LETTERS: Engage the youth in productive endeavours

 clean-up exercise
Youth wait to be deployed for a clean-up exercise in Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Post-Budget, we should stop engaging the youth in unproductive community ventures. Kenya’s 2020/2021 national Budget was themed on livelihoods, jobs, businesses and industrial recovery. This is as it should be.

My pick, however, is on a deceptively small allotment of Sh10 billion that went towards the ‘Kazi Mtaani Programme’. The main objective of this appropriation was to improve cleanliness of markets and informal settlement, water drainage and conduct fumigation. This will definitely create jobs for the youth who dwell in particular urban centres.

We all need jobs. Regardless, such jobs must be ones that will have a major impact on the community in question, as well leave the youth better in terms of capacity development.

But we seem to be a nation keen on merely keeping the youth busy. This can be deduced from the kind of activities that we line up for them. For instance, you will often witness a flurry of sporting tournaments organized by politicians and other youth leadership in the lead up to elections.

These activities are never meant to identify and sharpen talent, as it should be, but to keep the youth ‘busy’, amid biting poverty and joblessness. And when an avenue for job creation surfaces, such as the Kazii Mtaani initiative, all that we see is duplicity of county government functions such as unclogging sewerage, clearing bushes and sweeping the urban centres. And most times, those deployed in the field will be seen idling the whole day only to receive unearned pay.


Can’t those in charge of the programme think out of the box?

The youth represent hope and continuity. That is why we must ask ourselves whether our plans for them stand in favour of this reality, or contribute towards their retardation. How, for instance, does the experience gotten from slashing long grasses along the road or collecting garbage prepare these youth for their future? If all we want is to fill their pockets with money, then we should just assemble them and dole out the stipends.

There is a sense in which youth can be meaningfully engaged such that they develop certain capacities, while at the same time ensuring that the taxpayer gets value for their money.

Amid the current pandemic, for example, there is a dearth of information concerning prevention and control of Covid-19. Why can’t we train those youth so that they offer civic education?

What about engaging them in plumbing activities now that water is required in taming the pandemic? What of enlisting them for the national tree planting initiative so that the allocation for the latter goes other deserving programmes? Can’t we engage them in establishment of biogas plants, now that the world is going green? What about deploying them to cultivate crops on the many public lands that lie fallow across the country (I know of many institutions which own swathes of undeveloped land)? Is food security a preserve of the moribund Galana project? Can’t these youth be trained and employed to develop tourism sites across the country?

As I have suggested, our youth need more than casual engagement. We must think of how to make them better than they are, through designing well thought out programmes. They must, at the end of such programmes, learn some skill that will sustain them in the long run.

Such may include training them on financial management and entrepreneurship so that they develop a saving culture as well as an innovative mind.

Engaging them in ventures that require certain know-how also makes them co-learn new skills from their peers and coordinators, hence building their capacity as well as networks.

As we deal with this lot, let us also remember that they have brains. Try involving them in decisions that concern the activities they can engage in and you will be surprised at the level of their creativity.

The top-down control mechanisms no longer work, as exemplified by the age-old narrow options that we have always imposed on them. When youth are meaningfully occupied, more funds will be unlocked – such as those spend on law enforcement. Productive youth have no time for lawlessness.

Wycliffe Osabwa, Alupe University College, Busia