alexa With our jobless youth, could protests, unrest come to Kenya? - Daily Nation

With our jobless youth, could protests, unrest come to Kenya?

Wednesday October 30 2019

demos, Mombasa

Workers of distributive industry protest over job losses caused by the Chinese-built Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) in Mombasa, on October 14, 2019. PHOTO | AFP STRINGER 

More by this Author

Youth-led street protests and civil unrest is breaking out like veritable bush fires. Chile and Iraq are under siege. Hong Kong, Barcelona (Spain) and Beirut (Lebanon) have had flare-ups.

The protests in Hong Kong are against the hegemony of mainline Chinese rulers. The Barcelona riots by the Catalan separatists are against the central government in Madrid.

But the economic and financial grievances of high and escalating costs of living and lack of jobs underpin the rising anger that stokes the fires of protest. They may not be the most visible but are, certainly, among the main root causes.


Kenya is often seen as being less vulnerable to this bush fire contagion. But is that more to do with luck and good fortune rather than actual risk? Any of us who can recall the post-2007 election fallout that brought us to the edge of social turmoil will be less smug about it.

I am not necessarily saying that we are as vulnerable or at imminent risk. But we need to take a more in-depth look at the real driving forces for unrest and see whether comparable scenarios are likely in Kenya, then we can make a more educated assessment.


The common thread in these demonstrations, street protests and violent confrontations is that the youth are at their forefront.

The youth physically lead the protests, which go hand in hand with loud demands for change. With the exception of Sudan, it is too early to say whether their actions and voices will, ultimately, result in meaningful change. The jury is out on that one.


What is evident is that their strident voices and demands are increasingly and attentively listened to as they resonate with the key grievances assaulting and afflicting many people.

Even where their demands are rejected, there is often a quiet reassessment of policy to accommodate some of the concerns. These are not just student concerns per se; they often capture the key grievances of the bulk of the population.

In Africa, 41 per cent of the population is aged 15 or under, compared to 25 per cent in Asia. Many of the youth have had some basic education and access to health provision and have higher expectations as a result. But they become seriously disaffected due to lack of jobs and massive inequalities.

Social media has done a lot to keep young people tuned into the realities and vagaries of the world and, in turn, made them bolder and more assertive than previous youth generations.

As a result, they are being taken more and more seriously not just because they are a potent force in their own right. It is because they are articulating the core grievances of many and doing it in a bold and forceful manner.


For example, corruption is often high amongst their complaints and that is a major grievance shared by the bulk of the population. What of Kenya? There is a striking resemblance in the concerns, complaints and aspirations of the Kenyan youth. If anything, they are similar.

As in Africa, 41 per cent of our population is aged 24 or under. Many in this demographic have accessed basic education and health facilities but are held back by lack of jobs.

We have brought up generations of youth who are much more connected to the world than the older generations but we have set them adrift in a stormy sea of unemployment and massive social disparity.

This imbalance is a recipe for social fluidity and the outpouring of youth anger and outrage being witnessed around the world is a clear example of that manifestation.

What Kenyan youth are looking for mirror the expectations and aspirations of many others. Therefore, we cannot avoid or bypass the eruptions of frustration that will emanate from them — especially when the pressures and frustrations get worse.


We need to observe carefully what is happening and how the youth rage is being addressed. To rush in with batons and tear gas ignites further the outrage. The global youth revolution can teach us a lot. Let us accept what is happening as a lesson on how we must change, rather than treat it as a threat or an irritant that we should suppress.

Mr Shaw is a public policy and economic analyst. [email protected]