Youth are often the most neglected agents of change and development in many societies. Yet they constitute majority of the population even in Kenya. The proportion of Kenyan youth to the country’s population is one of the highest in the world. Young people represent a large reservoir of talent and skills that would propel Kenya’s quest for inclusive growth.
Youth unemployment in Kenya remains high but with the right mix of politics and policy this can be effectively addressed. Many of our youth are well-educated and rank highly in innovation globally. So, why are we not harnessing this resourceful pool of human capital to realize Kenya’s social and economic transformation?
The answer to that lies partly in the continued exclusion of youth from key policy formulation and decision-making processes. In the past, our youth were mostly consigned to the periphery of political leadership. Thus their collective impact on the country’s governance has not been felt as it should. This is however changing going by the rising number of young men and women holding elective positions.
In this evolving landscape, youth should ideally play a bigger role in shaping national development discourse and process. Youth are the ultimate beneficiaries of the fruits of social and economic development. They must therefore own and drive the development agenda at the national and county levels starting with the Big Four.
Some years back, I attended an innovation conference at Strathmore University. Young innovators and entrepreneurs showcased brilliant technological applications that could radically transform agriculture. Happily, some of these were later widely adopted as tech apps helping farmers to access markets and financing.
The rapid growth of Internet and mobile communications has powered an innovation boom capable of accelerating the government's Big Four goals, namely, food security, manufacturing, housing and universal health care. This is where our youth come into the picture. They are brimming with ideas, energy and resourceful talent to make the Big Four a reality.
Essentially, we should not just seek to create employment for our youth but also expand business opportunities to help them create more jobs. Innovation is a potent tool for a youth-driven Big Four Agenda.
Innovation is especially crucial to achieving food security and boosting smallholder farming especially in rural areas. Young people should come up with new ways of increasing and diversifying crop production. Innovations that help farmers access finance and create new markets for their produce will also make farming more attractive and thus generate jobs for our youth.
Manufacturing under the Big Four should not just focus on large scale production of goods. Youth should be encouraged to venture into manufacturing through Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). Additionally, building strong linkages with agriculture provides a strong base for value addition via cottage industries including food processing and textile manufacture.
There are numerous opportunities for youth under the housing pillar of the Big Four. I need emphasize that youth need not wait for menial construction jobs popularly known as ‘mjengo’ when it comes to the government’s target of building 500,000 affordable houses over the next five years. Instead, they should explore innovative construction methods using locally available materials to reap the benefits of a vibrant housing sector.
Universal health care is also one of the Big Four pillars. We need a healthy and robust youth populace to develop the nation. Youth productivity should be tied to good health. Young Kenyans should therefore be encouraged to enroll with the National Health Insurance Fund in large numbers so as to access quality, affordable medicare.
The upshot is that we cannot talk of inclusive growth and socio-economic transformation without involving the youth. This requires policies and fiscal programmes that are youth-friendly. Policy and decision makers should have the youth in mind when planning for the country's future.
Parliament and the county assemblies should also entrench youth participation in their legislative and oversight functions. Young elected leaders should be at the forefront of championing the rights and interests of youth in political decision-making.
As alluded above, our youth should, however, not wait for things to be done for them. Instead, they should embrace the wise counsel of John F. Kennedy and aspire to do more for their country than they expect it to do for them.
The Big Four pillars provide a great opportunity for youth to rise to the occasion and leave an indelible imprint on the country’s social and economic transformation in the years ahead.
Mr Choto is a lawyer and public affairs specialist. [email protected]