BY MACHEL WAIKENDA
A week ago the Standard on Saturday carried a very informative article, “The time bomb that is millions of jobless youth”. The article indicated that about half of the Kenyan youth aged 18 to 34 years — millions of them are currently jobless.
The writer laid bare the youth unemployment problem in Kenya. Let’s take it up from there and begin to address the challenges. We need to be candid with ourselves when asking where did the rain start beating us youth? What didn’t we do right? Who was responsible? Was the failure deliberate and did anyone try to deal with it? If so, how far did they get and why?
One statement that may have passed unnoticed and which was attributed to a Kenyatta University professor was that “it takes the average college graduate five years to get a job”. Five years is the average, meaning that some may be taking as long as eight to ten years. They postpone their lives this long. So, what do they do as they wait for a job? I posit that this is the time very well meaning youth slide into crime, drug abuse and prostitution.
Society is therefore failing the youth. Youth deviance is a manifestation of challenges they are experiencing as they transit into adulthood. The templates used to socialise them are not effective and outdated. Society has a golden chance here to engage the youth, as opposed to bandying blame about and treating them with suspicion.
President Kenyatta has promised to prioritise youth issues in his administration. This he has began to do, going by the Sh25.8 billion budgetary allocation to youth empowerment programmes. But the youth problem is bigger than our imagination as a nation has been able to capture. We must not wait to go through the path of the Middle East and North Africa Spring. The clock is ticking and the hour is late. The youth agenda must not be a preserve of government. It must be everyone’s business, including private sector, religions, media and civil society.
The nation must remove its gloves and confront youth unemployment boldly, like it did with HIV and Aids.
Fortunately we already have established institutions that everyone can work through, or with, to confront these issues. These include the Ministry of Education, Directorate of Youth Empowerment in the Ministry of Planning and Devolution, the National Youth Service, Youth Enterprise Development Fund, National Youth Council and the Department of Arts.
The Directorate of Youth Empowerment will be the focal point on policy and other initiatives targeting the youth. It will also play a co-ordination role. This directorate must be well structured, staffed and well briefed on its role. It should headed by a person who demonstrates energy, focus, passion and resolve to inspire the youth beyond the basic requirement for university degrees and years of experience.
President Kenyatta has said his government will mainstream youth issues into all ministries. The directorate must, therefore, develop indicators that will guide all ministries in serving the youth. These indicators would be the benchmarks for setting targets for the ministries, as well as unambiguous and clear consequences for non-compliance. The directorate could also recommend guidelines to other non-State actors so that all efforts are well co-ordinated and geared towards a common goal.
The Youth Enterprise Development Fund is one of the initiatives to encourage youth self-employment. Indeed, the Fund has recorded tremendous success in awakening entrepreneurship among the youth. But it has also encountered challenges that have impeded its work.
Government has shown faith in the ideals of the fund by allocating it Sh6 billion in the Budget recently tabled before Parliament. However, the Fund has not demonstrated adequate stability and capacity to effectively utilise this money.
Priority would be focus on the Youth Fund, to empower it to play a greater role in helping youth create employment. The first of such interventions would be to end leadership wrangles at the Fund. Hardly a month passes without infighting in the Fund playing itself out in the media.
Let government dissolve the current board and appoint a professional one, in accordance with legal order number 63 of 2007, which established the Fund. This order states clearly how the board should be appointed. The new board must restructure the Fund to enhance delivery.
The National Youth Service has recorded tremendous progress since its founding in 1964. The service (NYS) must link its programmes to other youth focused programmes such as the Youth Enterprise Development Fund.
IIt could also use its resources, including land and equipment, intensively to help as many youth as possible. Its leadership must think radically and introduce programmes of short-term benefit such as rehabilitation and reintegration of street families and drug addicts. We also hope to see the leadership stretch its imagination on what additional roles the NYS can play to alleviate the youth problem.
The National Youth Council is charged with, among other things, acting as a voice and bridge to ensure Government and other policy makers are kept informed of the views and aspirations of the youth, and regulating and co-ordinating initiatives being undertaken by youth groups, youth-focused community-based organisations, and other organisations.
The NYC will also promote and popularise the National Youth Policy.
IIt is advisable that the council urgently be operationalised to mobilise youth towards opportunity and gainful pursuits, besides being used the vehicle of choice for youth inclusion when designing youth-focused initiatives.
We should also do a comprehensive audit of our education system to see to what extent it prepares our youth for the world outside school. We must ensure that the quality of mentorship and talent development in our school system, right from preschool to university, addresses the challenges of modern Kenya. We need to enrich the schooling process to ensure its graduates can navigate the pitfalls of today.
What is clear is that we must address youth unemployment with the same urgency we would address a disaster. Only this way can we set alight the hope of a new day dawning.
(The Writer is TNA Director of Communications and Secretary of Arts and Entertainment and Board member of World Youth Parliament)