OPINIONPeople Daily

Empowering youth will awaken sleeping giant

Nerima Wako-Ojiwa

This year’s theme of the International Youth day— to be marked on August 12— is Safe spaces for youth. Safe spaces refer to settings that impact on people’s development. It is the availability of room, instruments and opportunities with which to explore and grow.

Though youth are the untapped socio-economic asset, especially in developing countries, they are a contentious issue, which has now morphed into an ideology for endless debate.

In Kenya, youth are those in the age bracket of 18 to 35 while in Burundi and Tanzania, they fall between 15 to 35. In Uganda, youth are between 18 and 30 and  Rwanda between 14 and 35.

But the United Nations defines youth as persons between the ages of 15 and 24. This clash of definitions exemplifies the need for safe spaces for youth to be mainstreamed. Such conflicts are the reason why International Youth Day comes and goes quietly.

While the Constitution of Kenya and those of the region contain progressive provisions to enable the youth to live better lives, we have not made concerted efforts to make safe spaces available to the youth.

National Youth Week celebrations in Kenya, which will precede the International Youth Day running from August 6, will be in line with the government’s Big Four agenda with focus on tangible action for the youth. But what action when corruption, unemployment, food insecurity and lack of healthcare continue to eat away at our nations’ future?

So often, we wait observances such as this to make proclamations on staple issues. Safe spaces for youth is a central concept that ought not to be treated as a mere subject of a talk. There is need to expedite implementation of all available policies geared towards young people to catch up with demand.

Each year, more young people are joining the job market. People above 35 years dominate the job market, making youth to resort to desperate “solutions” like crime. But with the lack of necessary resources, innovation and the informal sector-knights in shining armour for young people have been usurped by capitalists.

Meaningful youth participation is key to effective planning for any nation. It enables formulation of policies, strategies, frameworks and national plans that are realistic to and achievable by the youth. It creates ownership by them resulting to commitment and effort towards achievement.

With the Big Four and the fight against corruption gaining momentum, it is clear that President Uhuru Kenyatta intends to leave a legacy. However, the President’s focus could be derailed by corruption.

The findings by a consortium of youth organisations known as JIACTIVATE whose State of the Youth report launched in May highlighted corruption, unemployment, healthcare and food security as ‘Top Four’ issues youth would like addressed.

In that regard, attempts were made to awaken the cause with the May East African Youth Mainstreaming workshop organised by the Commonwealth Secretariat and Directorate of Youth.  For safe spaces for youth to be realised, policies that create an enabling environment for young people and ensure youth participation at all levels must be formulated.

This includes provision of guidelines for minimum standards in youth participation and support of youth serving organisations such as JIACTIVATE. We either keep postponing the problem or we awaken the sleeping giant through youth mainstreaming. —The  writer is executive director Siasa Place —@NerimaW

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