Kenya’s large youth population holds key to progress

Monday, January 3rd, 2022 00:00 | By
Members of the Public during a past political rally. Photo/PD/File

With over 75 per cent of Kenya’s population under the age of 35, the country has a large youth population that presents immense potential for growth. 

We have a responsibility to review the place of young people by putting in place practical actions to improve their position and condition. 

Since independence, the youth have suffered a myriad of problems despite their huge proportion to the total population.

Successive governments have failed to create policies to improve the condition of youth.

The group forms the largest segment of the unemployed, illiterate, poor and under-represented in politics. Today, seven out of 10 jobless people in Kenya are youth. 

The country enacted a progressive Constitution in 2010. The youth overwhelmingly endorsed the document in a historic referendum.

This was a clear indication that the Constitution was seen as a new dawn in promoting dignity and fundamental human rights for all. 

Article 55 provides that the State shall take measures, including affirmative action, to ensure the youth have access to relevant education and training; are accorded an opportunity to be represented and participate in political, social and other spheres of life; have access to employment and are protected from harmful cultural practices and exploitation.

In order to realise the aspirations envisioned under the Constitution, the State is supposed to create an enabling environment and formulate effective policies that will support the implementation and sustainability of youth initiatives.

But the 2010 Constitution is not a panacea for problems facing the youth. Although a raft of fundamental reforms have been instituted since its promulgation, a lot still needs to be done to protect and realise the gains created by the Constitution. 

 Seven years ago, the country mooted the idea of a National Youth Council (NYC) anchored in the National Youth Council Act 2009.

The drafters of the law intended to create formal mechanisms and structures to remedy lack of proper engagement, which youth blames for their low participation national matters.

It was envisaged that by strengthening the administration of youth programmes through meaningful participation at all levels, strong youth-focused policies would be created. 

NYC must be strengthened to create a safety valve that will see more youth get representation in all spheres including governance.

There can be no doubt that a revitalised NYC will also give the youth an opportunity to participate in development.

Another important development is the review of youth policy. After five years of waiting, the country has finally birthed the Kenya Youth Development Policy, setting off the journey of its implementation. 

The policy forms a credible guide and reference tool for effective development and implementation of youth empowerment and development interventions, in line with the Constitution and development goals at the county, national and international levels.

It is clear that young people’s social, economic and political rights cannot be met by discrete youth empowerment strategies.

Youth mainstreamed policies complement the focus of discrete youth policies managed by the youth. 

 Make no mistake, young people are key to the success of development plans in Kenya – the success is contingent on how youth are engaged, organised and coordinated. 

Assessments show if well-organised, youth can change and shape Kenya’s socio-economic and political processes.

If the youth can be made to believe that they can dictate their destiny, the country could embark on a trajectory towards good governance.

As former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan once said “any society that does not succeed in tapping into the energy and creativity of its youth will be left behind”. —The writer is the author of Conversations About the Youth in Kenya. Email: [email protected]

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