NERIMA: The ticking time bomb is on the streets and in our homes...the youth are idle

Friday October 18 2019

Activists demonstrate against unemployment in Nairobi on October 9, 2019.

Activists demonstrate against unemployment in Nairobi on October 9, 2019. PHOTO | SIMON MAINA | AFP 

NERIMA WAKO-OJIWA
By NERIMA WAKO-OJIWA
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There are several attempts to stem the unemployment disaster currently grappling the country from getting out of hand.

One legislator is pushing for unemployed youth to be paid a stipend of Ksh12,000 ($120) for three months months, and another pushing to reduce the retirement age of civil servants from 60 years to 50 years, which translates to approximately 25,000 people cutting their careers short.

On Wednesday, May 24, 2017, a Kenyan local daily newspaper reported that the country’s public service sector is in a crisis as more than half of its work force is almost 50 years old.

The report showed that 31 per cent of the staff at both national and county levels are between 50 and 59 years old.

The government also recently launched ‘The Public Service Internship’ programme to hire 3,000 interns for a period of one year in various ministries, departments and agencies with a monthly stipend: About Ksh1 billion ($10 million) was set aside by parliament for its implementation. Almost 18,000 youth responded to the call for applications.

The youth need paying work, now. The government’s priority should be job creation but it is not concerned. We all think that the issue is not that serious anyway, and that it will resolve itself.

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Right before the national census, there was a picture of application letters from around the country for the temporary work. It was quite telling of the state of unemployment.

Meaningful internships

I keep wondering how many of the internships in my life are useful now. Offices that recruit interns try to absorb the young people and in my case I was not fully engaged throughout the time I was there.

There were days I was completely idle and I know of other interns who were swamped with mundane work, such as filing an entire room with names in alphabetical order that could take weeks to accomplish. What did I learn? Perseverance, and to endure weeks of abundant time.

But not all my internship experiences were like this, some immersed me in work, so much so, there was a point it felt like the organisation was taking advantage of me and fellow interns. Value to an intern depends on the culture of the organisation.

We keep hoping today that those called up for internships will not have job descriptions that include picking lunch for the boss, serving tea and only collecting documents for the general office.

There needs to be a real skills transfer, because what is taught in the university is not sufficient for fresh graduates to have an easy entry in the real workplace setting.

When we look at countries that have experienced conflict, it will be in relation to the high population of disenfranchised youth.

And at the moment, that number in Kenya is increasing rapidly and the youth are frustrated. Temporary solutions may temporarily soothe the situation but will not get rid of the rising numbers, or root issues causing unemployment.

Investment in young people must be intentional and cannot be short term.

Jobs versus work

What are some of the most prized jobs in this country? Most young people will either want to be engineers, doctors or lawyers.

When we do not see the opportunities in different sectors, it is no surprise when a Cabinet Secretary was shocked when he realised there were no plumbers in his village when he needed one.

In a years time, we will begin to see major job cuts in various sectors to reduce overlapping roles, and this will be made worse by big groups of individuals retiring from the public sector who are of retirement age.

Even though County government create platforms for the public to engage, the youth hardly know of them or feel powerless about the processes available to air their concerns.

For youth to be change agents as individuals, they need to be taught to understand the concept of devolution for instance, policy engagement and participation, there will be opportunity there, but don't expect the youth to see something they have been taught to be blind to.

Nerima Wako-Ojiwa is executive director of Siasa Place. Twitter: @NerimaW

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