If there is anything Kenya and Africa may pride in, it is the youthful population. However, is the youthful population a blessing or a curse? It is a curse to the extent unemployment remains high in our nation? It is a blessing to the extent our governments (national and county) are focused on job creation and engaging the youth in meaningful work towards nation building.
In the recent past, the government has rolled out a number of initiatives towards youth empowerment
i. Making education scholarships more accessible
ii. The youth funds
iii. Sports tournaments and competitions
iv. Youth polytechnics
v. Access to tenders
vi. Kazi kwa vijana initiative
vii. Private sector partnerships
viii. The national youth service
The number of initiatives rolled out by government is numerous; however, youth empowerment remains elusive. What is the problem? The problem, according to me, lies in poor implementation of youth empowerment initiatives and most critically in lack of strategic dexterity and synergy in youth related initiatives.
The higher education loans board has done enough good for us. The only problem with funding formal education in Kenya is lack of priority focus. Why has the government, the higher education board as an agency of the government and industry players not liaised to promote industry driven education in Kenya. It would make a lot of sense if industry and educational institution partnerships were strengthened towards enhancing linkages between education and industry needs. We have so many graduates and our universities will churn out even more graduates going forward, but are their skills linked to any particular industry? If I were the Cabinet Secretary for education, in addition to improving access to quality education for all, this would be my focus. At the County Level, there is need to build databases and to link what children from the county are doing with the needs of the county. If any country focuses on taking a keen interest in its sons and daughters in learning institutions and providing them with forums to network and engage industry players, such a county will create a mass of scholars with the right consciousness to drive a developmental agenda.
Sports tournaments and competitions are good for identifying talents; however, more critical is the talent development part of the deal. In Kenya, there are limited talent development opportunities. Talent development is not just about sports academies, film academies etc. It is about exposing talent and training in how best the talent can be used by individuals at their level for national or county development. There are many young people with sporting talent, singing talent, dancing talent, writing talent, speaking talent etc. However, do these young people know the journey they need to take to transform talent into opportunities for earning? If I were the Cabinet Secretary for sports or youth, this would be one of my daily concerns; how do I get all the youths in the country to know how to turn their talents into opportunities for earning? Any County Executive for youth has to be awake to this challenge. It is not enough to organize some tournaments in the county. We have to go beyond petty tournaments; actually, encourage other entities like NGOs and individuals to organize those tournaments. However, as a county government, start non-formal education engagements with youths, create talent clubs, provide exposure opportunities and provide the required support to youths who have taken initiative. Every county should have a talent development division. It is sole work should to identify talents in the community and link them with opportunities for development. Let the musicians be linked with best producers, promoters and music schools in the region. Let the talent division liase with all team managers of local clubs in all sports disciplines. Let them connect with international sport scouts and academies and link our talented young people to the right opportunities.
Youth Polytechnics are great and they have the reputation of being practical skills oriented institutions. However, underfunding, understaffing and mismanagement are the greatest challenges that need urgent addressing. These institutions are not as esteemed because they have not been positioned properly. If we want polytechnics, then Kenya Polytechnic currently Technical University should offer counties with some good reference point. There is no point in having a polytechnic in every village; this leads to stretching resources hence poor results being realized. Let there be only two or three polytechnics in a county. However, let such polytechnics be fully resourced, with qualified personnel, modern equipment and robust curriculums for those craft courses. Consolidation helps learners to be exposed to many other students. Such in itself helps build the esteem of students about their studies. Consolidations also facilitate more efficient and effective use of scarce resources. A county that manages to graduate as many technically competent polytechnic grandaunts as possible is likely to have a robust informal sector. The informal sector, popularly known as Jua Kali, if harnessed can be a pathway to desired levels of industrial activities and job creation in some counties.
Someone has to tell our leaders, what our youths need may actually not be capital. It has become the cliché, providing loans to youths towards empowering them to become job creators. While the thinking may be great, the assumption that access to credit unlocks entrepreneurial activity is a fallacy. Entrepreneurship is not a function of capital; it is a function of ideas. To encourage entrepreneurship, focus can not be on credit access but on idea generation. The national government is providing loan access through the Youth Fund and Uwezo fund (I do not understand the duplication of funds). How funny that some counties have launched their own youth funds of sorts. Here is a more practical approach to empowering youth. Each County should identify sectors deemed critical or viable for youth entrepreneurial activity. Let available money be used to stimulate activities in such sectors. For instance, if dairy farming can do well in a given county, let the county government roll out a dairy farming program for youth. If tomato farming could give the youth of the county a strategic advantage, let the county begin a tomato program. If Jua Kali will best stimulate business potential of youth, let the county begin a Jua kali program, poultry program, coffee project, potato project, Youth Matatu Sacco project. Let these projects be run as independent business units that are supposed to be profitable and self-sustaining. Let youths interested in any of the programs join the project by registering with relevant in a group of others with same interest and group registered as a business entity with relevant authorities. Let there be training programs in each of this projects. Let the youths individually, or as a group be provided with funding to facilitate enterprise development as per specified best practice model. Let there be accountability measures through grassroots networking of individuals and loans guarantee systems. This approach will help the counties to spur growth in desirable sector. At the same time, the youths who may not have practical or viable business ideas and acumen, will benefit from structured engagement in a project. A bit of what NGOs like One Acre Fund are doing on maize farming can with innovation be adopted as a model.
Youth access to tenders is a mirage. The more the youth think they have an opportunity, the more impossible it seems to access any government tenders. It is simple, the brokers have registered companies using youths and continue with business as usual in the name of youths. The youths have not learnt the rituals of accessing business in government. We do not have the usual kickbacks and are unable to cut deals with procurement officers. Where they could, they have not yet established the trust and intricate relationships with procuring officers, which inform tender awarding. Therefore, while stipulations and directives are good, corruption in government tender processes remain a hindrance.
The national youth service is a great avenue for empowering youths. However, the opportunities available are limited and are normally shared among the few well connected Kenyans. I therefore think there is need to devolve the national youth service such that counties can be encouraged to establish county youth service centers coordinated by the national youth service governing council. Going to these institutions can then be made mandatory for all youths finishing high school. The purpose is to engage these youths in a training that gives them awareness of how to be physically fit, emotionally fit, and spiritually fit and to in calculate in them the culture of contribution. For sustainability, the public works system should work with NYS or CYS to engage the youths in KKV kind of projects. Such works may include road construction and maintenance, maintenance of dams, environmental programs, town cleaning contracts etc.
These are my two cents on youth empowerment and possibilities considering what are in place. A lot of money is being wasted because youths are not being engaged in a programmatic manner. By programmatic I mean an institutionalized approach that is long-term pronged. UWEZO fund and Youth Fund should be merged and a financial institution maybe dubbed Social Empowerment Bank (SEB) muted. The bank should have branches across the country and offer loans through the county youth ministry programs or projects. If a county is running a dairy farming project for the youths, it can approach the bank and secure a loan for the project. This may help towards de-politicizing youth empowerment agenda in the country.