A report in the Standard on Saturday two weeks ago titled, “The time bomb that is millions of jobless youth” laid bare the youth unemployment crisis in Kenya, and its consequences. The report indicated that some regions of the country are more affected by this problem than others.
President Uhuru Kenyatta’s government is implementing several programmes to alleviate the problem, including enhancing the Youth Enterprise Development Fund (YEDF), and allocating preferential government procurement quota to the youth.
For the efforts of the national government to bear fruit, county governments must also put measures in place to contain youth unemployment. The re-election of governors five years from today will largely depend on the impact their administrations will have had on the youth population. Fortunately many governors have already created county departments in charge of youth matters.
But some counties must do much more to address the problem, going by their youth population and the unique challenges they face.
Counties must mainstream youth issues in all their departments, just as the national government has proposed to do. They could borrow the national model, or come up with their own unique models that address their unique challenges. However, county governments should not compete with the national government, and should not duplicate efforts. Their roles are complementary.
For instance many county governments have proposed to establish a youth enterprise fund. This is unnecessary, considering that we already have the national YEDF. My suggestion is that county governments should give proposals on how national initiatives can be tailored to meet county-specific challenges.
The central region is grappling with the problem of alcoholism among the youth. The county governments in this region should, therefore, work closely with NACADA to tailor initiatives that address the problem. But we do not expect them to set up their own agency to duplicate NACADA’s work.
I would like to give a few suggestions on how county governments can leverage on national initiatives. Firstly, considering that the greatest obstacle standing in the youth’s way is unemployment, many will of course want to prioritise it. And the easiest way to deal with it is by encouraging the youth to start income-generating activities.
The starting point for county governments should be to carry out business opportunity mapping in their regions and disseminate this information to the youth. Many young people want to start something, but may not be sure exactly what they want to do.
Identifying opportunities for small enterprises is therefore a sure way of giving the youth a compass to self-employment. These initiatives could then be linked to the YEDF for financing.
Secondly, I have noted that virtually all urban centers in Kenya have a problem dealing with hawkers. Majority of these hawkers are young people who should be commended for choosing to earn an income through honest means. Hawking should therefore not be criminalised. Hawkers should be supported to do their business decently. County governments should put up infrastructure that is affordable to the hawkers, so that they do not transact their business in the streets. The infrastructure need not be as complex as Nairobi’s Muthurwa market, as cheaper and simpler versions will also do.
Thirdly, in the past, many urban authorities had infrastructure such as social halls that gave young people opportunity to get involved in gainful pastimes. The youth would congregate in these areas to exchange ideas and engage in a sport such as boxing and karate. Many of these amenities have fallen into disuse. County governments will need to focus on them with a view to revitalizing them and increasing their number.
The youth also need sports grounds to develop their potential. The governors must, therefore, find means of recovering these assets where they have been grabbed. It will also pay to partner with and incentivize youth serving institutions such as the YMCA, churches and mosques so that they can supplement government efforts.
Fourth, one of the challenges facing the youth, especially rural youth, has to do with access to information. Many feel alienated from government and do not know what opportunities it provides. County governments will, therefore, need to establish community-friendly channels of information sharing, including displaying vital information on public notice boards and using local media. This way youth will easily be able to access information on jobs, business opportunities, talent development, health and scholarships. County governments must be youth-friendly to win the trust of the youth, and to obtain feedback.
Fifth, the National Youth Council has structures down to the sub location level. Since its officials are elected, they are in touch with the concerns of the ordinary youth in the village. It will be important to engage the council at every level so that services provided by county governments are youth focused.
And, lastly, the former Ministry of Youth Affairs put up hundreds of youth polytechnics across the country. County governments will now manage these polytechnics. Well managed, the polytechnics could close skills gaps in the counties and accelerate the utilization of resources.
County governments should, therefore, invest more in the polytechnics, especially to promote courses that are of immediate benefit to the county.
With statistics indicating increase in youth population and in unemployment rates, county governments must come up with solutions tailored to uplifting the youth in their localities. The youth are quick to hope, we must give them what they hope for.
(The writer is the TNA Director of Communications and Secretary of Arts and Entertainment, and a Board member of the World Youth Parliament).