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May Kenya’s youth stand up and be counted?

By Isaac Kalua | August 9th 2020 at 12:00:00 GMT +0300

“The leg is mine!”

“No! I have a bigger family so the leg is mine. You take the head!”

“My smaller family comprises of more adults who need more food!”

This conversation played out in a traditional African village somewhere on the slopes of a mountain. As villagers were arguing over an animal that had been captured by their lone hunter, a wise old man from a neighbouring hunter-gatherer community that lived in the mountain forest came along. He watched the villagers argue with a bemused, sad look on his wrinkled face. He raised his hand and said in a loud, authoritative voice, “there are enough animals in the forest for you. Just learn hunting and capture more instead of fighting over one.”

This ancient fable illustrates a critical and timely lesson for Kenyans. In recent weeks, there has been heated debate about the revenue sharing formula. While this debate is part of a due process that should play out to its logical conclusion, Kenyans need to debate even more intensely on revenue generation.

We should learn the lesson of that African fable and how to hunt so that we can access more prey. This entails changing our mindset; learning new, relevant skills; devising new ways of revenue generation and creating new livelihood opportunities at an individual level.

Individually, we must appreciate that we can’t always wait for politicians, government bureaucrats or corporate players to create jobs for us.  We can take matters into our own hands because that is what happened elsewhere and made a lasting difference.

In the US, Apple, Facebook, Google, Amazon and Microsoft are some of the largest private sector employers. Apple is a direct employer of 90,000 people in all the 50 American States. The company is on course to employ an additional 20,000 people by 2023.  Microsoft, which is Apple’s long-time competitor, has a total of 85,000 employees in the US.

Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc. employs even more people - 114,000 employees. Facebook, the other large employer in the US has almost 45,000 direct employees. Amazon, the largest e-commerce firm in the world, has 798,000 employees in the US.

These five companies were all started by young people. Jeff Bezos, the Amazon Founder was 30 when he started Amazon in 1994. The founders of Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Apple were all in their 20s when they founded their respective companies. These young people tapped into the imagination and energy of youth to create five of the greatest companies in the modern era. Their companies have created direct employment for hundreds of thousands and indirect employment to millions not just in America but world over.

Here in Kenya, the job situation is markedly different. The Teachers Service Commission (TSC), which is the largest employer in the country, employs almost 320,000 teachers. Despite this, there are at least 300,000 other trained teachers who are jobless. In the private sector, Safaricom, the most profitable company in the country, has less than 6,000 direct employees while Equity Bank, the largest bank in the country has less than 6,400 direct employees.

It is therefore clear that our young people can no longer afford to continue searching for jobs in the public or private sectors because the jobs are simply not there. Instead, they must change their mindset and create enterprises that will solve societal problems even as they create jobs and generate profits. We need our own versions of Google, Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft.

More than 75 per cent of Kenya’s 50 million people are youth below the age of 35. This makes Kenya one of the most youthful nations in the world. This statistic can be a blessing or a curse. If we continue with business as usual, it will be a curse because the rate of youth unemployment will keep increasing, which will result in a myriad of other social tribulations. But if our young people deploy the energy and imagination they already possess, then Kenya’s youthfulness will be a big blessing. 

They should not expect the older generation who are only 25 per cent of the population to simply hand over the baton.

Indeed, time is ripe for young people to lead the nation in hunting for new economic opportunities. Think green, act green!

 – The writer is founder and chairperson, Green Africa Foundation. www.isaackalua.co.ke

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