12.01.2020: A 24-year old walks out of one of the departmental offices at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture Technology.
A smile is on her face and a brown envelope in her hand - her life’s work. She has toiled for about 20 years for this. Education is the key to success, her teachers said, and her parents echoed. Finally, she is holding the key - a Bachelor’s degree in Biostatistics. The only thing left now is to open the door to success; get a good job with good pay. Well, she has got the key, how hard can it be?
Unfortunately, she is not the only one. About 800,000 young people enter the Kenyan labor market each year. Therefore, the answer to her question is: “It is hard.”
It is not hard because job hunting is a daunting task – though it actually is, in real life. It is hard because of rampant unemployment in Kenya, which means many people in need of jobs cannot find them.
According to the United Nation’s Common Country Assessment Report, the rate of unemployment in Kenya stood at around 40% in 2018. More startling, however, is the proportion of unemployed youths: about 80% of the unemployed population are youths. For every 10 jobless Kenyans, 8 of them are youths, aged between 15-34 years of age. They are not unemployed because they are lazy, an argument put forth so many times, but due to the scarcity of jobs.
The World Bank estimates that the Kenyan economy registered substantive growth between 2003 and 2014 with average GDP growth rates of 2.5 percent every year. Besides, employment rates also increased by 4.5 percent each year between the years 2006 and 2013. However, a report by SAMUEL HALL and the British Council on Youth Unemployment in Kenya, 2017, shows that the rate of youth unemployment has been increasing at a rate of 42 percent since the year 2000. This is a clear indication that the economy has not been creating enough jobs to absorb young people joining the labor market every year. Despite increased rates of unemployment, over 7,000 workers had been sacked in a wave of massive layoffs by the end of 2019.
More petrifying being the misery that comes with unemployment. Do you remember the story of Rebecca - the 20-year-old woman who had lost her job, got kicked out of her home, had no money and ended up giving birth unassisted in Uhuru Park?
What about Alfred Kibet Kirui? The university graduate who posted on Facebook, threatening to commit suicide owing to his job-hunting efforts not bearing any fruits. There is also the story of the young man, tired of unsuccessful job hunting, decided to hold a placard near State House, begging the President to help him join the Kenya Defense Forces. These anecdotes of agony caused by unemployment are unending, to say the least. We have had numerous cases of suicide attempts, increased criminal activity, and prostitution - all because of unemployment.
Youth unemployment in Kenya is, to put it simply, a disaster. It has been for years now. It is so bad, Antony Aluoch, a Kenyan legislator, wanted it declared a national disaster! Well, isn’t it about time?
Even some of those with jobs find themselves in professions they have not been trained in. A nation's economy flourishes when individuals work in a market that matches their skills. This phenomenon of job mismatch results in massive underemployment, hence wastage of abilities considering the investment towards education.
In the wake of this massive job crisis, the Kenyan government set out to address the issue through a number of initiatives. One of them was the Ajira Digital Programme that sought to equip youth, especially university students, with online work skills from which they can earn a living. There is also the National Youth Service that recruits and trains youth in various fields, including paramilitary, engineering, fashion, and design, to name but a few. The government has also launched a myriad of programs to curb unemployment by encouraging youth to embrace online self-employment.
However, the effectiveness of these initiatives is a point of concern to many people seeing that unemployment remains an issue. The other unanswered question is: whether the government is doing enough to create jobs for youth. Training the youth in various fields, equipping them with the necessary skills and encouraging them to embrace self-employment is important and necessary, but what happens after that?