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Fix devolution if we are to address the plight of youth

Saturday February 23 2019

devolution conference

Governors react to a video address by President Uhuru Kenyatta at the devolution conference in Kakamega County, last year. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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As the 47 governors meet in Kirinyaga for their sixth annual conference early next month, a time has come for them to seriously interrogate how they can end joblessness among the youth.

Unemployment has largely been associated with the national government, which in most cases looked incompetent in addressing it and has devolved most of its functions to counties.

If county governments are not properly embedded in the ‘Big Four” agenda that is defining Jubilee’s development plan, as it presently looks, desired results will not be achieved even if the national government yields to the ongoing clamour and cedes more cash to the devolved regions.

County governments are the game-changer in two of the Big Four agenda items, namely expansion of the manufacturing sector, and food security. The central government must be applauded for the huge infrastructure projects it has initiated to connect the counties.


Three crucial areas are the construction of the roads to connect peri-urban and rural areas, transmission of electricity to all regions in the country and provision of water through dams.

With these crucial projects even in places that have suffered marginalisation for many years, it is now time to ask what counties can do to create jobs for the youth.

County governments must shed off their wasteful and autonomous and unaccountable attitude and explain their development agenda.

Devolution gave youth hope that it would bring services closer to citizens, increase job opportunities and improve governance. Far from it, if the reports on the impact of devolution are anything to go by.

Unfortunately, youth affairs in the counties have been identified as a main agenda but only to be tacked in other broad areas such as social services, sports and gender.

In addition, the funds allocated to youth affairs in general are low and do not reflect the prevalence of joblessness among youth in the counties.


The national unemployment rate stands at 40 percent, with youth constituting at least 75 percent of the total number of jobless people in the country.

Consequently, many youth cannot afford basic necessities like food, shelter, clothing, healthcare, and education.

There is also the need to increase the participation of youth in governance at the county level. Most of the counties have not adequately engaged youth in designing, planning and implementing programmes. As a result, the knowledge, skills and energy that the youthful population harbours goes underutilised.


To eliminate the possibility of alienating this potentially most productive group, decision-makers and other stakeholders at the county level must take deliberate steps to ensure the youth are at the centre of development plans.

With the process of reviewing the National Youth Policy almost complete, counties must put in place the necessary structures and finances for its adoption.

More so, instead of the haphazard approach that we have seen since devolution came into place, county governments must create innovative measures to urgently tackle youth joblessness.

Mr Obonyo is the author of Conversation about the youth in Kenya. [email protected]