Tackling youth unemployment


Youths during the KDF recruitment exercise at Molo Stadium in Nakuru County on September 04, 2023. PHOTO | JOHN NJOROGE | NMG

Our understanding (or misunderstanding) of a problem informs how we deal with it. With a series of coups taking place in Africa lately, leaders are concerned about their cause.

Out of the at least 242 successful military coups that have occurred globally since 1950, Africa accounts for 106.

Among the most recent is when a group of Gabonese military officers announced a takeover of power and an annulment of the results of an election, which they claim lacked credibility.

This military intervention happened on the background of similar steps in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.

Based on the data compiled by American researchers Jonathan M. Powell and Clayton L. Thyne, at least 45 of the 54 nations in Africa have experienced at least one attempted coup since 1950. This means 83.3 percent of African countries have had at least an attempted coup.

Many leaders attribute this trend to the youth factor in Africa, pointing the finger at them as the main source of problems instead of seeing their value in political and economic progress.

Martina Schwikowski, writing for African politics, for example, states that the African youth is a ticking time bomb since about 77 percent of Africa's population is younger than 35. He argues that youth frustration grows as many feel they are losing out on economic opportunities and participation.

However, according to the Solomonic economic model, the youth per se is not the problem. Rather, it is the lack of involving the youth in the political economy, also called ‘youth employment’, that is the source of the problem.

The stark reality of youth employment was laid bare recently in Kenya when more than 7,000 youth turned up in Embakasi for KDF recruitment. And this was just the tip of the iceberg.

In fact, whether the youth is in Barcelona or Baghdad, Nairobi or Juba, Lagos or Addis Ababa, there is a chance that they don’t have a job.

Statistics show that youth are three times more likely to be unemployed as compared to their elder counterparts.

Job adverts the world over, in their average age requirement of over 35 years, demonstrate that youth have been discriminated against.

This explains why the Operation Linda Jamii lobby has sponsored a case against President William Ruto’s Cabinet which has not complied with the five percent youth requirement.

This is unfortunate since President Ruto is just as youthful as his predecessor, President Uhuru, yet there is still a lack of youth involvement in political economy in Kenya.

Rather, on top of the seven additional maximum prisons gazetted by President Uhuru’s administration, President Ruto has given instructions for the urgent development of Prison master plan to be used for identifying and developing new prison sites.

Instead of viewing the youth as a problem, can the growing youth population not be an asset? Yes it can.

Clearly, there are myriad positive implications of a youthful population to an economy. These include less expenditure on social security and pension, guaranteed continuous supply of labour, flexibility and adaptability to technological changes that improve production, and faster growth of some sectors like music, fashion and fast-food industries.

Increased innovation due to their curiosity and wider market for goods targeting the youth such as clothing, electronics, entertainment and education also make the list of advantages.

It also implies creating job opportunities for the youth by reviewing legal and economic mechanisms that lead to more being employed and creating avenues in which they can create jobs both for themselves and their agemates.

To achieve economic development, youth need to be engaged and involved in development policies. In Kenya, for instance, we need a Youth Service Commission that will be headed by the youth for the youth.

Assuming that Kenya creates six million middle-class jobs for youth in its main six cities of Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu, Nakuru, Eldoret and Malindi, then one million new people will be able to take mortgage accounts in each city.

Accordingly, besides getting six million househelps, these people will get six million cars, smartphones, laptops, televisions, fridges, gas cookers and coolers among others will be sold. The effect is that there will be boda boda riders, mama mbogas, barbers, masseurs, drivers and others to serve them.

They and their children will consume education, healthcare, insurance, housing, electricity, water among other services and the economy will grow.

Clearly, therefore, youth talent is a significant segment of any society. Youth talents like music, art, and sports are significant contributors to the growth of the country's economy through revenue generation, for example.

These activities attract tourists and generate employment opportunities for the youth.

Dr Ogola is the CEO at African Health and Economic Institute and Director of the Institute of Strategy and Competitiveness. 

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