We must build and leave a legacy worthy of our youth

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BY UHURU KENYATTA

Our region, indeed our continent, has a great gift: a youthful, talented and energetic population. We must build and leave a legacy worthy of them. The task is all the more urgent because we face many challenges, both internal and external. Among the most serious is our incomplete understanding of the nature and structure of youth unemployment in African over the past decade of growth. We know that despite very encouraging growth in our production, we have not generated enough jobs to match the number of young entrants into our markets.

It is also true that decades of under investment in the development of our peoples’ talents have left us ill equipped to meet the demands of our growing economies. What is called for, from each of us in a position to make decisions and policy in these matters is creativity, and a willingness to learn from what works elsewhere. That is why I am very pleased to see so many of you here, ready to learn lessons from each other, based on our respective development experiences, our common history and traditions and our mutual interest in improving the lives of our young people.

Our region has made significant progress in supporting the inclusion of youth in the national social-economic and political agenda. You will recall that the inclusion of youth in the development agenda formally became a core principle of the Dar es Salaam Declaration of November 2004, and later the Pact on Security, Stability and Development, which came into force in June 2008. This Summit, therefore, builds on work done by our predecessors, and strengthens our previously agreed regional approaches to youth employment.

Let me now say a little about our approach to these questions in Kenya. Infrastructure development, we can all agree, is key to employment creation, and to ensuring access to the incomes and decent livelihoods to all our people especially our youth.

My Government therefore prioritized infrastructure development and investment to spur growth and job creation in all sectors of the economy. I do not doubt that the expansion and modernization of our roads, airports, railways has brought jobs, and raised the level at which our economy, and the region’s, can compete.

To maintain our momentum, my Government has developed a national employment policy, which now awaits approval by Parliament. The core proposal here is a simple test: that all major investments and projects undertaken in the country be subjected to analysis, to determine their potential for creating employment.

In 2010, Kenya adopted a new Constitution, which imposed an obligation on the government to take measures to ensure that our youth had access to relevant education and training, employment opportunities, and was protected from harmful cultural practices and exploitation.

In line with it, Kenya enacted a law that established the National Youth Council, the better to gather and present the views of our youth, and to bring them fully into our decision making – a commitment inspired by our policy of mainstreaming youth issues across all government sectors.

Access to capital remains a chief problem for our enterprising young men – the obstacle most likely to prevent our young men and women from turning their creativity and energy into products, services and institutions. That is why my government established a number of national initiatives, to nurture and build an entrepreneurial culture among the youth, and to put into their hands the capital and skills they, and we, so urgently need.

Our Youth Enterprise Development Fund is a Sh6 billion revolving fund that has already benefited over 20,000 youth enterprises and trained over 200,000 youth entrepreneurs. It has also done well in establishing linkages between our young entrepreneurs and older, more established partners in industry sectors. This programme has been expanded, and is now supported by parallel projects that target the youth, women and persons living with disability, with a combined revolving capital of Sh15 billion, or 174 million US dollars.

Government remains the principal actor in our economy. It was time, we decided, to put its influence directly in the service of youth entrepreneurship. That is why Government now reserves 30pc of all government procurement opportunities to enterprises owned by youth, women and persons with disability. This initiative, worth 2.3 billion dollars, makes it possible for these targeted groups, which had previously been sidelined in the public procurement process, to directly engage and do business with Government.

The private sector has been equally insistent on playing its part. Under an internship program closely coordinated by the Kenya Private Sector Alliance, many of our young people have found training in the skills they will need for our job markets. More than 13,000 young men and women have attended the skills training, with 5,000 finding internships in various sectors of the economy. It is a pleasure to report that more than 85pc of those who complete this program have gone on to secure employment.

I have said much about the approaches we have found fruitful in Kenya. That is as it should be, for no problem of this magnitude will be solved, unless we first share our thoughts and experiences. I look forward to hearing from my brothers and sisters here present, and learning from them.

The Government of Kenya has adopted employment creation as a major policy agenda. The Vision 2030, which is the country’s development blueprint, contains programmes and policy reforms that will need to be implemented in order to enhance and increase opportunities for young people. The creation of productive, decent and sustainable livelihoods for young people continues to be our goal both in the public and private sector.

To achieve this goal, the Government through the relevant Ministries, has developed the National Employment Policy. The policy is currently awaiting Parliament’s approval. Under this Policy, all major investments and projects in the country will be subjected to systematic analysis to determine their employment creation potential before they are adopted for implementation. The government has urged Parliament to move with speed in discussing and adopting the Employment Policy into a Sessional Paper.

I am informed that yesterday, the ICGLR Regional Inter-ministerial Committee, Ministers of Youth, and Labour adopted the decision to have the headquarters of the ICGLR regional multifunctional youth forum here in Nairobi. As the President, I wish to sincerely thank you for seeing Kenya as an ideal home for the ICGLR youth. My Government will allocate initial resources to set up this office, whose location will be communicated to the ICGLR conference secretariat in due course.

Meanwhile, all State departments are conducting analysis to determine the number of jobs they can create for the youth.

But whichever course we choose, let us aspire, always, to instil our African values and ethics in our young people. The challenges now confronting our young people demand of them perseverance, patriotism and public spirit. These virtues are not new to us: we know, from long experience, that no country or community can prosper without them.

We also know that these values have a particular inflection in our African context. Consequently, it is our duty not only to teach our youth the skills they must have to compete in an increasingly interconnected world, but to preserve and protect their distinctive African spirit.

(This was a speech by President Kenyatta during the ICGLR Special Summit on the Fight Against Youth Unemployment Through Infrastructure Development and Investment Promotion).

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