Sunday marked the UN International Youth Day, a day intended to draw attention to issues affecting the youth worldwide. This year’s theme was ‘Safe Spaces for Youth’ and focussed on the need for young people to be provided with safe spaces in which they can realise their needs, participate in the decision-making process and freely express themselves.
This theme is particularly relevant in the African continent. Despite the fact that around two-thirds of all Africans are under the age of 25, making it by far the youngest continent in the world, young people are all too often an afterthought in decision making and policy formulation. Furthermore, Africa is generally governed (or in many cases ruled!) by presidents in their sixties, seventies and even eighties, who have little understanding of the plight of the African youth.
This leads to a fundamental paradox at the heart of African governance today. It is a young continent and getting younger, but with old leadership that is getting older.
Within this difficult context for young people, Kenya is rare light of hope. While significantly older than most of the population, at 56 our president is one of the youngest leaders on the continent. He has shown that he is not afraid to appoint young people to positions of power, and also speaks the language of the youth, using various social media platforms to get convey his message.
But it is in the realm of policy making that Uhuru has shown his greatest commitment to young Kenyans. In his first term, he invested heavily in education, reviving technical and vocational training, promoting digital learning and removing exam fees. He undertook a series of bold and aggressive reforms to turn Kenya into the fastest improving business environment in the world, which is a crucial step towards creating the millions of quality jobs we need.
Importantly, Uhuru has also overseen a major increase in Kenyan innovation, with innovation promotion becoming an integral part of the education system. In recent years, innovation hubs have been established and expanded across institutions of learning, Enterprise Kenya, a state-run start-up accelerator, has provided support to young entrepreneurs nationwide, while the Uwezo Fund has so far distributed Sh7 billion, helping young people, as well as women and those with disabilities, to access finance to start their own businesses.
The results speak for themselves. When Uhuru came to office, Kenya lagged behind countries such as Uganda, Senegal and Ghana in terms of innovation. In 2018, the Global Innovation Index ranked Kenya as the second most innovative country in mainland sub-Saharan Africa, behind only South Africa.
At the International Youth Day celebrations in Kisii on Sunday, Uhuru reiterated this commitment to Kenya’s youth. He urged young people to seize the opportunities presented to them, and to spearhead Kenya’s economic growth. He revealed that his government was aiming to admit over 300,000 youths to vocational training centres, and that they would ensure these centres became free for all.
But not only is Uhuru committed to our youth, but he trusts them to play a major role in executing perhaps his most significant policy, the fight against corruption. The past few months have been a whirlwind of activity in the anti-graft fight, and Uhuru showed no signs of letting up at the Youth Day celebrations, in which he empowered and encouraged young people to take the lead in this fight. “The power is in the hands of the youth to end corruption,” he told the youth in attendance. “Don’t fear anybody because you are the most affected by the escalating corruption.”
This message is crucial. Our youth are the most affected by corruption, as it is their future it is destroying. Though they have been set a bad example by their parents’ generation, for Kenya to thrive, they must rise above it. Uhuru is leading the fight with new legislation, practices and personnel, culminating in an unprecedented number of arrests of senior figures in recent months, but he cannot succeed alone. A partnership between our leadership, civil society, and most of all our youth, is the key to defeating corruption and building a brighter future.