Ideas & Debate

Unemployed Kenyan youth sinking deeper into misery

Youths demonstrate outside the entrance of a
Youths demonstrate outside the entrance of a company in Kisumu. Unemployment means a brutal and harsh life for many young people. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Last week a newspaper article shared the story of how a 20-year-old woman named Rebecca gave birth to her child by herself in Uhuru Park in Nairobi. Having been allegedly fired from her job, kicked out of her home and with no money, Rebecca gave birth unassisted.

Rebecca’s experience is heart-wrenching and frankly should never have happened. And while she was eventually supported to go to Kenyatta Hospital, the fact remains that she lives in a country where economic marginalisation finds a young woman, abandoned, neglected and uncared for to give birth on her own.

Her experience brought several disturbing realities to mind because her core issue is that she had no money to check into any hospital.

Her story brought to mind another case of a young man, Boniface, 22 years old, who unable to pay the bills in the hospital to release his wife who had just given birth, tried to smuggle his own baby out of hospital. This is how desperate life has become for many Kenyans.

Can you believe finding yourself giving birth alone in a public park, or being so desperate and broke that the only way out of the situation is to try and smuggle your own baby out of hospital?


These stories highlight a serious macroeconomic reality in Kenya: youth unemployment.

Youth unemployment should be declared a national emergency because it is just that—forcing young Kenyans to live their lives as a daily emergency. Rebecca is 20 and Boniface 22. Both Rebecca and Boniface are unemployed, and with no government social security net for the young, both are unable to finance even their basic needs.

Both stories demonstrate that when young Kenyans find themselves alone and with no financial support, they fall through the cracks and are left to ‘sort themselves out’, or not.

It seems this country views young people as a nuisance who “need to find a job”.

Yet, last year, the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) released a report that revealed that nine out of every 10 unemployed Kenyans are 35 years and below; the largest unemployment rate was recorded in the age group 20–24.

Harsh life

For the millions of unemployed young Kenyans, unemployment means a brutal and harsh life, where every day is gamble, and basic needs an insurmountable challenge to address. And the sad reality is that education does not change much. Many young people have either been financed or have incurred significant debt getting an education and yet find themselves unable to secure a decent job the way the generations before them did.

As a result, most young Kenyans find themselves running informal businesses, working in a sector that has been long neglected by both public and private sectors.

Young people are expected to entrepreneur themselves out of poverty with absolutely no supportive structures in place, relegating most to subsistence living. And why are young people being told that they all have to be business people? Not everyone is an entrepreneur.

It is a travesty that young Kenyans are being left so abandoned and desperate like Rebecca and Boniface. It says a lot about us when we leave our young to fend for themselves in an unforgiving environment.

For how long will we neglect rather than nurture our youth?