At last week’s Mashujaa Day celebrations, President Uhuru Kenyatta reignited the hopes of unemployed Kenyan youth by promoting the Kazi Mtaani initiative, a safety net programme for unemployed youth in densely populated areas, especially in urban areas.
The programme that started after the Covid-19 outbreak last year has positively impacted the lives of thousands of young people in terms of their consumption, reduction in vulnerabilities, social inclusion and improved socio-economic wellbeing. Some of the programme beneficiaries lost their jobs following company closures due to the pandemic.
The President’s promise to allocate a further Sh10 billion to the fund reflects the government’s appreciation of the successes of the scheme whose potential cannot be gainsaid.
Over the past five years, the government has devoted significant resources to social protection programmes such as those for orphans and vulnerable children (CT-OVC), Inua Jamii and Hunger Safety Net.
To attain higher success in these programmes, some lessons from the initial phases of Kazi Mtaani should inform a well-designed programme in the next phase.
Resource constraints are, of course, the main challenge, but governance issues around the fund are equally important.
Given rampant unemployment, youth from able families should be distinguished from those from poor families. The targeting phase is usually overlooked when any youth who registers at the chief’s camp is considered poor.
While every youth has a right to employment, the role of safety net programmes is to prevent the vulnerable population from falling further into poverty.
There is a dichotomy whether Kazi Mtaani should be a targeted process or a universal transfer scheme in which every youth between the ages of 18 and 40 years is eligible. Under the Inua Jamii scheme, for instance, only older people over 70 years of age benefit, provided they have no other sources of income.
Priority to youth
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While both arguments are valid, Kazi Mtaani should have an elaborate targeting mechanism in place to give priority to youth in households that are in a state of deprivation and who have no prospect of improving their condition.
A targeting method for eligibility based on local knowledge of poverty or demographic characteristics such as orphanhood would be appropriate, rather than just a geographic targeting aimed at youth in urban areas.
A community-based mechanism that includes a local participatory process would be the ideal way to identify suitable youth for Kazi Mtaani.
The process is more transparent, creates a sense of programme ownership, and would ensure that resources are directed to the intended youth in both urban and rural areas.
The current framework assumes young people in rural households are better off economically, which may not be the case.
Likewise, the framework has not considered youth living with disability because of the type of work that an eligible youth is supposed to do in return for payment.
Since the manual nature of the jobs hinders physically disabled youths, unconditional cash transfers to such groups would be more effective.
On a macro level, the government should make a conscious effort to find sustainable ways to tackle the unemployment of young people.
Kazi Mtaani ought to be integrated with interventions such as training and mentorship on micro-enterprise development to equip youth with skills and competencies even outside the formal learning system.
Another notable empowerment mechanisms for the youth is the establishment of saving groups, whose sustainability can only depend on the political goodwill of the next government to expand the Kazi Mtaani initiative.