Martin Mbui Muchira leaves his rented house in Nairobi’s Eastlands at the crack of dawn every morning and returns late in the evening, exhausted and hungry.
His days as a passenger service motorbike (boda boda) rider are unpredictable and gruelling, and a far cry from his childhood dreams.
The 28-year-old father of one dreamt of getting a well-paying job shortly after graduation. But his search for a job has proven to be an elusive dream. Despite sending numerous applications to different organisations, Mr Muchira is yet to find formal employment, three years since he graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in environmental conservation and natural resources management from the University of Nairobi’s class of 2017.
He now operates a boda boda in Nairobi’s central business district (CBD), picking his customers from behind the Kenya National Archives.
Tens of applications
“I have applied for countless jobs since I graduated. In a year, I send tens of applications but I have not secured a job. Some companies send regret responses while others do not give any feedback,” Mr Muchira told Nation.Africa in an interview.
“I was very happy when I graduated from the best university in the country. I was hopeful that I would get a job and that I would not have to struggle. My parents also looked upon me to improve their economic status, but sadly, this has not happened.”
Mr Muchira is only one out of between 500,000 and 800,000 young graduates who enter Kenya’s job market each year.
The Kenyan National Bureau of Statistics on September 1, 2020 estimated that as many as 1.7 million Kenyans had lost their jobs across the country due to Covid-19 shutdowns last year.
This caused the unemployment rate to double to 10.4 per cent compared to 5.2 per cent in March before the pandemic struck the country.
The youth unemployment rate in the country is estimated to be as high as 35 per cent, with 80 per cent of unemployed Kenyans being younger than 35 years.
Among the numerous institutions where Mr Muchira has applied for jobs unsuccessfully include the Kenya Forest Service and the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) among many other organisations.
Having come from a humble background, Mr Muchira had to juggle between university life and running a small tuckshop for his fees and upkeep while in campus.
He deferred an academic semester in his third year and got into boda boda riding to raise fees, before resuming his studies.
“I decided to venture back into boda boda riding on realising that the job I was hopeful for was not forthcoming, a year after graduation.”
He approached Watu Credit — which advances loans to boda boda riders — and deposited of Sh15,000 for his motorbike. The total cost of the bike was Sh80,000 on hire purchase.
“I now earn an average of Sh40,000 in a month, or between Sh1,000 to Sh2,000 a day.”
Mr Muchira says the economic status of the country is not favourable to graduates and calls for the government to provide more opportunities for the youth.
“I am saving to register an environmental conservation company that I believe will help me practice the skills I acquired in campus,” he says pensively.
Second-hand clothes business
Another graduate, Alex Muturi, also a graduate of the University of Nairobi, has now resigned to selling mtumba (second-hand) clothes and shoes and running a barber shop to earn a living.
“I have sent over 50 applications with no success. I have also tried working with a credit company but the pay was too little to sustain me. That’s why I am into mutumba clothes (business),” says Mr Muturi, 27.
He does not regret pursuing a degree course, but feels the government should focus more on empowering the youth to pursue technical and vocational training courses.
“For the past four years, I have interacted with many successful youth who do not have a university degree. They are using their hands to earn a lot of money in a day,” said Muturi in an interview.
Thousands of university and college graduates have settled for ventures such as small scale farming, bodaboda riding and operating salons and other small enterprises to earn a living.
Covid job losses
In 2020, more than 230,000 jobs were lost in the tourism and hospitality sector alone due to the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a report by the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection.
The 2019 Kenya Economic Survey reported that a total of 78,400 formal jobs were created in 2018, compared to 114,400 in 2017.
The government has been reviewing university programmes and encouraging more youth to pursue tertiary courses to enable them venture into self-employment.
A new curriculum that is industry and skills-based has been developed for technical and vocational education and training (Tvet) institutions.
Speaking to Nation.Africa, Labour and Social Protection cabinet Secretary Simon Chelugui said that close to 1.2 million youth join the labour market every year — both graduates and non-graduates — but the Kenyan economy is only able to accommodate 800,000.
Mr Chelugui said the Kenyan economy generated 846,900 new jobs in 2019 against a target of 1.15 million openings, where 767,900 jobs were in the informal sector.
“The informal sector jobs grew by 3.2 per cent, the formal sector jobs grew by 2.4 per cent while the self-employed and unpaid family worker in modern sector grew by 6.9 per cent,” he said.