In the late 1950s, Tom Mboya organised the airlifts for promising youth to take up scholarships in America and come back to build a new Kenya.
He was 29. More — and this has also never been appreciated — were airlifted by Jaramogi Oginga Odinga to Eastern Europe on scholarship.
It was this multitude of young talented students who returned as scholars, administrators and politicians to build the First Republic. They joined others who had found their way to Makerere University and other international universities to form the bulwark of Jomo Kenyatta’s government.
Jomo, and give credit to him, tested and appreciated the role of the youth in building a new Kenya. Most of his Cabinet ministers, permanent secretaries and under-secretaries were under 40. They were also district commissioners and district officers.
There is something to learn from all this: The youth should no longer be treated as a reservoir of votes at every election; it is time they seized their position in society on the back of their numbers.
Statistics show Kenya is a very ‘young’ country, with 61 per cent of the population being under 34. It is a shame that their voice is usually drowned. If Mboya could show direction at his age, it means that the youth should not be ignored when making radical decisions or in leadership.
But they have to step forward, either on their own or through the encouragement of the modern-day Tom Mboyas. It is upon our leaders to spot talent and support it. The cottage industries of China and India were built that way and their products have found their way into the international market.
For years, the youth have been struggling with the value addition concept, especially in the agriculture sector, which is chaotic and unorthodox. This has to be mainstreamed to not only create jobs but as part of our endeavour to create wealth.
Our TVETS should not be a dumping ground of youth but be revamped into modern technical institutes which can answer to our regional needs. It is from these institutes that we can start making our own tea picking machines and ploughs, assemble boda bodas and revamp our own three-wheeled tuk-tuk to suit our own needs.
And this is not about creating jobs but wealth.
Nothing has stopped our governors from thinking in this direction. And the time to think without the box has come. In 2007, Mark Zuckerberg, aged 23, became the first self-made dollar billionaire.
And in 1999, Jack Ma, a former English teacher, then 35, founded the Alibaba Group as an e-commerce platform. Today, he is worth Sh4 trillion.
Like Tom Mboya, we must now direct our youth to making wealth and getting more from them. They are not just a reservoir of votes.