Tackling youth unemployment in Kenya

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    Written by: Meshack Masibo

    Renown American economist and bestselling author Paul Zane Pilzer once said

    “God wants us to show compassion and understanding toward the unemployed or the poor not because they are poor, but because poor people, with help from those who are already successful, can become rich, And when the poor become rich, all will benefit, because in our modern economy new employment is the first sign of economic growth.”

    In Kenya alone according to a World Bank report in 2016 the unemployment rate among Kenya youths between the age of 15-24 was 17% which means that one out of every 6 youths in this bracket is unemployed.  Statistics from the International Labour Organization indicate that the national overall rate of unemployment in Kenya is at 11%.

    This problem is reflected all over the continent for example: the ILO report of 2010-2014 puts the youth unemployment rate in Tanzania as per 2014 was 6.5% , while according to the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda the Rwandese unemployment rate was at  a record 13.20% in 2016  while for Burundi the national  unemployment rate is projected by economists to be at around 6.72 %  by 2020, As for Uganda, according to the Ugandan Bureau of Statistics youth unemployment in Uganda stands at 22.3%.

    This problem which I refer to as problem zero leads to several  other secondary national problems such as an increase in the crime rate,  an increase in prostitution and even violence during the election period because politicians take advantage of unemployed youth to do their dirty work. The problem further evolves as the increase in the crime rate causes the police to engage in extra judicial killings so as to appear to be working, so in this line unemployment is indirectly  leading to the death of the youth.

    Secondly the increase in the rate of prostitution causes an increase in the spread of HIV AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases which further causes the death and suffering of the youth and their families. Thirdly the problem of gullible youth during the election period causes violence to be easily stirred by selfish politicians which leads to the instability in the country.

    This instability greatly affects our economy because when there is violence business stops in our major cities. A further consequence is that both local and foreign investors shun investing in the country because they are afraid that their properties will be destroyed and they will lose their money. For example during the 2007 contested elections the encouraging growth rate of the previous years of 7% shrunk to 0.25% and even though the violence was experienced only in the first quarter of 2008 the spill-over effects were manifest throughout the year resulting to substantial declines in growths in most sectors of the economy.

    One of the most hit areas being the tourism sector where earnings dropped by a staggering 20% . All this can be linked to the gullibility of youth who are entreated by politicians who give small amounts of money to cause chaos. If the youth had a source of income this would make them feel they have a stake in the economy of the country and it’s general state and would therefore be more apprehensive of accepting the invite to cause chaos.

    When she received her Nobel prize, Icon of Change, Wangari Maathai said that young people are a gift to both their communities and the world. If that is so then Africa is a continent rich in gifts. Nearly 300 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are aged between 10 and 24, and that number is expected to climb to about 561 million by the middle of this century. It is interesting to note that Africa has the highest concentration of young people than any other continent on the planet.

    Of the 1.2 billion 15- to 24-year-olds in the world – 200 million of whom are in Africa – about 75 million are seekingactive employment. In the poorest regions, many of those who are employed work in low paid, insecure jobs with little hope of advancement. Faced by economic uncertainty and lack of opportunity – cast as possible agents of social unrest and seen as a potentially lost generation – the society has a done a good job in painting young people as unwanted gifts.

    Kenya is a particularly ripe example, over the past half century, the number of people in Kenya is estimated to have risen from just over 6 million to about 44 million. Much of that growth may be attributed to the period between 1950 and 1985, when every Kenyan woman had an average of about eight children in her lifetime.

    The populationgrowth has slowed down since its mid-80s peak, but the country’s total fertility rate remains relatively high, at around 4 children per woman. Unless things change, more will inevitably mean less for the east African republic’s youth. Youth unemployment estimates vary wildly, but between 1.8 million and 10 million people aged between 15 and 34 are without work.

    Kenya’s new president, Uhuru Kenyatta, has praised the national youth enterprise development fund, conceived under his predecessor Mwai Kibaki to boost the prospects of young people. But with youth unemployment running at anywhere between 65% and 80%, the need to look for more innovative solutions is clear.


    Different African states have put in place different mechanisms in order to tackle youth unemployment. In Kenya the biggest mechanisms introduced include the creation of more tertiary institutions to equip the youth with technical skills, the reintroduction of the NYS for the unemployed youth and the establishment of the UWEZO fund to help the youth get finances to start small businesses.

    All this mechanisms are tailored towards helping the youth to utilize their talents and skills in entrepreneurship to both solve social problems/ respond to needs in society and also to create avenues of income for themselves.


    This is a program pioneered by the Kenyan government targeting unemployed youth especially those who have just finished high school. The aim of the program is to give the youth, especially those who are unemployed a sense of purpose in their life and to give them a sense of loyalty to their country. The training aims to instills discipline, commitment, and a feeling of duty on the youth to offer services for the good and development of the nation. Through the program youth learn various technical skills such as masonry, dressmaking and plumbing which affords them a chance to be create sources of income for themselves once the training is completed.

    Although facing a lot of challenges, this program has served to help a huge number of youth to acquire skills that help them to create avenues of self employment and has therefore helped to decrease the rate of unemployment among youthsin Kenya. However the program only accommodates 13000 new recruits per year which is still a small number considering that in 2016 more than 300000 students scored a D+ and below in KCSE which means they can’t enroll in tertiary institutions. This means there are still over 200 000 youth in Kenya from last years’ exam who are not employed (this is an assumption) and are not advancing their education.


    The Uwezo fund is a flagship programme aimed at enabling women, youth and persons living with disabilities to access finances to promote their businesses and enterprises at the constituency level, thereby enhancing economic growth in  the country, It also  provides for mentorship opportunities to enable  the beneficiaries take advantage of the 30% government preference through its capacity building programme. This means that the government gives preference to the youth when it comes to awarding tenders.

    This is a good project but it has its short falls as well, one being that only youth who have registered a business which has been functioning for 6 months can  access this funds. This means that the youth who don’t have the finances to start and maintain a business for 6 months are left out.


    This is a positive step as it has led to more youth who don’t qualify to go to universities to get enrolled in polytechniques and learn skills that enable them to create employment instead of seeking employment. However even the current high number of polytechniques cannot accommodate all the youth who are unemployed because of a lack of financial and infrastructural capacity.


    Youth Employment could be tackled in a number of ways including;

    A creation of talent hubs financed by the government to serve as centers where youth who are talented in one way or another can go to explore on their talents. These schools can be called talent schools and they would enable students to grow and appreciate their talents and know how to use them to earn an income. This would address the core problem in the job market which is that there are too many graduates with the same qualifications. Talents are inborn and are not taught but rather developed so if each student is growing to their full unique potential; they will then offer to the market something no one else can.

    It is Sir Ken Robinson who once said “The fact is that given the challenges we face, education doesn’t need to be reformed – it needs to be transformed. The key to this transformation is not to standardize education, but to personalize it, to build achievement on discovering the individual talents of each child, to put students in an environment where they want to learn and where they can naturally discover their true passions”

    Secondly a creation of a finance hub where youths can access funds to start a business without having to have owned it for 6 months or without having to fulfill the other requirements required by the Uwezo fund. The only requirement would be to for the youth to pass a small test on financial literacy


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