2024 chance to revisit Ruto's youth plan

President William Ruto. [PCS]

Three days to Christmas, one hungry woman in Homa Bay County became the talk of her village after she violently turned away volunteers giving out mosquito nets. Reason? She wanted to die quickly so that she wouldn’t have to face further economic hardships.

“The big people in Nairobi sent you here? Do they know the last time I had a meal? Go tell them that I want to die. Let malaria kill me. I don’t need your nets,” she held, brandishing a weapon.

Perhaps dreading her next move, neighbours stood on guard the whole night. The volunteers would later share their brush with the harshness of life in rural Kenya, and the stories are harrowing.

Indeed, many Kenyans are famished inside shanties – ravaged by the high cost of living made worse by climate change and income inequalities. Former Chief Justice Willy Mutunga’s ‘bandit economy’ view and former Nyandarua lawmaker JM Kariuki's quip of a land of 10 millionaires and 10 million beggars may ring a bell.

For decades, Kenya held a huge economic sway over its peers. Now, the country is literally an object of mockery. Nitty netizens in Tanzania call us their "favourite neighbours who have no food and electricity but speak fluent English in pitch darkness".

As we navigate the strains and prepare to cross over into 2024, one thing is unquestionable – we must create wealth and kick out hunger as if there’s no tomorrow. Here’s my two cents. We can start by pushing the youth to lead a powerful economic renaissance.

How? Youths should wake up, dust themselves up and take agricultural enterprises seriously. That’s where the wealth lies. It’s the green gold. In the New Year, let’s empower them to produce food using effective agronomics and technologies.

Some observers say that youth is a mindset. It’s also true that as a nation, we’ve failed to persuade the under 35's, who make 78.3 per cent of the population, to take up farming. There’s one rhetorical question: With most farmers aging, who will cultivate our farm lands?

Kenyan farmers today are aged between 50 and 65 engaged mainly in subsistence farming. If the UAE, Singapore, South Korea, Malaysia and Rwanda positively changed the mindsets of their youth, why not us? It’s not about the government. We can do it in our own small personal ways from the family level and turn the tide.

Now, make economy and technology the thriving points for youth. Let’s stop them from political demos and wheeler-dealing. According to the Federation of Kenya Employers, youth (15 – 34 years), have the highest unemployment rate of 67 per cent. Most idle in towns yet resources are idle in rural areas where 87 per cent of poor households reside.

Along with mindset change, rural areas must now be made attractive. Not everyone has to go to Nairobi to seek employment. That way, the quest for jobs won't overrun the urban areas and won’t be a priority over production at the grassroots. The two levels of government should lead us towards a dynamic economy with diverse youth innovations.

Let them offer the youth implements and commercial finance. Give them more ‘Hustler’ funds on need-basis, not for political expediency. It is more than urgent to revitalise low-income areas and ensure social stability by using youths’ creative minds to yield better transportation, security, markets, clean accessible water, housing and critical amenities.

Besides civil education, the State must invite the youth into policy dialogue and re-look Kenya’s National Youth Policy and East African Community’s Youth Policy considering that they are critical to the SDGs and the African Union Agenda 2063.

President Ruto’s youth charter of 2022 needs fresh scrutiny in 2024. Formal jobs must no longer be the only lens through which unemployment is redressed. Farming is a worthwhile venture that can make us happy into the future.

-The writer is a communications practitioner. X:@markoloo