Two thirds of the population in Kenya, East Africa’s largest economy, is under the age of 35 and qualified as youth. This group has spurred the different governments of the day to concentrate on programmes and funding for the segment of the population.
The high and growing number of youth demands that the Government spend a considerable amount of resources to meet their economic and social needs to ensure their survival.
The youth have been at the core of the country’s history. However, their role was viewed as futuristic, especially when it came to leadership posts.
The “Youth are the leaders of tomorrow” political mantra became the inadvertent basis with which young people were secluded from many development matters.
The series of programmes that were designed for young people across the country were often hijacked by a few individuals
The challenge of unemployment and limited access to quality education still plagues the youth. However, there has been considerable improvement.
In 2005, the Ministry of Youth Affairs was established to address the need for more youth inclusion in sustainable development.
To increase the opportunities available to the young people, the Government set out to establish youth empowerment centres in each constituency where they could not only have access to information and communication technology (ICT) services, but also interact with their peers and get career guidance.
The ministry was later scrapped and in its place, a directorate of youth affairs was created under the Ministry of Devolution and Planning in 2013.
Youth and economic growth
Immediately after independence and in the early 1970s, the country experienced high economic growth rates. However, this sterling performance was not lasting and began diminishing from mid 1970s. The proportion of people living below the poverty line in 1990 stood at 48.8 per cent, which increased considerably to 56 per cent by the end of 2002.
This failing numbers prompted the Government to come up with an economy recovery strategy that would also enable immediate employment creation. By 2007, the economy had grown by seven per cent, a remarkable recovery compared to the 0.6 per cent growth rate in 2002.
The Vision 2030 was a long term development blueprint for the country that aimed to continue the recovery strategy by mapping out ways of ensuring that the country achieved the status of an industrialising middle income nation by 2030. It is anchored on economic social and political pillars that form objectives that need to be achieved in the medium term to ensure that the country achieves and sustain an annual economic growth rate of 10 per cent.
During the five-year period within which the economic recovery strategy was implemented, the performance exceeded initial projections of an average growth rate of 4.71 per cent to an actual growth rate of 5.4 per cent per annum.
The Government has since 2013 been ensuring that youth are included in all security matters, especially with the external threat of terrorism, appointed a number of them to senior public positions and introduced several programmes targeting their education and healthcare.
There is also an increase in organisations dealing with various aspects affecting the young people to ensure that the country’s future generations are preserved.
Successive governments have attempted to come up with policies targeting the youth.
Since the 1940s, the country’s population growth rate has been on the increase and this has cumulatively resulted in the large number of those aged below 35 years.
In the two decades after independence, there has been a 50 per cent increase in the population with that of the youth surpassing that of the older generation.In 1948 the population growth rate stood at 2.5 per cent per annum this increased to 3.8 per cent by the 80s.
The continued growth in population has resulted the in the continuous growth of the youth to 75 per cent to its current 79 per cent.
The growing population number over the years has been attributed to several things for instance illiteracy, early marriages and the fact that there was a high percentage of children who did not grow to their teen years are some of the reasons attributed to the high fertility rate in the 1970s.
The introduction and widespread use of contraceptives from the 80s created a decline in the total fertility rates though this was reversed due to a supply shortage of contraceptives in 2000.
The demographics further show that those aged below 14 years actually form 42 per cent. The total fertility rate currently stands at 3.9 meaning a Kenyan woman on average delivers four children by the end of her reproductive years. This number is high when compared to the global average of 2.5 children per woman.
The rapidly growing population is also expected to increase the number of young people changing the age structure and providing a more productive working age population.
Youth potential if properly tapped can not only see the country achieve economic development but also progress on both social and political fronts.
The youth and women comprise more than 60 per cent of Kenya’s population but despite their significant numbers, they have continued to face enormous and varied challenges in their pursuit for social economic empowerment. The youth and women are constrained by lack of business capital, business experience and discrimination.
This has greatly reduced their chances of accessing credit for starting or growing their businesses.
The socio-economic empowerment of marginalised groups is one of the key agenda that the Government is seeking to address with affirmative initiatives such as Uwezo Fund, the Youth Enterprise Development Fund and the Women Enterprise Fund. It is the intention of the Government, that through these funds and other programmes, marginalised populations can access necessary capital to implement their business ideas, generate income for themselves and improve their livelihoods.
Government and youth today
In February 2012, then President Kibaki directed that 10 per cent of all Government contracts be awarded to the youth. A year later President Uhuru introduced a rule that set aside 30 per cent of all public procurement, whether in national or county governments, for youth, women and persons with disabilities as a way to create employment opportunities.
Since inception of the initiative in June 2013 the Government has allocated Kshs15.6 billion worth of tenders. State House also ensures that they obey the 30 per cent procurement rule ensuring that they are paid for their goods and services within 30 days.
Despite the move, only a few youth have taken advantage of the procurement quota which equates to Kshs200 billion worth of tenders being set aside annually.
Inaccessibility to the procurement tenders has been attributed to the Government’s bureaucratic systems that have created excessive bottlenecks. The Government has since promised to have these removed to improve access to the opportunities.
Implementation of policies that ensure that those serving in public service do not have an unnecessarily long work life by reducing the retirement age will open up these job opportunities to young people much sooner.
The Government has also created a tax waiver for companies that take on youth in apprenticeship and internship programmes to enable them to gain more on the job experiences for the careers they want to pursue.
The Devolution and Planning Ministry is also leading the way to ensure that the gender and youth mainstreaming is implemented across all ministries with the appointment of officers to each of their planning policy and monitoring units.