Ideas & Debate

Make creation of jobs a key election debate

jobs

PHOTO | BD GRAPHIC

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Summary

  • The Jubilee manifesto promised a million jobs in each of its first two years.
  • The trouble with the Economic Survey and Delivery Portal is they both don’t break down the numbers for ordinary people.
  • Last year, the World Bank noted that Kenya’s youth unemployment rate far exceeds that of our East African neighbours.

Kenya’s business press has been quick to debate the fall in jobs created in 2016, as highlighted in the 2017 Economic Survey.

This comes against the backdrop of a weak performance across private sector, where low business confidence plus cost and staff rationalisation reflect a cautious pre-election mood.

We know the 2016 headline numbers — a drop in overall job creation of 9,000 from 842,000 the previous year.  About 10 per cent of these 833,000 jobs were created in the formal sector.

This was a sharp decline from 15 per cent the previous year, and the lowest formal job creation proportion since 2012. In contrast, 150,000 more informal sector jobs were created last year than in 2012.

Let’s place these numbers in perspective. The Jubilee manifesto promised a million jobs in each of its first two years. By the time this promise was factored into the 2013-17 Medium-Term Plan, the target was 5.1 million jobs, of which 29 per cent – 1.5 million - would be formal-sector related. This includes a 2017 jobs target of 1.4 million, 40 per cent or 560,000 of them formal.
Taking the four years from 2013 to 2016, the cumulative MTP target was 3.7 million jobs (940,000 or 25 per cent in the formal sector). The Economic Survey tells us that 3.2 million jobs have been created in this time (454,000 or 14 per cent – formal). Where are these numbers in our pre-election jobs debate? Why aren’t our planning assumptions panning out? Why isn’t our “money solves all problems” approach delivering real results?

When the world discusses the future of jobs and skills in lifelong education context, why are we struggling with challenges around unemployment, under-employment and our working poor (that is, people without jobs or work, with jobs who don’t work or with work and no jobs)?

Government’s delivery portal doesn’t help. There’s a one million job promise via the Digital Ajira programme by December 2017. We also learn that Women Enterprise Fund, Youth Enterprise Development Fund, Uwezo Fund and AGPO funding and income opportunities to women, youth and persons with disabilities exceeded Sh40 billion in four years, benefitting two million individuals.

Allow me to digress for a moment. The trouble with the Economic Survey and Delivery Portal is they both don’t break down the numbers for ordinary people. I have argued before around Kenya’s five “basics” – food, basic rights (education, health, water, shelter, community), jobs (income opportunities and access to assets), participatory governance (political and civic participation) and safety, security and accessible justice. By example, are Kenyans less hungry, happier or safer than they were in 2013?

Then there are our five inequalities — rich vs poor as an “outcome” inequality and gender, geography, inter-generational and social exclusion as “opportunity” inequalities. Now, envisage a “development matrix” that mapped rights against opportunity inequalities. Then imagine if our competing political formations presented us with this matrix as their agenda for Kenya.  Say, an agenda to address food in the context of vulnerable groups (social exclusion).  Or access to assets like land among women (gender). Or jobs for the youth.

Last year, the World Bank noted that Kenya’s youth unemployment rate far exceeds that of our East African neighbours.  The UNDP’s 2016 Human Development Report – launched this week in Nairobi - tells us we have higher unemployment – overall and among youth - than our neighbours.  Higher than Zimbabwe, the DRC, Angola and Nigeria, even though we’re far better off than South Africa.

Another report from this week’s World Economic Forum on Africa — on the Future of Jobs and Skills —sings great praises about Kenya’s jobs and skills potential. Top country in Africa on quality of education. Highest rated adaptive capacity to the future of jobs, and exposure to future job trends.

More susceptible than the likes of Nigeria and South Africa to automation of work processes. Yet, rated the most improved country globally – since 2010 - on the Commonwealth Secretariat’s 2016 Global Youth Development Index, whose measures include employment and economic opportunity. What are we missing?  Do we have the wrong skills for our economy, or the wrong economy for our skills? That’s probably what most young people are asking.