Declare youth unemployment a national disaster


I dare say we should be afraid. Very afraid if we were to appreciate the underlying message of statistics we have unearthed about our society.

Firstly, the last population census showed that 78 percent of Kenya’s population was younger than 35 years with over 70 percent of these people currently unemployed. Research shows that there are about 800,000 young people being released into the job market annually with only a fraction getting jobs.

Secondly, the 2013 Economic Review concludes that the labour market recorded 659,400 new jobs in 2012, representing an increase of 5.5 percent. In total, 68,000 new jobs were created in the modern sector in 2012, compared to 74,200 in 2011.

And third, statistics show that seven out of every 10 unemployed people in Kenya are aged between 18 and 35. In fact, more than half a million young people join the elusive job market every year each equipped with different skills and training.

Read together, this means that Kenya is facing one of the greatest national disasters of all time putting the security and future of the country at risk. We must, as a matter of urgency, declare unemployment a national disaster for appropriate intervention.

Just like we dedicate a lot of resources to handling other issues such as insecurity, Kenya must make a deliberate attempt to deal with this problem. We will have solved half of the issues facing the country such as insecurity, poverty and drug and substance abuse if we handle unemployment among the youth.

There is, therefore, need for a deliberate attempt to create more jobs to accommodate the large number of the unemployed. The danger of having a large non-working population is that the country would continue recording rising crime rates.

We need to rehabilitate the youth that have fallen by the wayside, integrate them back into society, establish capacity building and training programmes and give them the necessary tools to succeed in life.

The government has tried by establishing the Uwezo Fund and also the 30 percent quota of public procurement for the youth.

However, this is not enough as it is not comparable to the population of young people and especially those in need of the jobs.

Perhaps it is time we reversed the situation and require that young people get 70 percent of government jobs. This is directly proportional to the number of young people and would go a long way to deal with unemployment.

We have not even seen progress reports from the various ministries and government agencies on the implementation of the 30 percent even though we are already half way through the 2013/2014 financial year.

It is also unfortunate that the ministries have not been advertising large-scale jobs and tenders for uptake by the youth. I am yet to see a billion-shilling contract being set aside for the youth. Young people can do more than just clear bushes and supply pens.

The Presidency should and must, therefore, ask all Cabinet Secretaries to tell Kenyans how many youth they have employed in their ministries, and demand a month-on-month account of how many youth have benefitted from the 30 percent government tenders rule.

In this age of devolution, we also need a law that makes it compulsory for county governments to comply with the 30 percent rule on youth tenders.

There are a lot of opportunities that will arise from the recent foreign trips by the President where Kenya has secured more than Sh700 billion. Young people must be encouraged to take advantage of this and organise themselves into companies.

The government should, in the process, organise training, support systems and market access for these youth groups as devolved funds such as the Youth Enterprise Fund have focused on disbursement.

While the government must take action to arrest the youth unemployment situation, we must also recognise that this is not exclusively government’s problem. This is a Kenyan problem that we can all work together to address and solve. We need massive employment programmes that empower the youth, but again, youths must also learn to empower each other. Proverbs 27:17: “As iron sharpens iron, so does one sharpen another.”

(The writer is a political and communications consultant. Twitter @MachelWaikenda)

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