Today the youth in Nairobi converged on Charter Hall to celebrate International Youth Day. The purpose of this auspicious day (which will be officially celebrated tomorrow in the rest of the world) is to draw attention to social, economic, legal and political issues facing the youth.
The Nairobi Forum had as its theme “Harnessing Responsive Youth Development Initiatives for a Sustainable Kenyan Economy”, an issue which is at the heart of Agenda 4 of Kenya’s National Accord Agreement that established the current coalition government.
Regarding the youth, Agenda 4 has far reaching measures which are meant to include all Kenyans and indeed the youth who form over 75% of Kenya’s population into democratic processes and development.
Constitutional reforms are anticipated to include clauses that ensure equal opportunities and social inclusion for all Kenyans. Institutional reforms in the judiciary and police have been incorporated to ensure strong commitment to human rights, in a country where Kenyan youth are particularly vulnerable to such abuses, with the majority of inmates in the prison system being youth and a police force that has also been accused of targeting the youth for extra judicial killings.
Further Agenda 4 reforms are also supposed to be implemented within the civil service, the same sector which in March this year raised the retirement age of civil servants up five years to 60! Land reforms are also a crucial Agenda 4 issue as land ownership amongst the nation’s youth is remaining a novelty.
However, these reforms cannot compare with the real poverty faced by Kenya’s youth. The youth require jobs and opportunities to fully exploit their talents. And Agenda 4 emphasises policies that ensure equity and balance in terms of job creation and improved income distribution.
Thus, the main agenda in this afternoon’s Charter Hall forum centered on the Youth Enterprise Development Fund as well as the more recent Kazi kwa Vijana (KKV) programme.
After opening performances from Sauti Sol who can only be described as Kenya’s Boyz II Men, Hope Raisers a band from Korogocho inspired the title of this post “Jipe moyo wewe Kijana!” with their session that encouraged the audience not to give up in the face of poverty. It was ironic that above the stage were both the emblem of the Nairobi City Council which in the past has been guilty of not providing adequate social services as well as the seemingly benign face of President Kibaki, the very same principal who is meant to deliver Agenda 4 to Kenyans.
The forum was moderated by Louis Otieno of Citizen TV and began with a talk from Patrick Kasyula, the head of research at the Youth Enterprise Development Fund. In his speech, he extolled the virtues of the fund, more or less placing the blame for not reaching as many young entrepreneurs as could have been on parliament. He went on to say that the fund had to put internal structures and requirements such as funding youth groups as opposed to individuals so that the Kenya National Audit Office (KNAO) could not say they were spending money flagrantly.
Kasyula further mentioned that the fund was committed to responding to issues. As such the first question was raised by Fiona Mati of the Youth Interactive Portal for Enterprise (Yipe.org) regarding the over Kshs. 1 billion in financial discrepancies outlined in the Partnership for Change report “A fish rots from the head down: crony capitalism at Kenya’s Youth Enterprise Development Fund” whose basis was a financial management letter addressed to the then CEO of the Youth Fund, Umuro Wario from the very same Kenya National Audit Office (KNAO) Mr. Kasyula had earlier mentioned.
In response, Mr. Kasyula termed the “report” as being false and malicious. He went onto assert that those errors emanated from the fund’s parent ministry of Youth & Sports to whom the startup monies for the youth fund was given in grants. As a result of that “report” Kasyula continued, the CEO was terminated. Mr. Kasyula never made any response to other questions from Ms. Mati regarding single sourcing by the Fund of suppliers and contractors, and neither did he answer her question on the Youth Fund’s “partnership” with Enablis East Africa. However, he did provide a standard response from the fund that it is the only State Corporation that presents quarterly reports to Parliament and is one of the most transparent government agencies. Yet if this is the case, why the hesitancy in answering a few straightforward questions if the Fund is as transparent as its officers profess it to be?
Mr. Kasyula was further prodded by another audience member, Emmanuel Dennis the convenor of the National Youth Convention regarding his assertion that the “report” by the Kenya National Audit Office was both “false and malicious”. Mr. Dennis asked how Kasyula a civil servant could say the Auditor General’s office could make such “false and malicious” assertions– the very same office that draws its mandate from The Constitution of Kenya!
Dennis further reminded the audience of further financial issues raised in the KNAO financial management letter including a Kshs. 50 million grant to the youth fund by the Kenya Pipeline Organisation, for which no agreement was supplied at the time of the KNAO’s audit of the fund; Kshs. 500 million put into a fixed deposit account without Treasury approval and monies paid out for events to an organization for whom no legal registration documents were made available to the KNAO.
At this point, Kasyula directed any interested questioners to find out more from the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Youth Affairs & Sports, whom the forum’s moderator Louis Otieno reminded everyone present was new in his job. But Kasyula maintained that a visit to the parent ministry would yield answers, albeit the same answers the Partnership for Change has been seeking since June 27th 2009!
At the beginning of the Forum, Louis Otieno had asked the audience how many had received money from the youth kitty and only a smattering raised their hands. Indeed there were more audience members who raised their hands when asked who had applied and been rejected.
