism across the board that in the next few decades, Kenya will experience a positive shift in its fortunes.

For instance, the World Bank says by 2050, our workforce will exceed the number of dependents by two to one, which will provide an enormous opportunity for wealth creation. So, the future can only be bright.

A lot of things are in our favour.

But how do we, as youth intend to grab such opportunities?

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We cannot wait to be “given” leadership by the older folks. But we must prove we have what it takes. Acquisition of leadership, as with most other achievements — must and have to be worked for. But to do so, we must appreciate our individuality even as we continue to live as members of different communities and social groups. We must defy peer pressure and deny ourselves the blind pleasure of negative energy and self-abuse. Above all, we can no longer subscribe to the herd mentality.

The writer is a Nominated Senator

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youth leadership economic development
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