Kenya needs an evidence agenda

Kenya has a rapidly growing youthful population. FILE PHORTO | NMG

On November 12 - 14, 2019, Nairobi will host the rest of the world for the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) dubbed the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25. Coming 25 years since the consequential ICPD held in Cairo in 1994, the Nairobi Summit seeks to consolidate the gains and accelerate progress in the interlinked areas of population and development, critical to achieve the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda.

Kenya, like many African countries, will need to embark on a major evidence generation, synthesis and use, agenda to meet the ideals of ICPD25 and beyond.

While creditable progress has been made globally and in Kenya in areas of the ICPD Programme of Action, including access to reproductive and sexual health and family planning services, reducing maternal, infant and child mortality, and universal education, many challenges remain to reach the SDG targets.

Kenya, for instance, has a rapidly growing youthful population alongside significant increases in the number of old people. The effects of environmental degradation and climate change are threatening food security.

Rapid urbanisation occurring in the context of poorly executed urban planning is eroding the quality of life of urban dwellers. The implications of rural to urban migration and international migration are speculated on but not well understood. Yet policy decisions and investments in these areas are being made in the absence of adequate data both at the national level and in our counties where the problem evidence gaps is even more acute.

Let’s take an example of one of the state’s often stated priorities. Young people. It’s estimated that about 76 percent of Kenya’s 48 million people are under the age of 35. That’s close to eight out of every 10 Kenyans.

As a result, the government has over the last two decades made concerted efforts to invest billions in programmes to support the youth. Examples include Kazi Kwa Vijana (KKV), revamping the National Youth Service (NYS), and the Youth Enterprise Development Fund (YEDF). We know best of the failures and “money lost” stories from these otherwise noble initiatives. We, however, hardly interrogate how the lack of evidence leads to these failures.

We need to ask some hard questions. Did we have adequate data, both national and sub-national, to correctly identify and contextualise the youth problems we were trying to solve?

Did we conduct and evaluate pilot programmes to understand what works or not and only scale up what worked? Did we have and implement monitoring and evaluation frameworks to be able to measure progress and impact?

Do we know enough about our millions of out-of-school youth to tailor effective programmes for them? Do we know enough on the skills mismatch partly blamed for unemployment and low wages for young people?

Other than nationally representative data that is not regularly generated, do we have data on the youth at county level and at the ward level where implementation is most critical? Do we have gender disaggregated data on the youth?

Let the country therefore take the ICPD25 Nairobi Summit to commit itself to a revolutionary evidence agenda.

The writer is a demographer at African Institute for Development Policy.

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