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Regional economic blocs must include youth

Friday March 29 2019

Youth, young people, youth unemployment

Youth. We are looking at a situation where our offspring are going astray, and we are not raising a finger. PHOTO | TIMOTHY CHOY | UNSPLASH 

RAPHAEL OBONYO
By RAPHAEL OBONYO
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The initiatives by the county governments to forge united platforms to guide economic development through Regional Economic Blocs must be accelerated to offer the youth new jobs.

Although these blocs have been mooted in several regions with great fanfare, most of them have not even taken baby steps despite their importance in creating viable economic units, especially to benefit counties considered too small such as Lamu.

DEVELOPMENT

The slow pace of these initiatives in taking institutional shape is worrying considering the fact that they are largely driven by term-limited governors whose successors may not necessarily share aspirations.

The only bloc that seems to have taken baby steps is the Lake Region Economic Block (LREB). The 14 counties forming the LREB, which was well mooted with great pomp, must now move with the speed to provide a template on which the other blocs can seek vital lessons.

A report by Deloitte East Africa done a few years ago entitled ‘Lake Victoria Basin Economic Blueprint’ noted that the longer-term economic transformation of the Lake Basin region depends on the extent to which the counties and their leadership develop and implement a shared vision for regional transformation and development.

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Although some of the counties in the region fair poorly in poverty index ranking, there exists huge economic opportunities if the region seeks to exploit this through a joint initiative.

The region is strategically placed as a gateway to Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, South Sudan and the Great Lakes Region which are potential markets for goods and services produced here.

In its blueprint, the region designated flagship projects to be implemented in the region — an agricultural commodities exchange, a regional bank, specialist hospitals and educational centres of excellence in each county, creating a Lake region ring road and tourism circuit.

CREDIT

These plans, however, just as in President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Big Four Agenda programme, have failed to clearly define the issue of joblessness among the youth, a major headache in the country.

The economic bloc must also push for the creation of the planned bank. Plans to buy a majority stake in an existing bank flopped in 2018. Access to finance has been identified as a key constraint to youth participation in economic growth, in particular the fact that they have very limited access to capital.

On the supply side, there is a perception among financial service providers that the youth are risky to lend to as they have low financial capacity, no collateral, poor savings culture and lack financial literacy.

On the demand side, there is a lack of targeting of financial services to the youth’s needs and circumstances, poor accessibility of financial services due to their high cost, including interest on credit, as well as low coverage of banking institutions in some areas.

Having the commercial bank means people from the region will have access to affordable credit facilities that will enhance business investments especially for the youth.

The regional blocs, including LREB, should collaborate with the private sector to ensure that economic opportunities are shared with young people.

The writer is a public policy expert; [email protected]

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