Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Misconceptions about the Youth in Kenya

Time and again we have heard leaders across the board, ranging from politicians to religious leaders saying something about the youth. Each context portrays youth in a different way which in most cases is not pleasing. The youth compose the highest proportion in the total population of the country. So much have been said about the youth and has left me as youth thinking. I have for sometime observed the way our leaders portray the youth and I want to point out which have otherwise misled people.
First, the youth are unskilled and as such they can only provide unskilled labour. This generalization that the youth in Kenya are unskilled has today become a maxim. The office of the Prime Minister initiated a project that was anticipated to provide employment opportunities to the youth. This was a mitigation to try to deal with the high rate of unemployment among the youth. The project was dubbed Kazi Kwa Vijana (KKK) –jobs for the youth and phase I was rolled out in 2009.Phase II is said to be in the offing. Those who were hired were given menial jobs: slashing roadside bushes, digging trenches, collecting garbage and swiping the streets among others. It is not my intention at all to demean those who took up the jobs. After all, the wages were quite attractive, ranging from Ksh.200-Ksh.400 per day. The design of the KKK Project made it difficult for the skilled youth-diploma holders and university graduates to provide their services to the nation. Okay, I guess you quickly thought of the popular Kiswahili aphorism ‘kazi ni kazi usibague’-meaning -don’t despise any job.I know the youth have been accussed of preferring white –collar jobs to blue collar jobs.Come think of it, toiling for 4 years solving Econometrics only to graduate and slash roadside bushes notwithstanding the money used in terms of fee payment and others. Surely, is it fair? If it was so then it will be pointless to get education. Give Caesar what belongs to Caesar! This reminds me of two colleagues who were working on a trench. One of them was a diploma holder while the other was a standard six drop out. The standard six drop out fellow asked his colleague why he had wasted his time, efforts and money studying yet they are both digging the trench. An argument ensued and the rest I leave for your imagination.
Let’s digress a little from our main point. Personally, I think the KKK Project was not well structured and should have not been let out of the office before amendments. First, the project was not sustainable. It was a short term measure that could not provide a long lasting solution to the unemployment problem among the youth. Think of it, after clearing all the bushes you have no more bush to clear. Secondly, the KKK Imitative did not cater for the skilled youth. I guess this was so because of the misconception that the youth are unskilled. Thirdly, the project does not have mechanisms to curb corruption loopholes. The project was intoxicated with corruption ranging from ghost workers to those who bribe the supervisors in order to get the jobs. This further locked out the youth who badly needed the job. The youth are also skilled. Almost 60,000 professionals graduate from the institutions of higher learning annually. I don’t deny there are a significant number of unskilled youth but it is not true that all the youths are unskilled.
Misconception number 2: the youth are unfocused people. The youth in Kenya are perceived to be a bunch of unfocused chaps who do not really know what to do with their lives and in addition to that focus the efforts in places which they are not needed like drinking spree….This generalization was ‘justified’ when the cases of illicit brew killing the youth hit the news headline. In last tragic episode in June, 10 youths lost their lives to the toxic concoction. Politicians who use the youths for their dirty jobs during campaigns like causing chaos and noise-making. Further, unlawful gangs which are largely comprise the youth like Mungiki, Baghdad among others have also supported this misconception to an extent that is being accepted as the truth in the society today. Above scenarios and others alike, have perpetuated the misconception that the youth are unfocused. This is not true since it does not apply to all the youth. As a matter of fact, there are many youths across the country that are focused and are running successful businesses. Instead of giving such a generalization, it should be investigated to find out why the few who indulge in such activities .The above cases are largely caused by frustrations brought about by poverty .Again, it leads back to the same old problem: unemployment.
The third misconception about the youth is that they do not make good leaders. For a longtime now, the leadership positions in the government and political arena in general have been left to the old guard. This trend is replicated in many countries across the world. It is not palatable and has received a lot of criticism among the youth. They feel that they have been locked out of the leadership positions. The old guards have defended themselves claiming that the youth are not mature enough to handle ‘weighty issues’. Unfortunately, this assertion has been aggravated by misconduct of some youthful leaders in the political arena. A specific case in time is that of Makadara M.P who marshaled rowdy youths in a protest. They destroyed properties on their way to the offices of local government. His behavior was embarrassing both to the public and unto himself. Such behaviours and others alike is not enough to conclude that the youth do not make good leaders.In deed we have youthful M.ps who are doing good. For instance, Peter Kenneth, M.P for Gatanga, and Eugine Wamalwa, M.P for Saboati. There are youths who can be exceptionally good leaders. The trend of old guards calling all the shots will be a thing of the past when the new completely comes into force.
Chapter Six, Bill of Rights Part II-Fundamental Rights and Freedoms
Article 40, Clause 1, 2, and 3 which state as follows:
1. The youth constitute an integral part of society and are entitled to enjoy all the rights and freedoms set in the Bill of Rights, taking into account their unique needs.
2. The state shall take legislative and other measures, including but not limited to affirmative action policies and programmes, to promote the welfare of the youth.
3. The measures referred to in clause (2) shall include measures to ensure for the youth-
a)     Access to quality and relevant education and training;
b)     Participation in governance;
c)      Access to gainful employment;
d)     Adequate opportunities in the social, political, economic, and other spheres of national life;
e)     Freedom of association to further their legitimate interests;
Protection from any culture, custom, tradition or practice that undermines their dignity or quality of life; and
f)       A life free from discrimination, exploitation or abuse
In addition to that, the requirement for one to vie for Member of Parliament has been lowered to 21 years while that of the presidency has been lowered to 35 years. This will give chance to the promising youths who can become good leaders to participate in governance.
The above are the common misconceptions about the youth in Kenya. It is the youth who can change the destiny of the country. They comprise a significant number in the total population of the country. The tag between the youth and the old guards as a result of disconnect in the generational change. The old way of doing things and new ways of doing things. Research has shown that older people are more resistant to change and this can explain to some extent why they are disregarding the youth. It is high time that we do away with the aphorism ‘the youth are the leaders of tomorrow’ and instead have ‘the youth are the leaders of today’. Through hard work, innovation, and creativity, the youth can make Kenya a better place for all of us.