Campaigns for next year various electoral seats in Kenya are in high gear. Researching and doing some investigations on various activities going in the country tells that a lot is going on in terms of organization that include diverse activities like fund raising, building networks, social media positioning, hiring of campaign teams, Harambees, propaganda disposition etc. All this notwithstanding, we need to take stock on where we are as a nation on many issues. One of them is the youth. What are we doing to stem the crisis we are facing and likely to grow on this large group of people.
I’m concerned with youth owing to my deep study of the population dynamics in Kenya. Just sample the proportion of people below age 35 in the country. Just have a look at the group between 18 years to around 25 and see the sheer numbers and the influence of their size. Just look at the number of young people joining to an already difficult job market each year. Just look at the downsizing in payroll numbers by the private sector each year. Have a look at the new births each year in Kenya. Well, we have an opportunity to reap from a population boom but I’m worried we may not if we don’t strategize properly and do brilliant implementation.
A large population is a problem to any country whose economy is not growing enough and is not robust enough. Some countries have reaped the population dividend. If you look at some of the most economic powerful nations in the world over time, they had a benefit of a sizeable population. Remember the British of yore. A small land sized country with a large population which innovatively and with some level of cruelty went ahead to conquer large parts of the world. Just look at US vis-à-vis a country like Canada – both rich with almost same size in land mass (but Canada slightly bigger). The US grew more affluent and politically powerful thanks to a significant population and innovation.
Look at how China have come to roughshod the world in terms of economic growth and being the seat of manufacturing for the better part of the last ten years. Large population with clever economic reset. Look at what is likely to happen to India if they get things right. Have a review of Japan of the last decades of the last century. What of Germany with her superb engineering mindset, almost a balanced economy and significant entrenchment in the global economy up to now. Look at South Korea a small land sized country with a high population density. I can go on and on, suffice it to say if a large population is well managed the country can reap huge dividends. This is the conundrum a significant number of African countries including Kenya are facing.
Based on the just released Primary School final exams (KCPE) for the year 2016 a total of 952,473 candidates sat for the exam. This may not even tell the whole picture as there are drop outs at this level of schooling across the country just as happens to the others. Nonetheless, out of this number that did the exam a number of them will not even proceed to secondary schools for various reasons. This means a certain portion of them joining the labour market. Once the secondary school results (KCSE) results come out more still join the job market. At the tertiary level which includes the Universities the graduands are joining the job market in larger numbers. The unfortunate part is it is a difficult job market after years of sectorial deterioration and the economy not growing in the right proportions. If you look at our export basket, its structure, volumes and values you find we are doing minimally more so if you compare the imports. Of course we need to export huge volumes and imports will also naturally grow if our economy does well.
So as politics take centre stage the rhetoric of promising youth magic in making them engaged should be accompanied by reasonable and well thought action,. At present many youths are being used as vessels to create trouble and largely vote emotionally for politicians and the cycle of unemployment and ultimately poverty repeated. The challenge like in many societies the masses hardly understand that bedevil them until they are in deep trouble. The challenge with Kenyan youth cannot be addressed through wishful thinking. Some urgent actions are needed.
Harrison Mwirigi Ikunda
THE WRITER IS A RESEARCHER AND CONSULTANT