If you are a regular reader of our newspapers, you will have noticed our reporting on issues that we think we all should care about. I went to India recently and I was taken aback – not just because Indians (when they are in India) are very nice, but with what they have done with their country.
In college, one of our friends was a very argumentative Indian called Gupta. In 1995 our population was just a handful and he would tell me that India has 40 million “upwardly middle class”.
Today, Indians have worked a miracle with their economy, it’s chugging along massively and by 2050 will be the third most powerful nation on earth, after the United States and China.
One thing you notice about India and China is the extent to which young people are engaged in something useful; the energy and creativity of youth are powering the superpowers of the future.
Our catastrophe is that at least 20 per cent of Kenya’s young people who are able and willing to work can’t find anything meaningful to do. Some of their leaders think the best thing they can do is to go and die or kill in some meaningless conflict involving greed for power, tribalism and corruption. If unemployment is the catastrophe, the insult is that a politician can imagine that the best thing that can happen to a young person is to be sent to dig holes; and they will say they have “created employment”.
As I always say, I am not a particularly clever, wealthy or successful man. At best, I am just an average guy trying to get by. But I worry about my children, I talk to them, I plan with them, I think with them so that we do a path to their future. I imagine that is what a national leader, whether it is a politician, a permanent secretary or some big fellow like that, is supposed to do.
But, like all leaders everywhere, ours are lazy and not very clever. But unlike leaders elsewhere, they don’t have the support of think tanks, research centres and brain trusts to do the thinking for them.
Eighty per cent of our population is below 35. Between the ages of 15 and 35, about 62 per cent have less than a secondary level of education (some of those are, of course, still in school) and only 34 per cent have finished secondary education. Forty per cent of our schoolchildren do not finish primary school, even though it’s free. Only one per cent of our youth have university education.
Now folks, the best gift God has given us, is our labour. One foreign guy said, somewhat in wonder, “Kenyans are thieves, but they are very hardworking and enterprising.”
The guys between the ages of 18 and 34, the mother lode of that enterprising and hardworking, energetic and creative lot, constitute no less that 30 per cent of our population. And there lies the key to our salvation.
First, we must create institutions full of smart people, to think up ideas for our future. People who are not clever and who are not properly educated don’t see the value of good ideas. Take it from me, without good ideas, you won’t get anywhere.
Second, we must generate ideas and invest in giving skills to young people. How do we teach our 70,000 E graders a trade, how to make a living out of that trade and how to use technology?
Third, we must create an ecosystem in which it is cheap and easy for individuals, small, medium as well as big companies to make things. We must establish systems for innovation and/or easy, convenient transfer of innovation throughout the economy.
So, if a new glue has been invented in Manitoba, how does our carpenter, who is making bespoke furniture for the Australian market get to know about it and to buy and use it? This is a big deal. We are asking, how do we make our leaders smarter? And how do we make millions of people smarter? It’s a big problem, and it can’t be figured out over a bottle of whisky. If you are going out to campaign, you better have a solution for youth unemployment.
In the chronology of my tribe, I am an old warrior, war-scarred, stiffening in the joints, perhaps beginning to think about hanging my war axe above the fireplace. But there is nothing wrong with my arm, or my aim, yet.
I try to avoid controversies but as an old editor, I think it is immoral if I do not speak up when a good man is being lynched.
Mr Bob Collymore, the chief executive officer of Safaricom, is a very constructive and thoughtful man. He thinks almost obsessively about the problems facing Kenyan youth and what can be done to secure their future. Most of those mannerless young people insulting him in the blogs, using their mums’ phones, don’t know him and have never met him.