By Phoebe Nadupoi
Every time I see media clips of senior government officials making their hands dirty as they launch this or that youth project – often in informal settlements – I light up with hope. But, almost always, the optimism does not last. Such projects are often hampered by myriad issues, including poor management and deep-rooted corruption. This, unfortunately, mirrors the reality that characterises management of our youth constituency.
Youth are the hope of any given society. It, therefore, follows that a society that invests in its youth secures its future. The converse is also true. It is established that Africa’s population, including Kenya’s, is largely youthful. Opinion is, however, divided as to whether a youth constituency is an asset or liability. We have had a taste of both in Kenya.
We have very creative, hardworking and agile crop of young people. The youth have also been associated with not so romantic events, including the post-election violence of 2007/’08.
Such ugly experiences have jolted government to interrogate challenges facing the youth, including youth unemployment which, experts agree, is a ticking time-bomb. Granted, government has taken measures to address challenges facing the youth, but they have been knee-jerk in nature, and often poorly managed. Here’s why I think we have failed in management of our youth population.
To begin with, a number of projects the government has initiated are unsustainable, and thereby unable to address increasing unemployment. In any case, a number of these projects are a duplication of roles already under the county governments. What will the county government do with funds allocated to maintain, say drainage systems, if the National Youth Service (NYS) deploys the youth to do the same work? Even more importantly, how much money in terms of wages can the youth engaged in such exercises get, and how long can such engagements last? It would be a better idea for government to initiate self sustaining projects in various parts of the country. If that were to be the case, the government would only need to give seed money and once the project picks up, people would be employed in various levels. Youth unemployment is one of the sticky issues the Kenya National Dialogue and Reconciliation report pointed out must be address in order to forestall conflict.
Secondly, stemming from the problem of unemployment is manipulation of the youth by the political class. Despite their numerical strength, the youth have given in to jingoistic manoeuvres aimed at benefiting few people at the expense of public interest. Violence during electioneering periods – often carried out by the young people – make this fact pellucid. Without substantive constructive engagement, the youth easily become goons for hire.
The situation is not getting any better because initiatives designed to create employment for youth have failed miserably. A case in point is the Youth Enterprise Development Fund launched in 2006. There has been low uptake due to low levels of awareness on application procedures, and high interest rates. The Fund has also been rocked by corruption in the recent past, which has forced its senior officials leave office. After revelations of the shameless looting emerged, it is safe to conclude those entrusted with the stewardship of resources designed to transform the lives of our young people are not focused on the objects and purposes of the Fund. A lot of energy has gone into attempts seeking to remedy this situation.
The Youth Fund is not an isolated case; we are all witnesses of the National Youth Service drama that has seen tax-payers’ money find its way to pockets of few greedy individuals. Unless precise action is taken to tackle graft, it will continue to impinge the primary goal of these initiatives – which is to create employment.
Lastly, it is imperative to note that our education system has done little to equip skills that enable the youth to create wealth. Additionally, scores of young Kenyans do not have the basic requirements to enable them plug into existing opportunities. The plan to revamp the curriculum to make it correspond with the market demands and needs is, in my opinion, timely. Further, there is need to strengthen training facilities that offer technical skills to develop job-creators as opposed to job-seekers.
Proper management of the youth will enhance development, minimise insecurity and conflict. On this premise, government must re-examine youth initiatives and re-engineer them to bring about transformation in our communities.
Writer is a communications practitioner; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org