Official statistics tell us that Kenya’s unemployment rate stands at 40 per cent, 64 per cent of whom are youths who constitute 60 per cent of Kenya’s estimated population of 40 million.
This is the answer to those who have been wondering aloud how Nairobi’s Uhuru Park was packed to capacity with humanity on April 11 during the prayer meeting for The Hague suspects.
An unemployment rate of 40 per cent with the youth at the receiving end should scare any right-thinking citizen. It means approximately 16 million Kenyans have no means of generating income, and that over 10 million are aged between 18 and 30.
Experts attribute the high unemployment rate to low economic growth, a factor that is manifested in low economic activity and low investment.
Low economic activity means low overall job-creation. Given a high population growth rate, labour markets are unable to absorb all the new job-seekers.
Kenya’s high unemployment rate can be explained, not by poor planning, but poor implementation of development plans, which is a direct reflection of poor leadership.
That was particularly the case until 2002 when Kenyans changed their leadership. One of the indicators of this change was that our gross domestic product jumped from negative to 7 per cent. Our budget estimates flew from Sh180 billion to Sh700 billion within three years, almost eliminating the need for donor assistance.
But the fact that the unemployment rate remains this high shows that Kenya is still a victim of low economic growth, low economic activity and low investment.
Yet a casual look shows that we are doing well in terms of infrastructure development and services – roads, rural electrification and clean water accessibility – since 2003.
The fact that these developments are yet to reflect positively on our employment rate means there are other underlying negative factors.
There is light at the end of the tunnel, though, and Kenyans should not despair.
The new Constitution, with clear checks and balances between the three arms of government and which devolves power to the grassroots, coupled with Vision 2030, should give Kenyans hope and confidence that we are on the economic take-off lane.
Checks and balances between the Executive, Judiciary and Legislature save us from the temptation by the presidency to privatise the State. Devolution takes power over resources to where it belongs – the people.
This will spur both creativity and innovation among Kenyans. If well-synchronised with Vision 2030, devolution will see this country industrialise even before 2030. Here is why.
One of the projects under Vision 2030 is the opening up of northern Kenya through the Isiolo-Ethiopia road construction, the proposed port at Lamu, and the railway line to South Sudan through Isiolo.
Alongside this are the proposed oil pipeline and refinery at Lamu targeting the vast South Sudan’s oil deposits.
More encouraging is the fact that many of Kenya’s 47 counties have enormous potential for self-propelled growth.
Commercial gold deposits have been discovered in the Migori and Kakamega Counties; Taita-Taveta County is well known for its vast gemstones; Kwale is rich in titanium; Kitui County is home to huge deposits of coal, limestone and iron ore; North Eastern is not only famous for its oil potential, it is also believed to teem with other forms of underground wealth.
This means Kenya’s riches are not confined to high-potential Central, Rift Valley and the western parts. With proper leadership, the wealth in marginalised counties can catapult the country into the industrialised world in a decade.
Exploiting our counties’ wealth will have the desired effect of arresting the rural-urban migration. Indeed, tapping our counties’ wealth will have the reverse effect.
Failure to heed our accelerated development call will land this country in an Egypt/Libya-like youth revolution. This is the most important challenge for those lining up for the leadership of this country at all levels, but particularly the presidency.
In other words, if President Kibaki’s legacy is the new Constitution, good roads, rural electrification and clean water, our next tenant at the House on the Hill should be an economic miracle worker.
Mr Mwalulu is a political analyst. ([email protected])