A common assumption among economists is that the ‘rising tide will float even small boats’ meaning that economic growth is supposed to lift even the very poor out of depths of poverty. It follows that as long as a majority of the population remains unemployed and shackled to extreme poverty, Kenya’s claim on upward economic growth is fallacious. Therefore, poverty among youth as result of joblessness remains an indictment of the coalition government’s performance and a call for better leadership.
In the wake of 2008 post election violence, the Kenya National Dialogue and Reconciliation team noted that politicians exploited the youth’s poverty to mobilize them into violence that left over 1,400 dead, 650,000 persons displaced and property worth billions pillaged. Yet, three years later, even in self audit, can the principals report of unemployment reduction? Do they have an idea how hard it is to be a youth, with a life to live and without income opportunity?
On a typical day, a Kenyan youth will wake up, stroll to the roadside and while-away the morning counting new car models. By noonday, hunger checks in, yet you do not have even a pound for a plate of githeri. Drugs and alcohol are handy courage boosters for the risky mission that puts you on a collision course with the police bullet or exposed to the dangers of HIV infection. Misleadingly, the principals want us to accept joblessness among youth as a natural phenomena to live with yet it actually diminishes life chances for millions of youth and betrays a political leadership lacking creativity, innovativeness and vision.
How come leadership in other countries has managed to reduce unemployment? Indeed, hearing that outgoing Brazilian President Luiz Silva pulled 24 million people from unemployment during his presidential term, leaves a Kenyan agape questioning “why not ours?”
That there are no quick fixes to youth unemployment does not completely negate practical solutions. Solving youth unemployment is a major component of National Accord and while projects such as Kazi Kwa Vijana and youth enterprise fund may be well meaning, they do not empower youth because they are riddled by political maneuvers.
The situation of youth unemployment demands that the principals treat it as a national crisis demanding urgent, radical and result oriented new deal policies. An employment bureau should be established to collect, assess and action data on inter alia the number of unemployed youth, their level of education and skills, their geographical spread and their preferred occupations. This will reveal millions of pairs of hands available and willing to participate in the realization of their Vision 2030.
It is instructive for the leadership to note that sustainable development in Kenya cannot be achieved when majority of the population are excluded from economic participation. Job creation must feature in any effective economic growth strategy. For instance, adopting youth-friendly economic policies such as one man one job, strict retirement at age fifty five, reserving thirty percent of government procurement for youth entrepreneurs and capital investment in sports, music and arts.
It is important that the coalition realizes that corruption hurts real people especially the youth, who as a consequence miss out on opportunities and grow increasingly frustrated. They are duty bound to stop paying lip service to the fight against corruption and find political necessity in cultivating antidotes of corruption: open governance, rule of law, stronger anti-corruption institutions. This will improve investor confidence, attract foreign investment and create jobs.
In conclusion, the trends of youth in the Arab world should give our political leadership an urgency to improve the younger generation’s social and economic opportunities. Otherwise, they have no business being in power if they do not have solution for a problem facing sixty five percent of the population. Young people should be responsible enough to keep off drugs, alcohol and crime, and if they are seriously tired of joblessness, unrewarding employment and consequent cyclic poverty, they should determine to make wise choices in electing leadership during general elections.
By George Nyongesa.
Convener, National Youth Forum