If there is something that is scary and have the potential to sabotage the success of Kenyan nation apart from corruption and bad politics which are embedded on ethnicity, it must be unemployment. When you take stock of the employment status of the country in terms of those employed, quality of jobs, those in temporary jobs and those without any form of serious employment across working age groups the numbers are a bit scary. If there is a vice that should be fought with equal force as we should do on corruption and the evil of tribalism it is unemployment. Unemployment is a huge risk to any country in modern era. The rise of bad populism and populist politicians in several countries some quite powerful across the globe has huge imports of unemployment and economic issues. Moreover, in an era of improved and increasingly improving technology, unemployment is a bigger risk as it also facilitates criminal activities and makes economic take off or growth harder. Unemployment is a great danger to the future political and economic stability of any country, Kenya included.
One need to look at school statistics in Kenya in terms of enrollment, completion and graduations. One would need to note that though enrolment at primary school level has improved there are still numbers who don’t complete the schooling cycle significantly. At the same time one has to look closely on population numbers, population growth, the level of wealth creation, quality of jobs, availability of reasonable quality life sustaining jobs or gainful employment, health situation, life expectancy and overall economic progress. Just a peek into some of these could perhaps give some signals on the huge political and economic work ahead.
Unemployment even for some of qualified or skilled adult people has been a challenge for many years in Kenya. From 1980’s some of those graduating from certain courses at the universities could hardly get jobs. The situation continued to deteriorate in the 1990’s up to now. Indeed there are many courses at University level that cannot guarantee good chances of employment after graduation. Even at other tertiary institutions going through many of the courses is no guarantee of employment after graduation. Recently the Deputy President was quoted with a remark that it is unfortunate and shameful for universities to train and graduate students who end up as road side maize roasters. This was an observation if taken in the right context calls for change in our overall education plan and goals. Moreover, without sufficient growth in the economy even if you change in other areas still the unemployment crisis will continue. Unemployment is dangerous to a nation.
Some simplistic arguments have been that graduates or students should aim at self-employment not to just look forward to being employees. Self-employment my foot? How many can self-employ themselves in the kind of economy we are struggling with? Where is the effective or requisite demand for all the quantity of goods and services that they will provide? Demand is only real not just based on the fact that people need the service but can also afford it at the right price. In essence the economy is weak vis-à-vis the demands for jobs which include self-employment. There are many who would wish to self-employ themselves. The rate of starting new businesses or the sheer numbers of micro to small enterprises in Kenya are indicative. But look at the failure rate in them within one to three years. That is the same case on the failure rates of the Small to Medium Enterprises (SMES) within one to five years after incubation. Even bad loans attributed to SMES are a key indicator of the dire situation at the macroeconomic level. Some of the failures though can be attributed to owners or business internal problems. But going through the various issues many of these business go through it is indicative that requisite demand to sustain many of them is not there.
Worse still are those who don’t go through the schooling system significantly face worse economic prospects. Few of them manage to pull themselves up, but majority don’t fare well. There have been calls and rightfully so, for technical training for the youngsters and a lot of emphasis going to developments of technical training institutions. Right move but still even with these required skills being imparted the large numbers will still face the law of supply and demand adversely after graduation. We must train them as skills are required and we need skilled people but we have a bigger problem to solve – the economy. The economy need to grow in double digit.
We must develop all sectors of the economy in a big way and some seen to absorb large volumes of labour of all cadres of training such as manufacturing and tourism besides emergent ones in technology and services need a lot of inputs. Reforms in politics must happen as this is a great influence on economy. Adverse factors that exist in politics and economy such as corruption must be ruthlessly dealt with. Corruption has been one key risk on the prospects of Kenya economic development. Unless completely destroyed, prevented and tentacles cut off the country cannot progress.
As we stand even the impressive numbers coming out of the Universities in graduation would be meaningless if we don’t address the economic issues. But Kenya has an opportunity. A huge one. One needs to study countries like Singapore and South Korea. If you look at their population density, their natural resources, their land mass size one can quickly discern there is a lot we have not done right as a country. Indeed if we fixed the many shortcomings and purposely work with great leaps in economy in mind we can afford to sustain the country with gainful employment for all. A country is not respectable if many of her population cannot properly fed for themselves as the situation we are in do indicate. It is a great shame but I think with desire to change we can make it.
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, and Chairman Consumer Downtown Association and also represents Several Other Organisations.