Lack of jobs still holding back enterprising youths

By Mwaura Samora

Nairobi, Kenya: The International Youth Day will be marked around the globe with pomp and colour on Monday (August 12), a day after a street festival has kicked off weeklong celebrations in Kenya.

But amidst the excitement and merrymaking will be the nagging thought of whether the    youth of this country have anything to celebrate.

A damning report carried by The Standard indicates that the number of unemployed youths stands at 2.3 million and counting and members of this age-group are the biggest catalysts for crime.

Young people who were involved in the campaigns for the General Elections are already grumbling that they were given a raw deal by political parties.

“The current government sailed to power through a youth agenda and young people were heavily involved in the drafting of the Jubilee manifesto and campaigns,” observes Arnold Maliba, the spokesperson for the National Youth Council (NYC), a body established by the State to equip young people so they can take control of their lives and create sustainable and healthy ways of earning a decent living.

 “But in all the major appointments, no person under the age of 35 have been given a slot,” says Maliba.

One of the major benefits for young people will be the laptop computers promised to some of the pupils joining Standard One next year. Besides the Youth Enterprise Development Fund (YEDF), the government has also established the Sh6 billion Uwezo Development Fund (UDF).

President Uhuru Kenyatta has also directed that 30 per cent of all government tenders be allocated to the youth which translates to more than Sh250 billion. The directive has already been gazetted and the Treasury is registering youth-owned businesses for consideration in the next financial year.

But some experts and stakeholders have been skeptical about youth-geared programmes and projects that have been mooted, arguing that promises and delivery of those promises are two different things.

Others say there has been too much duplication and some of the projects rolled  out were hastily constituted programmes whose implementation  has not been well thought out.

“There is a trend where initiatives set up to help the youth usually end up in scandals, a fact that is both discouraging and demoralising for the youth,” Maliba says.

“This is principally because most of these initiatives are left in the hands of politicians who thrive in the art of manipulation for self-preservation”.

He gives the example of the Uwezo Fund (UF).  Modeled along the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) and distributed as loans at the constituency level, the Uwezo Fund will be controlled by Members of Parliament, a fact that has been strongly opposed by many youth leaders.

The fund was set to be launched by the President in a few weeks time but a heated debate in Parliament concerning its management has delayed its roll out.

Members of the National Youth Council have strongly opposed the handing of the Uwezo Fund to MPs, saying this will create an avenue for politicians to manipulate young people and women the same way it was done with the CDF.

A comprehensive report published by The Standard a few weeks ago highlighted how unemployment has driven many young people, some of them highly qualified, into a life of crime and jobs way below their academic qualifications.

Even though  the Government has in the last 10 years set up various youth-geared initiatives such as Youth Enterprise Development Fund, the report says the number of unemployed youths has remain ed unsustainably high at about  2.3 million.

It does not help that more than 500,000 young people from schools, colleges and universities are pumped into the flooded job market annually.

This is according to the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). This large and idle “youth pool” has been a fertile breeding ground for crime, drunkenness and other social ills that bedevil the Kenyan society today.

“Tackling this vice should start at the school level where we engage in a massive re-education to help create a mental paradigm shift among the youth so they can develop a culture of entrepreneurship rather than waiting for white collar jobs,” says Mr Ngari Gituku, a communication expert.

“This way we will have young people opening businesses that absorb fellow youths; this can help alleviate unemployment.”

He adds that unless the youth fight to define their niche through sheer determination and excellence, their life will remain  one of tokenism; they will always live off affirmative action instead of riding the crest of their youthful vigour, vitality and benefit of time.

“The counties should also employ the tools of devolution to diffuse this time bomb by investing in cottage industries,” Mr Gituku says.

“If each of the 47 counties establishes a cottage industry informed by their region’s resources, it will deal a major blow to youth idleness”.

But there are those who believe the government’s youth programmes and policies, including those in the pipeline like Vision 2030, are a positive step towards the liberation of young Kenyans from economic, political and social bondage.

“As a young person engaged in leadership at the national level, I personally speak to all the youth organisations in the country on a daily basis,” Machel Waikenda, the National Alliance (TNA) Director of Communications and Advisory Member, Technical Youth Committee, says.

“This way I am able to know the most important issues at the grassroots and how to raise them in national decision-making organs”.

As an Advisory Member of the National Technical Youth Committee, Waikenda, who was involved in the formation of Uwezo Development Fund, uses the information he gathers on pressing issues  about the youth to brainstorm with other leaders in the formulation of practical policies.

“The greatest obstacles to youth-led sustainable development has predominantly been the poor education system, an inadequate policy framework and strategies, poor implementation mechanism of policy strategies and plans that focus on youth,” he says.

“The youth of this country also need to change tact and attitude about jobs and employment. With the Uwezo Fund that is just about to be rolled out across the country, the youth must now think about being job creators and employers and not necessarily job seekers”.

The country is gradually realizing that the youth can be players rather than spectators in decision making going by the recent appointments of youths to senior positions in the private and public sector, Waikenda says.

 The Constitution promulgated in August 2010 has been a huge boost to youth empowerment as it compels political parties to appoint young people to the national and county assemblies.

This is how the likes of Naisula Leisuuda, Isaack Mwaura, Johnson Sakaja, Daisy Nyongesa and Zuleha Hassan ended being nominated by their respective parties.

Some young people have been appointed to government agencies. They include Dennis Itumbi, Director of Digital, New Media and Diaspora, Gor Semaleng’o, who is the chairman of Youth Enterprise Development Fund, and Paul Muthaura, Chief Executive Officer Capital Markets Authority.

There are others who have made it big in the private sector through their efforts and hard work.

Outstanding examples are Gachau Kiuna, CEO Transcentury, Muema Muindi, Managing Director Kenya Orient Insurance Ltd, and Hussein Mohammed, CEO Humora Holdings.

But some youth leaders still believe that whatever is being done amounts to tokenism since decisions on who gets nominated or promoted squarely rests with the old boys’ network or company bosses.

“Despite the fact the Jubilee manifesto and campaigns were all drafted and spearheaded by the youth, there is no single young person appointed to the Cabinet as a Principle Secretary,” Maliba laments.

 “This is a clear indicator that the Government is not yet ready to bring the youth at the centre of decision-making organs”.

He also points to the fact that the Government does not have a fully-fledged ministry of youth as an indicator to the fact that young people are gradually being relegated to the periphery of national priorities.

Maliba says the same scenario could be recited in private companies where those who ascend to the top are from well established families.  But this argument is disputed by others who counter that although there is no youth ministry, the youth issue has been spread across the board to ensure that all sectors include the youth during policy formulation.

“The President had two options; to appoint one or two individuals to the Cabinet or to mainstream youth issues in every ministry,” says Gor Semaleng’o, the chairman of Youth Enterprise Development Fund. “He chose the latter whereby there is a youth desk in every ministry and YEDF, NYC and other youth directorates have been placed under the Office of the President.”

This, in his view, is a much better approach as it will end up helping more youths when compared to appointing two or three individuals. But whether young Kenyans are benefitting or will benefit from the current efforts to improve their lot, only time will tell.