Is the government doing enough for the economic development of rural youth in Kenya?
By Peter Kirongothi
The United Nations (UN) defines ‘Youth’ as persons between the ages of 15 and 24 years. However, this is not regarded as explicit. Article 260 of Kenya’s constitution defines a youth as a person between the ages of 18 and 35 years. A country’s youth is usually considered as the economic driving force and to some degree, political and cultural as well. Ignoring this population could prove to be pernicious. Dissatisfaction by this group can easily spiral out of control with a snowball effect incentivized by technological advancements in telecommunication which act as effective rallying platforms. Most African governments, Kenya included, are aware of this and have committed manpower and resources towards overall youth development. But have these deeds moved the needle for this young and energetic population?
According to data from the 2019 census by Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), Kenya has a large youthful rural population. To put this into perspective, 35.7 million Kenyans (75.1%) are below 35 years, while 32.73 million (68.9%) live in rural areas. A large number of this population does not have the requisite education and training to engage in any meaningful economic activity and those that do, can’t find placement in the job market. KNBS put the unemployment rate in Kenya in 2019 at 9.3% with youth unemployment estimated to be as high as 38.9% . Two years later and amidst a pandemic the situation is poised to worsen. Many of the rural youth work in informal sectors such as agriculture and service sectors which have been highly affected by the global restrictions on movement and social distancing rules. Those who had managed to climb out of poverty have slid back due to debt and loss of business. The high cost of living in rural Kenya has risen due to increased inflation, which stood at 5.7 % in January for low-income households – which is the majority of the rural population. This translates into higher agricultural costs and few to zero investments due to lack of capital. Access to bank loans remaining out of reach for the youth. Additionally, access to education and health facilities remains a deep-seated issue as they remain marginalized.
Government interventions span way back to 1964 with the establishment of the National Youth Service. In December 2005, the Ministry of State for Youth Affairs (MOYA) was established and it was pegged on the Millennium Development Goals. The first policy on the youth was developed in 2006, Kenya National Youth Policy (KNYP), purposed to create equal opportunities for the youth without prejudice. Priority areas for this policy encompassed majority of the challenges that the rural youth encountered. To tackle youth unemployment, the government launched the Youth Enterprise Development Fund (YEDF) in February 2007 through loan facilitation and other business development strategies. In 2009, another initiative dubbed Kazi Kwa Vijana (KKV) was launched to tackle poverty/hunger and unemployment among the youth. This would be facilitated through government related projects in infrastructure and agriculture. Most recently, the government launched the National Hygiene Program (NHP), dubbed Kazi Mtaani which was designed to cushion the most vulnerable youth from the effects of the COVID -19 pandemic. But have these programmes achieved what they were meant to achieve?
The National Youth Service (NYS), even with its good intentions still does not capture the whole youth population. Not every single young man or woman makes the cut to join the organization. Age restrictions (18-22 years) and education requirements (KCSE D+ minimum) lock out majority of the rural youth. Corruption within the organization put to fore the attitude of some government officials towards the future of the youth. The loss of Kshs 791 million from the Ministry of Devolution and planning, which is in charge of NYS, displayed a blatant disregard of their custodial duties. This poses a risk towards the quality training programmes that the organization offers.
Youth Enterprise Development Fund has also not delivered as expected. Corruption has also plagued this noble programme leading to marginalization. Access to loans is based on the people you know and not on due diligence carried out or an individual’s qualifications therefore leading to low loan repayment rates as a result of business failures. The government has also failed to put measures in place to ensure proper training and mentorship for the funded businesses.
Kwazi Kwa Vijana initiative was also another non performing initiative with shortcomings on issues in areas around design, implementation, cost-effectiveness and its evaluation. Political interference and a lack of local ownership were among the Achilles heel of the programme. The input of the rural youth, to whom this would benefit the most, was ignored. Rules had already been set and they were supposed to play by them.
Having pragmatic solutions for the youth can act as a conduit to economic, political and cultural independence. Sincere participation by the government and stake holders is required. The previous initiatives have moved the needle but only a distance that has laid bare the myriad of shortcomings. An approach of local solutions for local problems is required as opposed to the now too common blanket remedy. The rural youth, if engaged, will be more than willing to identify their pain points and brainstorm on the possible way forward.
Peter Kirongothi is a final year student in USIU-A pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations. His interests lie in development and environmental issues, with a focus on the rural youth and the economic structure(s) they are subjected to. An in-depth analysis of these issues remain crucial to Africa’s well being.