Nyeri and Embu top list of counties with lowest unemployment rates

Young people entering the workforce have a better chance of getting a job in the Central and Eastern regions of Kenya than any other part of the country, an analysis of the 2019 Kenya Population and Housing Census data has shown.

The region, which is endowed with fertile agricultural land and relatively good infrastructure besides early investments in various sectors by the colonial government, has the lowest unemployment rates for those aged between 18 and 34.

Nyeri and Embu counties offer the youth the best opportunities of finding a job. The two counties are leading on the employment ranking with only 13 percent of youth eligible for work in the two devolved units lacking jobs.

They are followed by Nyandarua at 26 percent with Kirinyaga and Narok (tying at 27 percent). These are in turn followed by Murang’a at 29 percent.

The data shows that 29 counties, including highly urbanised ones like Nakuru, Kakamega and Machakos, have a youth unemployment rate of between 30 and 39 percent – which is also the national average.

Counties in North Eastern Kenya, which are plagued by arid weather, sparse population and pastoralist activities, have the highest unemployment rates of up to 62 percent. Garissa led the unemployment ranking with 62 percent of youth with no work, followed by Turkana (56 percent), Mandera (52 percent) and Wajir 51 percent.

The data shows that the devolved system of governance, which was introduced in 2013, still needs to do more to ease unemployment in the northern regions of the country. Adoption of devolution had raised hopes of addressing the economic imbalance attributed to the previous centralised system of government that had guided sharing of resources since Independence.

Census data released last Friday shows that 5,341,182 or 38.9 percent of the 13,777,600 young Kenyans are jobless, further widening the gulf between the rich and the poor.

Thirteen counties performed worse in generating jobs for the youth than the national average including the big cities of Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu — which have borne the brunt of the rural to urban migration. Nearly half or 49 percent of youth in Mombasa have no jobs compared to 43 and 41 percent in Nairobi and Kisumu respectively.


Counties in Central Kenya have built on some of the advantages dating back to the colonial era, including commercial agriculture and trade.

“Those in Central Province, particularly Kiambu and Murang’a, were engaged in production for the Nairobi market and neighbouring coffee and sisal estates as well as for export,” reads part of “An Economic History of Kenya”, a book edited by William Robert Ochieng’ and Robert Maxon.

Colonial settlers in fertile areas including Central Kenya and the Rift Valley benefited from the State’s provision of railways, roads and agricultural extension services, boosting the regions’ economic prospects.

Nyeri County says agriculture is its economic backbone, with the major income earner being coffee and dairy farming. Agriculture, besides manufacturing, has long been identified as a strong base on which to expand employment opportunities. Activities in the sector are labour-intensive and there is a long supply chain, from the farm, transport/logistics, processing, packaging and marketing.

Agriculture is the largest employer in the country, with 336,607 formal workers as of 2018. The employment numbers are far higher if those employed on informal terms are included.

Embu’s economy is similarly steeped in agriculture, with the county producing coffee, cotton, macadamia nuts and maize among other crops.

“The coffee boom of 1970s saw much expansion of the land under coffee to the extent that there was little space left for other crops in upper Embu,” the county says.

“The plummeting of coffee prices in the 1990 stemmed expansion of the crop with farmers adopting integrated agricultural practices particularly growing of fruits and dairy farming. However, majority of the farmers in the county still grow coffee.”

Embu has several coffee factories today. The county’s agricultural boom has seen the establishment of irrigation schemes.

Nyandarua has also sought to invest more in its agriculture, its most important sector.

“The bulk of the labour force is either unskilled or semi-skilled and is mainly engaged in agricultural activities,” Nyandarua said in a strategy paper.

“This calls for increased investments in manufacturing and service industries in the county to enhance job creation opportunities to absorb this ever increasing population especially those being released into the job market.”

Residents of the county are engaged in dairy farming and also grow potatoes, wheat, maize and vegetables as the main crops.

Lack of arable land has seen counties in North Eastern, heavily reliant on pastoralism that is frequently hit by droughts, suffer relatively higher unemployment rates. Their challenges have been exacerbated by high incidences of insecurity.

“The population living under absolute poverty is estimated to be 58.9 percent of the total county population,” Garissa, which has the highest youth unemployment rate of 62 percent, said in a development strategy paper.

“They are heavily dependent on relief food from the government and other organisations. These high incidences of poverty can be attributed to frequent droughts, regular floods, insecurity and inter-clan conflicts.”

Garissa is followed by Turkana which has 56 percent of its youth unemployed, Mandera (52 percent) and Wajir (51 percent).

Among the highly urbanised local governments, Mombasa has the worst unemployment rate of 49 percent, followed by Nairobi (43 percent), Kisumu (41 percent) and Nakuru (36 percent).

These counties face the heaviest unemployment burden in absolute terms, with their population growing faster due to a mix of births and an influx of people seeking to escape rural poverty. Nairobi, for instance, has 755,589 unemployed young people or three times Garissa’s total youth population.