It is reasonable to say that in Kenya we have an unemployment crisis. Various studies and analysis of data from respectable institutions that include government and NGOs paint quite an ugly picture.
Government statistics show that Kenya’s economy generates more informal jobs than formal. Only that this information falls short of further analysing and breaking down those informal ones in terms of quality and sustainability.
Still some of the formal jobs are not that decent and some may not last a while. United Nations Human Development Index indicates a 39 per cent unemployment rate. This is, however, challenged by several recent surveys that include one lately done by a research firm Trends and Insights for Africa that shows a higher rate.
Nonetheless, even without depending on professional survey firms or NGOs one needs to just take a trip around the country in urban centres and see the level of economy and participation by the people. It could give an indicator of the challenges we are facing in getting many people in gainful employment.
The level of idleness is quite significant and it is not unusual to find able bodied people just roaming around or spending the day chatting or waiting for manual jobs to emerge from somewhere.
This is not also to forget the high level of young people looking even for illicit work that include prostitution just for lack of better alternative. It may look farfetched to mention some of these, but the reality is we have a joblessness crisis.
A mere advertisement for any job opening both skilled and unskilled quite often attracts an inordinate number of applicants. This is in both government and private sectors.
If you survey the joblessness brought about by layoffs and add those many adults who have never held decent jobs or quite seasonal ones, this can be just a starting point in understanding the problem.
If you add to this the many people leaving schools at various points including those who graduate at universities to join the labour market then you realise that we have a significant problem.
Yet still part of the cure which is thought to come from opening enterprises of various natures has proven to be far inadequate.
In a country or region where many small enterprises or what we may call SMEs (Small to Medium Enterprises) close down after a short duration due to inability by the economy to absorb many of them due to limitations in demand and the high number of entry vis-à-vis potential to succeed based on the level of demand and capacity, then this is not just the solution.
The solution has to be holistic and a diversified one. We have to fix the economy. Yet also consider that in cases of retrenchment families end up either falling into poverty or to lower standards of living incase no other openings come by or the next engagement is not as much lucrative, as these are bread winners and people who probably also employ others. The cycle certainly turns ugly downstream.
Worth noting is that Kenya’s population is growing to significant numbers and is estimated to exceed 70 million in the 2030s and over 100 million people in the 2050s. This is in line with trends in most of Africa, Middle East and parts of Asia. The challenge in Kenya also is we have a significant young population that needs jobs. Many Kenyans are below 35 years of age.
The older working population also supports multiple chains of people socially and economically and also offers employment in certain layers. At any rate, any decent economy has to and should provide employment holistically and to keep providing new jobs and innovating for more.
We need all sectors to perform but also have to do some quick wins. Sectors like manufacturing and tourism, which absorb all cadres of employees and in large numbers need to grow tremendously.
The government has already given indications that it is keen to invest and incentivise manufacturing to grow. At any rate for us to build a good economic base we have a lot to do on import substitution as we have so much we are importing that we should find ways to manufacture locally.
The current import bill by far surpasses the exports. We do have significant opportunities for exports such as in leather processing among others.
If manufacturing and tourism were to grow by significant points there is a lot that would happen to other sectors more so in services and agriculture besides financial services as these would naturally have to be pulled in as part of supportive mechanism and spill overs.
So where do we go? No choice but to sort out unemployment with all the innovations possible. As a country we cannot afford to continue having high rates of unemployment as this also a recipe for political and social instability in future.
Harrison Mwirigi Ikunda, Nairobi