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Forget the succession talk, make youth relevant for future, nation building

By Hezron Mogambi | May 25th 2018
Youth in Woodley estate in Nairobi. The group earns a living from art and doing casual jobs. [File, Standard]

The hottest issues for Kenyan politicians today are succession politics and the referendum debate. The more important issue; President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Big Four agenda, may suffer heavy blows if political posturing is not checked immediately.

Amid all the noise over who should be blamed for what, serious challenges abound; the corruption mongrel, unemployment, insecurity, infrastructure, food insecurity, education and socio-economic welfare.

The question on how to deal with youth and the challenges that face them remains a black spot today. It is a fact that employment, formal or informal, is a pillar of any successful society. The prospect of a steady income is central to crucial life decisions like marriage, home ownership or starting a family.

Yet, recent history highlights the dangers to social cohesion and political stability when unemployment and economic difficulty spin out of control.

At least 80 per cent of Kenya’s population is aged 35 years and below. Perhaps, that is why, partly, even Kenya’s vision 2030 sets an ambitious target to become a middle income country by 2030. This goal not only requires uninterrupted annual growth of 10 per cent, but also demands the existence of citizens who possess globally-competitive skills.

Adequate jobs

However, despite these growing numbers of youth among us, the ratio of new formal sector jobs to the number of graduates is about 1:5, suggesting that the economy does not create adequate jobs for a majority of job seekers. The situation in Kenya is similar to that of China - and a lot of Asia in the early 1990s, when the youth formed the majority of the population.  

However, incidentally, it is this cheap and young labour force that gave China its reputation as the manufacturing capital of the world. Asian countries transformed this demographic advantage by massively investing in education, family planning and job creation.

In comparison, the situation in Kenya is different. University graduates, school leavers, and hordes of youths are struggling to eke out a living. Indeed, with a youth unemployment rate of nearly 35 per cent, the youth will have no reason to hope for a better tomorrow.

The youth need an assurance that their future counts for something. I will not tell you what poverty, unemployment, and lack of economic opportunity can lead to. I can only say that search for social and economic justice, especially among youth, can be both sad and worrying.

This is why Kenyan politicians must be seen to formulate youth policies that respond to the changing conditions of young people in the 21st century. The cycle of “no job, no experience, no experience, no job” must be dealt with urgently with practical and ongoing Government and private sector interventions and society contribution.

Structures and policies to address their plight like Ajira, Youth Fund, Uwezo Fund and National Youth Service are encouraging. However, when corruption swallows a large chunk of the funds allocated to such interventions, then, clearly, the youth will need a new miracle to base their hopes for a better tomorrow.

Corrupt individuals

This explains why reports indicate that 50 per cent of youth in Kenya do not care what methods one uses to make money, including corruption, as long as they do not end up in jail. Many Kenyan youth believe corruption is profitable. As a country, we have had tendencies of praising corrupt individuals, hence the new culture among the youth.

Clearly, policy makers have a duty to build capable institutions with the clear purpose of not only expanding economic opportunities for youth, but also effectively and efficiently delivering basic services to citizens.

This means every Kenyan shilling spent on education, health and other basic services must deliver value. But, young people desire real change.

Again, through technical and vocational training (TVET), there is need to modernise the curriculum, sponsor programmes to assess and re-equip youth with skills the market will be looking for tomorrow.

Kenyan youth must be led to drive the change we all need to be innovators. Today Kenya is lagging behind the sub-Saharan Africa in key issues, including vocational and technical skills, retention of skilled talent and opportunities for growth and development of talent.

Kenya’s policies and politics must inspire hope in youth. Young people must not see their generation as uniquely betrayed. We all owe young people a better tomorrow and they have no duty to kowtow. The “youth quake” is now turning real. And, of course, many people born post-1990 are well informed, public spirited and energetic.

Everyday politics and policies by political class should give them some relevance to their everyday fears and ambitions.

To paraphrase Theodore Roosevelt, the country must start admiring and helping young people who embody victorious effort.

Prof. Mogambi, a Development communication and social change expert, teaches at the University of Nairobi: [email protected]

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