Kinuthia Murugu: We ignore youth at our own peril

AS WE GO ABOUT RESOLVING the political issues that led to unprecedented violence in the early months of this year, let us not forget the real crisis facing Kenya – youth.

We have had disputed elections before – in 1992 and 1997. They were even accompanied by some violence. However, the scale and viciousness of the violence this time round was truly shocking. The difference was the large number of youths taking part – most of them unemployed and generally disillusioned.

Kenya is a young nation. 75 per cent of our population is below 30 years. As we went into the 2007 elections, we had 11 million people between the age of 18 and 35. Of this number, somewhere in the region of three million are unemployed. Indeed 67 per cent of all those unemployed are youth.

The problem of unemployment was clearly appreciated in 2002 and it was this that led the Narc government to promise 500,000 jobs every year.

These jobs were to be created through sustained economic growth. The reality has been somewhat different. In 2002, when the economy grew by 0.5 per cent, it generated about 450,000 new jobs. In 2006, economic growth rate had exceeded a robust six per cent, yet only about 540,000 new jobs were created. Of these only 50,000 were in the formal sector.

So whilst annual economic growth rate had increased tenfold, the number of new jobs had barely gone up by 100,000. Bear in mind that during the same period, about 750,000 youths were joining the job market annually. This means that about 200,000 youths were added annually to the two million unemployed youths inherited in 2003.

The point is that it is possible to have rapid economic growth rate without a corresponding rise in job creation.

IT IS THIS LARGE NUMBER OF RELA- tively well-educated but unemployed youths that provided the fuel for the violence. If January 2008 was volatile, January 2013 will be explosive if the spark is provided by our tense electoral politics.

Why? Because instead of 11 million youths, we shall have 16 million. And instead of 3 million unemployed, we shall have 4.5 million!

Today, 41.9 per cent of Kenya’s population is below 15 years. That is a whopping 15 million people of whom 7.5 million are male.

Another 22.5 per cent or 8 million are between the age of 15 and 25 years. Kenya is heading for a youth bulge of such magnitude that it has the capacity to seriously destabilise our social order as we know it today.

In the late 1980s Kenya was faced with another crisis – the advent of HIV and Aids. As a nation, we collectively chose to bury our heads in the sand and before we knew it, the prevalence rate had hit 14 per cent. It is only after we accepted that we had a crisis that we mobilised the entire society to fight Aids. The result is a declining 5.2 prevalence rate today.

We are in the same situation today with the youth issue. We must take action now. We must address the challenge of youth unemployment with the same urgency, resources and commitment we have directed at HIV and Aids. We must fundamentally shift our planning paradigm and resource allocation framework.

This process must, of course be led by the Government, but it must not be left to the Government alone. It requires the commitment of the entire nation – Government, private sector, civil society and faith-based organisations – so that together we can turn a potential time-bomb into an explosive development machine.

Mr Murugu is Permanent Secretary, Ministry of State for Youth Affairs.

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3 Responses to Kinuthia Murugu: We ignore youth at our own peril

Anonymous said...

Amani ni Haki Yetu

Anonymous said...

rest in peaswe bwana PS

Anonymous said...

this is a very accurate account of the situation at hand. r.i.p Murugu