By Magdalene Mukami
Some informed observers fear that the chronic unemployment of Kenyan youth – who account for some 40 percent of the national population – could lead to greater insecurity, as jobless young people turn to crime or radical militant groups.
Kenya’s unemployment rate currently stands at 40 percent, up from only 12 percent in 2006.
According to Felix Otiatio, an economic expert with the Federation of Kenya Employers, young people account for more than 35 percent of the national population, yet they account for a whopping 67 percent of the country’s unemployed workforce.
“The war on poverty can’t be won with such grim statistics,” said Otiato.
This state of affairs recently prompted Christian Turner, British high commissioner to Kenya, to urge the Kenyan government to take steps to provide the nation’s youth with jobs – lest they be “radicalized” by local militant groups.
“For Kenyan youth to make a positive contribution to society, we need to provide them with work,” Turner asserted. “This is the one way we can fight youth radicalization.”
Turner went on to note that, over the past three years, the U.K. had contributed $7.5 million to employment programs in Kenya, which had created jobs for over 5,000 young people in the coastal city of Mombasa.
“Unemployment is the major crisis in our country,” said Adrian Mwanzia, a 24-year-old from Nairobi’s Kibera slum area, considered Africa’s largest urban slum.
“I have nothing to do. I just wake up and, if something comes up, I’ll get a temporary day job,” Mwanzia, who holds a Bachelor’s degree in computer science, told Anadolu Agency.
“Life in Nairobi is very expensive, so young people turn to other things, like crime,” he said.
He went on to complain of rampant nepotism, which, he said, largely prevented the nation’s poor and uneducated from finding employment.
“Even if you want a job, nepotism is widespread; the rich favor their sons, while the uneducated aren’t given any priority,” Mwanzia lamented.
Otiatio, the economic expert, described Kenya’s dire youth unemployment situation as a “ticking time bomb.”
“There has been much talk between the government and private sector in hopes of addressing the issue,” he said. “Many, however, are calling the situation a ‘ticking time bomb’ – and we don’t know when it will explode.”
For most young Kenyans, education represents the only sure way out of a life of poverty. According to estimates, more than 700,000 uneducated young people enter the Kenyan job market annually.
The government has taken some steps towards addressing the problem.
For example, the government now provides tax breaks to employers willing to take university graduates as interns for periods of between six and 12 months.
“This is a step in the right direction,” said Otiato. “I believe employers are going to embrace this.”
The state-run National Youth Service (NYS) hires 20,000 young people each year and puts them to work building roads, directing traffic and performing other public tasks.
“The government has found jobs for some of us,” said Mwanzia, who is currently working for the NYS.
“But the money they’re giving us is inadequate; you can’t plan or live with it,” he added, saying he was being paid a mere $3 for working an eight-hour day.
Otiato, for his part, said more could be done by the government to combat rampant youth unemployment.
“We must improve the quality of jobs and invest in the sector that generates the most employment opportunities,” he said.
He also said Kenya could use ongoing regional integration to fight unemployment by facilitating the cross-border movement of labor – this with a view to ensuring that workers from one country were able to find work in another country.
“Ultimately,” Otiato warned, “if we don’t invest in youth, if we don’t give them hope, if we don’t give them channels to pursue a decent living, then we as a country have failed the generation of tomorrow.”Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.