The tale of Ms Ruth Rono, the fabled first-class Chuka University graduate of economics who resorted to odd jobs to eke out a living, captured the nation’s imagination. Her plight sent tongues wagging. Social media, as usual, erupted. And then, thankfully, a retinue of benefactors scrambled to her rescue.
But Ms Rono is just an avatar of the plight of the youth and the spectre of unemployment that haunts our country.
In fact, the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) paints a grimier picture — seven million Kenyans are unemployed. The numbers will definitely balloon if business remains as usual. Yet, such is a powdered keg that fires disquiet in societies.
But then the spectre of unemployment will neither be solved by knee jerk reactions to media stories, nor from formal employment. It’s a complex monster, which to tackle, calls for a radical recalibration of our means of production, the collective national spirit towards entrepreneurship, and a revamped education system to align to the technological changes sweeping the world.
Unfortunately, our economic system is broken. It is rigged in of favour the elite in government and the private sector. If you are weak and poor you don't stand a chance. Just imagine, before she came to the limelight, if Ms Ronoh had walked into the offices of those who scampered to employ her, probably she wouldn't have gone beyond a cold receptionist.
That is why social media was cynical. It read ulterior motives, than altruism, in the offers that were thrown Ms Ronoh’s way. “Where were those jobs?” social media cheekily queried. Perhaps we need a robust database of all employment opportunities available in the private and the public sector. We also need a database of all unemployed folks including their qualifications. The national bureau of employment will then be strive to match opportunities and candidates.
Otherwise, as it is now, profitable prospects in this country- plum jobs and lucrative businesses- are largely accessible to a tiny closely-knit fraternity thus disenfranchising the masses. This systematic exclusionary scheme is dangerous.
Sadly, even those profiting from this skewed system appear to be intellectually lazy such that they don't care to provide innovative solution to spur growth.
The Jubilee government crafted a masterstroke, the Access to Government Procurement Opportunities Programme (AGPO) availing 30 per cent of government procurement to special groups including the youth.
But, if media accounts are anything to go by, cartels seem to have edged out the young entrepreneurs. State agencies delay payment and in some instances goods and services are not paid for. That is criminal and even immoral.
AGPO would have hauled a massive chunk of youth from joblessness to a decent income. It would have saved thousands of youth from gambling, idleness, drugs, crime and hopelessness.
What is ailing AGPO? We need answers. It is not too much to demand that a special team investigate the degree of compliance by state agencies to this program. Those found to have offended the letter and spirit of AGPO should be surcharged even sacked.
But then, the youth too have to be trained on entrepreneurship. It is one thing to offer credit facilities, reserved quotas, and another ball altogether when it comes to delivery. The youth need to be empowered on entrepreneurship skills for them to manoeuvre appropriately in the cut-throat world of business.
But the long haul, to change, we need honesty and patriotism on the part of the owners of capital — private and public. Custodians of wealth and power must love this country. They must be committed to support creation and distribution wealth.
The truth is that the government alone cannot offer employment to everyone. But the government has to be an enabler. This is through sound policies, respect of private property and investment, security, enforcing the rule of law and even in the provision of incentives to innovative enterprises that offer new employment. It is in the private sector where jobs are created.
In fact, efforts will be needed to attract more Foreign Direct Investment, cut our illicit appetites for imports, and encourage the ideal of “buy Kenya, build Kenya.” if Kenya becomes a hub of manufacturing and value addition, it will absorb more people into the job market. We cannot create jobs if all we do is to turn ours into a huge supermarket of foreign goods.
Further, we need to construct the ideal of the Kenyan dream: a national consciousness that will trigger industry, innovation and the spirit of entrepreneurship. Kenyans, regardless of background, should be accorded equal opportunities to thrive. Thus we should be able to reward merit and encourage innovation.
If we can’t be innovative, change will sweep us away. For instance, automation is here and will take most of the jobs. In fact, in their report A future that works: automation employment and productivity, the MaCkinsey group notes that by 2055, or earlier, half of the jobs globally will be automated.
That is why the report aptly counsels that governments and policymakers must rethink education and training. Even the folks who will be working, the report advises, will be required to “acquire new skills that will be in demand in the new automation age.”
Take digital economy for instance. What are we doing with this world of eternal possibilities? See what M-Pesa has done, employing thousands. Sadly, that is where the beautiful story ends. The rest is full of hits and misses. Shouldn't we be investing more in incubation centres where new blockbuster innovations would emerge?
Mr Wamanji is a Public Relations and communication adviser [email protected]