Message to youth: Innovation is the only way out of joblessness

Many young Kenyans want to become rich or, at the very least, none of them wants to be poor.

Tuesday March 22 2016

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As soon as the date for the release of the 2015 Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education examination results was announced earlier this month, I prepared for a personal ritual that I have always done over the past few years now: Listen to the ‘A’ students telling us how they wanted to become neurosurgeons and engineers.

I was not disappointed. I searched hard for any who wanted a career in the banking and financial services sector. Or even just going into business. Well, I think there was one or two. That is the norm and it is usually replicated after the release of the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education examination results.

And then I thought: numerous authoritative statistics, including the government’s, tell us that about 75 per cent of Kenya’s population is below 30 years of age. This means that we are a very young country. These high achievers are part of that statistic.

I, therefore, find myself intrigued about how so many and bright young people in Kenya do not think the management of money and the areas where great wealth is created is a great career worth their pursuit.

Many young Kenyans want to become rich or, at the very least, none of them wants to be poor. And that is as it should be. In fact, in my interactions with them, when I ask them what they desire the most, most talk about living comfortably, although the measurement of that varies from individual to individual. And what do they fear the most? Poverty — inability to provide for themselves and their families.

I think this is the right time to ask some searching questions. We have witnessed this gradual but sustained shift in our demographics but have we adjusted both our education system and parental attitudes to cope with its needs? I do not think so.

From our schools and colleges, we are still getting ‘A’ students who are just looking for a job — the same one that our grandfathers wished for at independence. Where are the voices of our very own Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mohammad Yunus, and Mo Ibrahim?

The most productive and vital segment of our population should be mesmerising us with creative discoveries and a powerful desire to be the leaders of wealth creation than just consumers of it.


Yet even with the great gifts of talent among us, our attitudes still resemble those of our parents who inherited our country from the colonialists. Parents still discourage their children from undertaking careers in the arts — music, sports, acting. And this despite the stupendous amounts of money such performers earn in the more developed economies.

The National Youth Policy, launched in 2002, sought to promote youth participation in community and civic affairs and to ensure that (national) programmes are youth-centred and engage the youth. Among other objectives, the policy emphasised employment creation, health, education, training, sports, and recreation, environment, youth and the media, and youth participation and empowerment.

Whereas these were noble objectives, a much more urgent goal is emphasis on innovation everywhere — from the farm to the jua kali shed and the corner office. Kenya needs to emphasise innovation in the way it does things. This notion must be inculcated in our young people and become our new culture.

It is innovation that will rid us of our ruinous traffic jams in the cities and improve our farm yields.

In my conversations with young people, I tell them that whereas there are not many jobs to go around, there is no shortage of work to do. In fact, the more religious among us will say that the work is plenty but the labourers are few!

I look forward to the day when the best of our KCPE and KCSE performers will express a wish to revolutionise our farming technologies and make our country a net food exporter. I wish they would admire the rigours of creating money rather than just enjoy its trappings.

Mr Ahmed is a communications specialist working in the banking sector in Nairobi. [email protected]