The youth are a critical mass

Youths in Bungoma in June 2017. PHOTO | TITUS OTEBA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • If political candidates want to make an impact in their communities, they need to take heed of issues voiced by the youth.
  • Pray tell, how does one lead a population without putting a finger on their pulse?

This week we saw party manifestos unveiled with pomp and razzmatazz. The key political parties have one goal in mind: to promote their agenda to as many potential voters as possible.

As we continue to share the PDF formats of manifestos in our WhatsApp groups keenly reading and comparing the manifestos from political protagonists there are pressing questions lingering in the minds of the youth. What is in it for us? Why would we put our trust in them? What policies do these political outfits have that can solve our everyday challenges?

We often quote statistics that say “youth are the majority”, but do the manifestos reflect that? There has been little emphasis on entrepreneurship in the policies. The youth have been brainwashed into thinking that white collar jobs are the only way to earn a living. Once I took a walk through Nairobi’s Toi market to put these stats to test, counting each outlet that had an owner that appeared to look more than 35 years, I walked deep into the market and realised I had counted only a handful.

Young people dominate the Kenyan labour market. Youth aged 15 to 34 constitute two-thirds of the workforce. Some 800,000 young Kenyans enter the labour market every year. According to a report on youth employment commissioned by the World Bank, Kenya faces a significant unemployment problem, with the youth being hit the hardest. If current population trends prevail the overall number of unemployed youth will double between the years 2010 and 2035.

Kenyan youth thrive on survival. “Hustling” is common. Some, for example, belong to three vyamas, which donate as little as Sh50 a month. The high unemployment rate is related to the overall investment climate in the country and the economy’s low capacity to create new jobs. But the youth find it particularly difficult to enter the job market.

Reasons for this are complex. They range from deficits in education and skills to lack of work experience, difficulties to obtain information about career options and job chances, irrational recruitment practices of employers, and the lack of necessary assets and attitudes to become self-employed.


Owing to lack of income, access to healthy meals is also a challenge to the youth. As a result of factors like bad transport network, high fuel prices and poor market infrastructure, food either does not reach those who need it most (from surplus regions) or reaches them at excessively high prices. This is why food security is central to the welfare of the youth.

In political rallies, the majority of those who attend are young people. Yet in the beginning of the year, we witnessed the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission struggle to reach first-time voters due to apathy. Many young people were just not interested in voting. Many did not see their vote having an impact on their everyday life. So just like switching off data, young people switch off from politics. At the beginning of the year, voters who were between the ages of 18 – 29 with national identity cards were much more compared to those with voters’ cards. Young people were just not registering as voters. Then due to several initiatives that have been rolled out, the number of new young registered voters began to surge.


As much as we paint a grim picture oftentimes of the youth being voiceless, weak and lost, there are initiatives that are working tirelessly to change that very narrative. Not all young people are clueless about this election or choose to take no stance at all. One such example is Jiactivate, which is a campaign that started a few months ago to get young people sensitised on importance of being a registered voter and active participant in both the political and policy making spheres. First time voters were the target of the campaign to encourage them not only to vote, but learn about the issues in their community and to identify leaders with solutions to their immediate challenges.

During this period, data on issues affecting the youth was also collected by GeoPoll, a mobile surveying platform, and specific to the youth. What issues are the youth facing in different counties?


This year, the 18-to-29 age group will be 8.9 million Kenyan youth. Jiactivate allows them to unite under one voice and on July 4 the youth will unveil a declaration that addresses issues pertaining to their welfare.

The document will provide a broad framework within which all stakeholders, including political parties, government, private sector and civil society, will contribute to youth empowerment in Kenya. If political candidates want to make an impact in their communities, they need to take heed of issues voiced by the youth in this declaration. Pray tell, how does one lead a population without putting a finger on their pulse?

Nerima Wako is the executive director of Siasa Place.



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