A cross-section of the most influential political, business, civil society and academia players from the Mt Kenya region met at a Nairobi hotel to launch a lobby known as “ High Level Uongozi Forum”.
The forum brought together political, business, cultural and thought leaders to discuss problems of declining agricultural production, bulging youth unemployment, and the security and instability this posed in the region and the nation as a whole.
Resolutions from the forum will be channelled to county and national governments to shape interventions in addressing the social menace posed by high unemployment.
It is the first time youth unemployment crisis in the region had been debated in a leadership platform of such a calibre.
The launch of the forum comes at a time the region is in the throes of fierce supremacy battles between political actors elbowing each other for control of the direction it takes ahead of 2022 elections when President Uhuru Kenyatta exits office.
The meeting was co-convened by the Africa Policy Institute and Central Region Economic bloc bringing together 10 counties comprising the Gikuyu, Embu and Ameru communities, Ambassador Francis Muthaura Foundation, Mt Kenya Economic Forum and Mt Kenya Foundation.
Coming in the middle of a political storm over Kenyatta II succession political duels, the timing and the list of attendance by invitation comprising the most prominent senior citizens from the region sent a strong though not expressly stated political message that there were other stakeholders with a different agenda and concerns away from the vocal and more visible political class.
Although the convenor, Prof Peter Kagwanja of API, was keen to announce “we came in all our colours”, when he introduced Dr David Ndii, an economist and one of the most vocal government critics, the list of invitations seemed deliberately keen to exclude active elected political players.
Among prominent names and panellists included chairman of the Central Region Economic Bloc, and Nyandarua governor, Francis Kimemia, his predecessor as head of public service, Mr Francis Muthaura, former head of Kenya Defence Forces Gen (rtd) Julius Karangi, National Assembly Speaker Justice Muturi, Nakuru governor Lee Kinyanjui, Kiambu deputy governor James Nyoro and Narc Leader Martha Karua.
Others included Equity Bank founder and chairman of the Mt Kenya Foundation business and political lobby Peter Munga, former senators Mutahi Kagwe (Nyeri), Joseph Karaba (Kirinyaga), Kembi Gitura (Murang’a), former Meru and Nyeri women representatives, Florence Kajuju and Priscilla Nyokabi.
Mr Karangi sounded a dire warning to county and national government policymakers to take youth unemployment seriously as it posed the gravest threat to social stability especially in the era of radicalisation by terrorist groups.
High youth unemployment and declining agricultural production in the face of rising population dominated discussions with speaker after speaker calling on the leadership of the 10 counties regional bloc to combine their collective synergies in resource mapping, comparative advantages and proximity to the capital city market for goods and services to generate wealth and create jobs.
Mr Kimemia said bulging unemployment was largely to blame for sense of hopelessness among the youth, rising alcoholism and drug abuse, and which posed the danger of return of criminal gangs like Mungiki.
The Mungiki uprising saw the most deadly confrontation between the youth and the state in independent Kenya, and which left over 500 dead in the hands of law and order, according to United Nations Human Rights reports.
Mr Kimemia said the region needed to engage the national government and policymakers more robustly on issues like national revenue sharing formula and equity in distribution of national programmes.
Economist and former World Bank technocrat, Kithinji Kiragu, challenged the forum: “Equity Bank was not founded on strategic plans and talk shops but by action. The biggest question is how can we help households produce food and raise incomes to ensure basic survival.
Providing inputs to farmers to improve production of what they know does not require strategic plans and talkshops,” he said.
Dr Ndii said the region sagged under the burden of expectations for urgent solutions for unemployment crisis of three million unemployed labour force.
“The region boasts of five million active labour force (15-64 years of age). About 1.5 million of these are in disguised unemployment as hawkers, another 1.5 million in informal businesses and enterprises. Job creation is the single most concern to put these people in productive employment.” he said.
According to Dr Ndii, Africa population of 1 billion people will increase by 300 million by 2030, and with it rising demands for jobs, nutrition and social — political stability challenges.
“Who are you enabling and to do what? Skills formation in training and education is among entry points to move the idle labour force to productive employment and has divided in GDP expansion,” Dr Ndii said in his “enablers of social development” presentation.