Deputy President William Ruto had a very stinging statement recently on universities churning graduates in courses where they end up as maize roasters. He put it candidly that a University should be ashamed that their graduate is roasting maize by the road side. It was very apt and strong especially coming from a top leader in acknowledgement of some of the challenges we have in the job market in Kenya today. Pointedly his concerns was that some courses offered by Universities which end up becoming part of the unemployment mix of crisis in Kenya. I have long known that taking some courses in Kenyan Universities rather than being a surefire for better life becomes an entry into the problem of unemployment. Some courses have a higher chance of gainful employment after graduation in Kenya. But the problem is not as simple as it looks. There is an unemployment crisis in Kenya owing to higher labour production as a factor of economics and market compared to demands for the same. The laws of supply and demand are at play here.
While the coverage of the remarks seemed to deride the Arts courses in favour of Sciences the gist would likely be there is no need to train people in anything that would not provide some form of gainful employment after schooling. Well the problem is not just with Art Courses or even in all Art courses or that Science courses are also immune to the unemployment menace. Moreover, both Art Courses (read humanities) and Science are also important in nation building. The problem with Kenya and virtually most of Africa is economic development has not kept pace with population growth. This is why Africa is currently under severe problems of unemployment to the extent that so many Africans are risking their lives in finding illegal routes to emigrate to Europe leading to so many lives lost each year. The feeling seems to be if at home is bad anything else is welcome no matter the risks. Kenya and most of Africa are in dire straits in as far as employment is concerned. Indeed the youth dividend the continent is enjoying could end up wasted and as a consequence political and social upheavals may become the norm unless this opportunity is tapped in good time. Yet from many recent studies by respectable bodies including UN there are many well educated emigrants from Africa seeking better opportunities elsewhere more so in the developed world. A recent study by an American group shows that on average most immigrants to America from Africa are more educated than Americans (on average terms). So there lies a problem, Africa including Kenya despite enormous natural resources is missing something in her economies.
Even if we pushed as many students to Science courses at the University level and get as many in technical courses in colleges where we feel the demand for the skills is there, the same market forces of demand and supply will still lead to joblessness as not very many will end up absorbed in direct or indirect employment. The same prevails even if we get as many getting into the popular spoken mantra of being self employed or starting off their own business. There are limits to demands of a commodity and services based on the economy, ability to afford and the desire for them. In a weak economy where basics needs are difficult to meet for many don’t expect the demand to be spectacular. This is the situation in Kenya and most of Africa. Yet still you can only fix the economy if you fix so much of politics in Africa. Politics have huge impacts on the economy and quite a number of African countries are not that very lucky on this area at the moment. Politics remains messy in many African countries.
With the demand and supply of labour in Kenya not favourable to most skills due to unfavorable economy based on the needs and the state of many factors that include demography and tapping of the resources within a well reasoned paradigm, the issue then is neither Arts or Science subjects or courses. The issues are far bigger and gargantuan and unless we sort what impedes the economic expansion and tapping of the enormous opportunities, the situation will remain dire. Indeed a big population in a well managed and competitive economy can be a great thing. Just look at South Korea. Small in land mass, high population density but one of the most competitive economies globally. Indeed if you look at countries like UK, Germany, Japan and China their population density is more intense than Kenya and virtually even compared to almost all African countries. What we should ask is what made these countries manage or makes them tick.There is something inherently wrong in-house in African economies. Part of it is the monster of corruption that has impended innovative entrepreneurship in favour of Political entrepreneurship and which have cursed countries like Kenya into very skewed resource allocation and enabled the rewarding of mediocrity over time. The consequences are we are paying the price and if we don’t tame corruption we cannot bequeath Kenya’s posterity a better future than we have. Instead we will be condemning the country to a very deep hole of problems and wasted generations. We can surely stop this.
The future lies in more science, more technology and more innovative ideas, nothing less. Any economy which does not tap into this realm is doomed. This not to mean that Arts subjects or disciplines do not have their space. They do have a space with these novel ideas and systems working properly. That Arts or humanities have seen a huge portion of unemployment it is rather a sign that the economy has malfunctioned in a great way. After all in many developed or fast growing economies Arts and Sciences have their good space. Why not Kenya. The problem lies in the overall economy which we need to fix for now and posterity. The prevailing circumstances cannot offer a prosperous or peaceful future. We do have fixes to do and quite urgently so.
Harrison Mwirigi Ikunda
The Writer is a Political, Economic and Social Analyst and Commentator; the Leader of a Leading Renewable Energy Organisation in Africa, Researcher, Consultant, Chairman Consumer Downtown Association and also represents Several Organisations.