One of the biggest issues in Kenya today is how to deal with youth unemployment. This easily overshadows all others in terms of gravity and urgency. Two statistics stand out starkly. The first is that in Kenya, 75 per cent of Kenya’s 40 million population are aged 30 years and below.
Further, 22 per cent of the country’s population is between 15-24 years. Juxtapose this with youth unemployment in Kenya which stands at 22 per cent, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), double the national average. This translates to at least five million unemployed youths against an economy creating only 800,000 jobs annually (2017 figure).
There is a lot of idleness, hopelessness, even desperation among Kenyan youth, manifested in drunkenness, drug abuse, thuggery, insecurity, rape, gangsterism, susceptibility to terrorist recruitment and political violence , compulsive gambling, violent deaths, among others. Male youth are disproportionately affected.
A perusal of what the youth are discussing in social media forums — this is their space and they dominate it— is very disturbing and should be a huge wake up call to the country’s leaders.
We must look at new ways of handling a different youth. The profile of the country’s youth is like nothing the country has experienced before.
Retired President Kibaki’s era of free education has created a swathe of youth educated up to Form Four at the very least. That era also saw an explosion of internet connectivity and mobile phone affordability and usage. Consequently, a huge swathe of youth are accessing the internet. They are, therefore, very exposed as teenagers. And now, President Uhuru Kenyatta’s era is going to offload a swathe of youth with computer skills given the schools digital programme. Imagine this sea of youth deciding to undertake nefarious activities because they are idle and angry. It’s simply mind-boggling.
This youth profile presents a systemic danger to Kenya as a state. Discussions on social media show a youth that is impatient, angry, fed up with corruption and feeling marginalised and dispossessed. Their discussions show a highly intelligent segment of the society. This cauldron is boiling.
Again, are the country’s leaders, both at national and county levels, having situational awareness of this crisis, or everything is kosher to them?
This pressure is being relentlessly added by the odd million and a half students the educational system ejects from its bowels to join others on the streets every year. Something must give. Am I the only one feeling a sense of rising panic over this scenario?
Government needs to create a vent for releasing this pressure as a matter of priority. For the millions of youth looking at their destiny ebbing away every day, they cannot wait. If these dispossessed youth reach a critical mass, it could be the tipping point.
To address this crisis, the government should consider, among other measures, re-introducing the National Youth Service (NYS) programme that was essentially a youth empowerment platform. Although this was a well thought out but poorly executed programme, it goes a long way in addressing idleness, teaching the youth entrepreneurship and pays them some money to invest in their families.
The programme does not have to be residential. Reinstate the NYS programme, re-brand it and relaunch it to give it a fresh face and enable it leave its rather rotten past behind. In three years, the impact will be tremendous.
Critically, it will give the government the space to mature all the things it is now doing to grow the country’s economic and social sector to absorb youth productively after school. It will also defuse the current youth explosion risk lurking under the surface.
Make the NYS programme mandatory. As a youth between 15-24 years, you are either in school (primary, secondary, college or university), employed.
As part of the programme, the government must inject a public service module. Indeed, right now, the government has a major task that it can apply the country’s youth to — re-afforestation of the country.
Launch a huge countrywide reafforestation programme which will be undertaken by youth enrolled in the NYS. Mobilise resources from UNEP, World Agroforestry Centre and other environmental institutions, stock seedlings, experts are available, youth manpower is inexhaustible, define a champion for the exercise, and map out the areas for this exercise. Give it five years.
So, strike two birds with one stone. Deal with the urgent problem of the current youth unemployment crisis, and get the country’s forest cover reinstated. All in record time. How is that for a legacy, Mr President?