What you need to know:
- About 10 million employable young Kenyans do not have a job.
- Faced by economic uncertainty and lack of opportunity, our youth are becoming possible agents of social unrest.
- Though Kenya is creating jobs, most of them are in the informal services sector — basically low productivity jobs.
- Every parent ought to assume that their child will be an entrepreneur rather than an employee.
The 2011 “Jasmine Revolution” in Tunisia ought to live in the world’s collective memory for a long time — a constant reminder of the desperate measures that can so result from desperate times.
A young unemployed man, Mohammed Bouazizi, had started a small business, hawking fruits in the town of Sidi Bouzid in central Tunisia to fend for himself and his poor family. He had no permit. The police pounced and violently impounded his merchandise.
In an act of desperation, Bouazizi publicly set himself on fire on December 17, 2011. He died a few weeks later. The widespread protests that followed evolved into a revolution, leading to the collapse of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s government.
Fast forward to 2016, to Kenya, a country rich with the gift of young people. Almost 80 per cent of Kenya’s population is under the age of 35 years. Sadly, about 10 million employable young Kenyans do not have a job. Faced by economic uncertainty, lack of opportunity, and a sense of hopelessness, our youth are becoming possible agents of social unrest.
I recently watched a documentary by Al Jazeera titled People and Power: Kenya’s Ticking Time Bomb, shot in late 2013. It shows a frightful scene; a congested graveyard, the resting place of many young victims of police brutality.
Feeling excluded, some young people have turned to the crime economy and some have been killed merely on suspicion — a brutal end meted out by a society that fears its young.
Those interviewed in the documentary remark that most of those now lying six feet under were brilliant and talented, but they never got the opportunity to use their gifts to benefit themselves or their society.
The bad news is that though Kenya is creating jobs, most of them are in the informal services sector — basically low productivity jobs. The good news is that Kenya’s young people are brimming with talent, entrepreneurial energy, and youthful enthusiasm. What is more, they are willing to work. They have what it takes to create their own employment. But they cannot do this without help.
We have to be ready and willing to actively harness the potential of our youth through effective policies, quality education and training, investment, and avenues for mentoring. Mentoring is not a programme, it is a relationship, so it cannot be one of those serikali saidia affairs.
Parents are, therefore, the most important mentors that our youth can have. It is not enough for parents to provide children with basic necessities and education. Every parent ought to assume that their child will be an entrepreneur rather than an employee.
We can teach our children that no work lacks value. If you have a family car, washing it should not be a job reserved for the watchman or car wash. Your children can wash it and earn pocket money from the chore. We must teach our children that household and garden chores are not beneath them; rather they are learning and earning opportunities.
Far too many children do not have parents to mentor them. Some parents have the financial means but lack the moral standing to be anybody’s mentor. And so, all those Kenyans who can must become mentors.
Teachers are obvious mentors who can plant the seed of entrepreneurship in their students’ minds. Further, the school curriculum should make entrepreneurship a viable career option for young people. Besides, every successful business should open its doors to student interns during holidays to provide opportunities for learning and personal development. The government could encourage this by giving a tax benefit to businesses that mentor young people.
The government certainly has multiple roles to play in ensuring Kenyan youth are mentored. The National Youth Service has remarkable potential. It should be a strategic entrepreneurship training and mentorship opportunity for young people.
For instance, it is not wrong for NYS to clean up informal settlements such as Kibera. However, some young entrepreneurs should be learning from this exercise how to turn cleaning up into an enterprise.
Let us not allow that valuable asset — our young people — to go to waste. Standing by and watching our young people lose hope and turn to crime is equivalent to stoking the fires of revolution. Now is the time to stop the slide to a national disaster by giving this generation hope and the tools they need to thrive.
Mr Waweru is the CEO, WordAlive Publishers. [email protected].