Two of these from one youth group in Embakasi narrated their story. They said that even though the concept of a youth fund was good in the boardroom, its implementation was far from realistic on the ground. They had tried to apply twice and never received even an email rejecting their application. One of them, Njambi said that rejection communication would not quench her thirst for entrepreneurship, but could only improve the development of her group’s business proposal. Njambi added that even a short note saying that the handwriting on her group’s proposal was bad would have been preferable to no response at all.
The second entrepreneur Lydia said that on one of their applications they approached the Fund and were told there was no money and that they should return after the national budget was read as all the money had been returned until then to the Treasury! She further cited the major hurdles imposed by the fund’s application process saying that her group had a hard time even finding a youth officer. That is not surprising because the youth officer they eventually found in Embakasi was in her words a “Mzee” (an old man) who told the group that what they were requesting was not within his mandate and even called the administration police to send them back to where they came from. Kasyula responded to this by admitting that the Fund does not itself employ youth officers who commonly are “senior” civil servants seconded to such duties by the Ministry of Youth Affairs & Sports.
The question of what impact the fund has made was raised by other audience members who said the youth in the “hood(s)” of Nairobi do not know about banks and “big money” and asked the fund to make its presence known on the ground. A member of a youth performing group added that road-shows would be a good starting point so the youth can leave the ghetto and reach the leafy suburbs of Lavington.
The second issue under discussion at the forum was jobs, specifically those under the controversial Kazi kwa Vijana (KKV) programme. A representative from the KKV National Management Committee Mr. Adak said that the initiative was aimed at assisting those youth most “at risk“. In his introduction he outlined the structure of the programme and stressed that the initiative had been successful, employing 100,000 youth so far.
Expenditure is Expe! (expensive)
An audience member from Mathare later told Mr. Adak that the amount of 250 shillings per day was too little to feed him and his family. He also asked whether the initiative was just a 2012 campaign gimmick. In response, Adak told the young man that we should “praise God” for 250 shillings! – further revealing the insensitivity of government policy makers and political elite to the plight of the nation’s youth.
That response confirmed that Kenya’s government policy is solely populist and not geared to any sustainable development as far as youth policy and mainstreaming is concerned. That the government through KKV has employed 100,000 youth and intends by the end of September 2009 (next month) to make this figure 300,000 (how they get this figure and how they intend to achieve 300% growth is anyone’s guess) shows that Agenda 4 is on the back-burner as far as Kenya’s youth are concerned. World development has shown that as the noted economist and Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen says, development is not just about numbers but how the quality of life of a nation’s population is being improved. Obviously Kenya’s development economists and policy makers remain unaware of this.
To further show that the KKV programme is solely intended to give Kshs. 2,500 to as many youth as it can, the project is set up so that an “at risk” youth gets temporary employment for a maximum of 10 days. The means test to assess those “at risk” was questioned as well as the use of the provincial administration in implementation. Audience members testified that local chiefs were using the KKV as a means to solidify their influence in communities with no scrutiny. Negative ethnicity was also cited when a participant called Bill from Kiamaiko in Huruma told the forum that only youth from one community were being employed in his area. Another, George from Mathare said that the KKV supervisors looked 75 years old! He also told the forum that there were cases of supervisors demanding a cut of the earnings.
Payment was also an issue. Under the programme, the youth are paid two weeks AFTER the job and several cases were raised in the forum regarding delayed payment even after that time period. However, Adak of the KKV said that some youth had been involved in monitoring and evaluation (M&E) of the exercise to avert such incidents and even narrated an instance of M&E youth entering government offices questioning why they were unmanned. Though this sounds like empowering youth, the tale evoked memories of the dreaded Kanu youth wingers of the Moi regime who in their red-shirts terrorized everyone including civil servants.
As for the KKVs national steering committee and its offshoots, queries were raised by youth group members in the audience as to who actually appoints these committee members? A youth leader echoed the campaign gimmick question asking why the programme was under the Prime Minister’s office and not the Ministry of Youth Affairs? He reiterated that the initiative was being used as a cash cow for the provincial administration where bribes to be employed on the programme went as high as Kshs. 2,000 – leave alone that the total take home amount should be Kshs. 2,500! The potential for corruption in this Kshs. 15 billion project was cited as being too high particularly where no checks and balances have been instituted. Adak, the KKV representative could only respond that the committees were manned by civil servants from roads, forestry, solid waste collection and other labour intensive government departments.
Siku njema ina kuja (A better day is coming)
But the ray of hope came from the recommendations of an earlier morning session where the forum was informed that a report will be presented to the government regarding the youth fund with the following demands:
- An acknowledgment that the youth enterprise development fund is not structured in such a way as to eradicate poverty. The beneficiary criteria has not been well thought out and enables those who can access loans elsewhere to benefit to the exclusion of those that really need it.
- The fund should not be so stringent in its loan disbursement: small quick turnaround loans should be included.
- Devolvement of disbursement from commercial banks should be immediate and grassroot structures that are more accessible to Kenya’s youth should be promoted.
As for the Kazi Kwa Vijana, this policy was only slated to last until September 2009. However, the youth are growing more restless by the day. The only solution to avert a youth revolution is a full and committed implementation of Agenda 4.