National Youth Service is Not the Panacea to Youth Unemployment

“The cities are filling up and urban unemployment steadily grows…the “marginal men” the wretched strugglers for survival on the fringes of farm and city…Can we imagine any human order surviving with so gross a mass of misery piling at its base?” – Robert McNamara, Former President of the World Bank

Well, if we go by Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi’s announcement at the inauguration of the second National Economic and Social Council (NESC) the problem of unemployment, particularly amongst the youth will be a thing of the past.

National Youth Servicemen at work... is this the solution to unemployment?

NYS Cadets ... an option to unemployment?

In his remarks, the Deputy Premier announced that the NESC members had proposed that mandatory National Youth Service be reintroduced to deal with the problem of unemployed youth. This proposal was made during a pre-inauguration meeting on Saturday 4th October.

This reflects the insensitive and patronising attitude our leaders seem to have towards the youth; treating them more as nuisances to be contained rather than finding alternatives to improve their livelihoods. Examples of this disregard abound:

• Unlike women, the youth as a significant population group have not been mainstreamed into the national agenda. They remain under represented in political, public and private sector leaderships.

• The Youth Ministry has virtually no mandate to create any meaningful change for the youth of Kenya. Even though there are 3 million unemployed youth (nearly 10% of the country’s population), this Ministry doesn’t even have the docket to create jobs for these youth.

• The Youth Fund remains a mockery to the entrepreneurial spirit of the youth. Forcing the youth to form groups (as if as individuals they cant start or operate an enterprise) in order to obtain money that will barely put their business on a stable footing in this current (high inflation) economy.

• Agenda 4 of the National Dialogue recognized youth unemployment as a critical challenge, but yet decided to focus on the informal sector to create jobs. Why is it that the youth who have aspirations of their own must always be assumed to be the IN in the Informal sector?

• Regarding reconstruction, the youth are supposed to be the KYM’s (“Kazi Ya Mkono” or manual labour) for lack of a better word. In the same way the NESC members can propose mandatory conscription (because that is what is will come to) is the same attitude that the best way to keep the youth from agitating is to keep them busy paving roads in national reconstruction.

For the NESC to rise above the dissenting opinions that it is merely a duplicate of the Vision 2030, it now has the opportunity to make real change in the lives of our Kenyan youth. Forget the sweeping statements of the NYS calibre (remember the streetkids NYS scheme!). As an alternative solution to the unemployment problem, Yipe suggests promoting entrepreneurship development amongst the youth by addressing the following challenges they face:

Lack of credit: most youth enterprises are undercapitalized and even those that receive credit (even through the youth fund) get very modest amounts. Such enterprises tend to be less productive and can’t always move to points of best practice.

Lack of business education and financial literacy: most young entrepreneurs receive little training to operate their businesses and they often work in isolation unaware of how others approach similar issues.

Discrimination: youth entrepreneurs have to contend with stereotypes and deal with rigid social institutions. This entrepreneur class also lacks access to platforms where they can air their views with authority figures, whilst most are particularly vulnerable to dissuasion from authority figures and peers who constantly encourage them to seek careers in “established” sectors.

Education system un-conducive to enterprise: annually more than 240,000 students enter into the workforce after primary school. Additionally, 143,000 students graduating from secondary school also need jobs. The educational system does not prepare these school leavers with skills to start their own businesses. Rather the curriculum is focused on routine learning rather than creativity and innovation. Further, their youthful creativity is stifled when they linger for years without jobs.

Poor Networks: Youth entrepreneurs face a paucity of rewarding business networks of potential partners and mentors.

If these issues are considered and workable solutions developed, the barriers into enterprise will be brought down and more youth owned businesses will be able to move further up the growth curve, whilst creating jobs for other youth.

That and not forced paramilitary training will assist the unemployed youth of Kenya.


About yipe
Yipe an acronym for the Youth Interactive Portal for Enterprise is an organization that assists entrepreneurs to start up and manage their small businesses.

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