As heads of state and government from 53 countries gather in London this week for the Commonwealth Summit, it is worth noting that one in three of the world’s 1.8 billion young people aged 15-29 live in a Commonwealth country.
More than 60 per cent of the Commonwealth’s 2.4 billion population is 29 or younger. In sub-Saharan Africa, host to 19 Commonwealth countries — from founder member South Africa to latest joiners Mozambique and Rwanda — 77 per cent is under 35.
The summit is a unique platform for Commonwealth youth’s voices to be heard.
In Kenya, where more than one in five Kenyans are between 15 and 24 and the population is set to more than double from 48 million to 100 million by 2050, the British Council is launching fresh research on the hopes, fears and aspirations of young Kenyans in the ‘Next Generation Kenya Report’.
The report says Kenya’s youth is highly aspirational and deeply passionate about their country and eager to contribute to its future. Ninety-one per cent of those interviewed in a national household survey by Ipsos claimed to love their country.
Like any other youth, they hold strong views and are keen for their opinions to be heard, heeded and, more importantly, acted upon.
They are anxious to use their talents, creativity and entrepreneurial drive to propel the economy to new heights and build a more inclusive and equitable future.
While 62 per cent of the youth believe that their generation’s lives are better than those of their parents’, and 81 per cent see their future in Kenya, 71 per cent said they would be willing to relocate to other countries in search of better opportunities.
Kenya’s ‘Next Generation’ is, however, one not without fears and concerns. They are lucid in articulating the challenges young people have to navigate.
Education, the most powerful tool that we have to change our world, as the wise Nelson Mandela reminded us, is seen as a vital necessity for them. And yet, there are grave concerns that the education young people are accessing, in increasingly large numbers, may be falling short in equipping them with the skills, knowledge and behaviours needed to thrive in the 21st Century.
Employment and under-employment preoccupy this committed group. Seventy per cent of young people fortunate enough to have found work find themselves in precarious and low-quality jobs. Pervasive corruption, and what the youth describe as a “broken system”, is felt to be holding back their promise and potential.
They expressed discomfort at being forced to perpetuate a system based on patronage. Violence and gender inequality are also thwarting their progress. Above all, they are crying out for greater support in helping them to chart a brighter future for a country they are both passionate about and deeply committed to.
Africa has been called the last young continent. As the report makes abundantly clear, Kenya has a unique window of opportunity to harness what demographer David E. Bloom has called a demographic dividend: A burst of prosperity, lasting a decade or more, brought on by the creativity, talent and energy of many young people, entrepreneurs and productive workers.
Countries can reap this dividend if government policies have readied the workforce with the proper education, infrastructure and policies to fulfil their economic potential.
Listening to the voices of young people is crucial if Kenya is to avoid the flip-side and far less palatable scenario of a demographic disaster. No one wants to see the most educated, talented, globally connected and optimistic generation ever have their hopes squandered through lack of opportunity.
Mr Reilly is the country director, British Council Kenya. [email protected]