BY DENNIS ONYANGO
At the end of the post-election violence and the beginning of the Grand Coalition Government in 2008, Kenyans found themselves in dire straights. The country was gripped by drought that caused serious food shortages and death of animals and people.
Exceptionally high oil prices, and the melt down of the world economy caused even more damage to the economy.
At the end of 2008, Kenya’s growth forecasts were scaled to between 2 and 2.5 percent, down from 7.1 percent in 2007.
Unemployment had been a problem even before the violence. In fact, one of the issues identified by the Waki Commission was poverty, inequality, and unemployment, particularly among the youth. The Waki report, like similar ones, observed that over one half of Kenyans live under absolute poverty, the gap between the rich and the poor was widening and income inequality in Kenya was one of the highest in the region.
Government data indicated that almost one in three of Kenya’s poor population was between 15-29 years of age. Half of these were youth between 15-19 years of age and who had a poverty rate of 51 per cent, which was larger than the national average. Every study indicated that the social and economic conditions would be even more difficult beyond 2009 and poverty levels were expected to increase again.
The violence highlighted the importance of addressing poverty and inequality, and in particular, the increasing problem of idle youth.
The World Bank’s Country Social Analysis in 2007 had found that youth’s unemployment, especially among males, is a major contributor to frustration and tension particularly in urban areas.
Confronted with these grim statistics, Prime Minister Raila Odinga, his position in Government only grudgingly accepted by his coalition partners, put his mind to searching for practical measures that would provide a social safety net for young Kenyans at risk of hunger and starvation.
That search gave birth to the Kazi Kwa Vijana programme, a “Marshal Plan” that emphasized the importance of a coordinated and multi-sectoral approach to addressing the problem of youth unemployment and youth idleness.
In April 2009 Kazi Kwa Vijana was launched, aiming to employ youth in rural and urban areas in labor intensive public works projects. The programme was expected to put money in the hands of youth, have it circulate in rural Kenya while at the same time helping the government maintain roads, restocking depleted forests and addressing water and sanitation problems, among others.
Within a year, KKV was judged a runaway success. The International Labour Organisation said “KKV made commendable progress in youth employment creation by achieving 112 per cent of the planned target.” By mid-September 2009, a total of 296,080 youths had been directly employed under the programme, according to ILO.
ILO said KKV “appears to be a viable method of completing stalled projects or rehabilitating existing ones which require only small inputs of construction materials and labour.” It further described KKV as “a perfect vehicle for attainment of MDGs and Vision 2030.” KKV was actually stopped in the 2009/2010 Financial Year when Treasury failed to allocate it money and instead funded the Economic Stimulus Package.
In recent months, as his tantrums against the Prime Minister have grown louder and more repetitive, Eldoret North MP William Ruto has attacked KKV at every turn. This, despite the fact that the programme stopped two years ago.
Ruto has declared KKV an outdated exercise by the government to offer jobs to the youth in the 21st century. In the latest attack on Thursday, Ruto wondered how, in the age of the internet, knowledge economy, E-commerce, Face book and twitter, the Prime Minister could think of having young Kenyans engage in manual labour.
In all his opposition to the programme, Ruto has never offered his alternative to Kazi Kwa Vijana. On Thursday, he never explained how twitting or face booking can put money in youths’ pockets.
Ruto’s position is that they youth comprise 75 percent of voters in the country and should be prepared to elect leaders who will address unemployment. Implied in this statement is that the youth should wait in poverty, and, probably for handouts and vote for him in 2012.
Ruto contends that majority of youths have pursued education up to university level and cannot do manual work. But he offers no evidence that majority of Kenya youth have university level education.
Not that the Prime Minister did not recognise that there are educated youth in Kenya who equally need jobs. The difference with Ruto is that Mr Odinga did not just talk about that recognition. He used his high credibility to convince the World Bank to finance the Kenya Youth Empowerment Project or KKV Phase II. This project seeks to increase access by the educated youth to targeted temporary employment. It also seeks to improve youth employability by providing work experience and skills through internships and relevant training in the formal and informal sector. This component is a practical pilot step to address the widely acknowledged fact that although the Kenyan youth are graduating from college, they lack the required skills and work experience being sought by most employers.
The fact is, the Prime Minister saw a problem and did something to address it while William Ruto is talking about the problem. A nation is in peril when leaders have too many high sounding words, and too few actions that correspond with them.
The last time Kenyans heard the Eldoret North MP push some agenda to do with the youth was in 1992, when he, together with Cyrus Jirongo, headed a destructive organisation called YK92. To date, there is nothing standing, not even a desktop computer on which the youth can access face book and twitter that can be traced back to YK92. The only lasting legacy of that evil invention is the culture of handouts that it instilled in the youth and the savaged economy it left behind.
(Dennis Onyango is the Communication Secretary, Office of the Prime Minister)