Archive for the ‘African Youth Facts’ Category

shutterstock_125996309The new generation Kenya is full of rich ideas. The youth are very eager to create employment; a situation brought about by lack of opportunities, corruption, tribalism and unequal distribution of resources.

This had been the case for quite a long time making it sort of a tradition. One had to go to school, get a good job, work, save and then retire. It was difficult to break even because of the high unemployment rate in the country currently at 40%.

Financial independence remained a mirage many struggled to grasp. However, several outstanding youths have successfully tapped into their entrepreneurial skills to achieve the Kenyan dream. Hard work and innovativeness are the key ingredients for certain.

Read this story and more on

By: Joseph M D Johnson
We say in our LIB slang, ‘ehn you say you fine, day will bray!’
Kwame Nkrumah asserted, “If Africa’s multiple resources were used in her own development, they could put her among the modernized continents of the world. But her resources have been, and are still being used for the greater development of overseas interests.”

This article is not for everyone!I wrote it for a particular group of people being called ‘Liberian youth’-those who have a chance to make a positive change in Liberia. I am not excluded. We were the vast majority of those affected by the war, a large number of those who now feel alienated, frustrated and most considered as vulnerable. If you are not part of this group of people, I share in your emotions to make untamed comments. I understand. I cannot stop you from being provoked! According to Liberia’s NYP 2005, “The youth population aged between 15 and 24 comprises a significant percentage of the population, with those under the age of 15 averaging over 40%.”

At the moment, I am part of this youth population. I was 8 years old when I became a refugee. The hustle started at this tender age yet I was always smiling. I lived with poverty and smelled death. I remembered I was left alone in the bush for almost a year without any family members around. The thing called school was very far from me. I had no sign of hope but I was still smiling. Night tears kept me sad. I was lost in the care of fear. But today, I have a passion to advocate with an aggressive approach to youth issues as a key priority for Liberia and have been conferred the Title: PEACE AMBASSADOR for United Nation Youth Association, recently.  This cause of advocacy is strongly established on patriotisms, discipline, and being pragmatic about developmental issues by being focus and influencing government policies.

I’m not happy! It’s about Liberia. I just read the story: “LAWMAKER CHALLENGES ELLEN TO PUBLISH BUDGET,” being published by Alva M. Wolokolie. It is creating lots of questions in my mind at the moment. Alva wrote that, “The President’s statement came as a result of the lawmakers allotting unto themselves in the just passed National Budget US$30,000 each to purchase utility pick-ups for their operations.” Add to this, “lawmaker disclosed that a total of US$3m is allotted to the President as traveling expenses.”

Do you know what I think? Who cares about what I think? We have more work to do as Liberian youth! Can’t say much about political issues now! But let think about our people at the grass root level of the country. What can we do to help them? What can we contribute individually and collectively to their development? Most of you have read the facts. To help you think for a change in Liberia, here are the facts ( “Liberia has one of the highest illiteracy rates in the world. Illiteracy rate is about 80%. With an estimated population of 4 million, this means that 4 out of 5 persons cannot read or write.”

“The cost of education is still relatively cheap in Liberia. Based on recent research and studies, the cost of full tuition in most high schools is about $100 which averages out to be $9 per month. However due the 85% unemployment rate in Liberia, most parents or families cannot afford to send their children to school as the average Liberian family earns less than $1 US a day.” Think about this: Are you part of the 80% of illiterate Liberians? I know your response. I can see the expression on your face. It is ‘NO.’ You are not among the estimated population who cannot read or write. Do not ask me why. You already know why. You laugh when you hear our LIB slang, “degree holder, you know book your country dirty?” Once you are interested in reading this article, you are considered one of Facebook’s 350 million active users who update their status each day (“Facebook Statistics.” Accessed: December 18, 2009). In fact, you have a good income, have weekend chilling moments with friends and love ones. You recharge your phone with money anytime you want to make a call and food is neither one of your challenge.

At the moment, we can’t criticize but encourage. We cannot depend on the older generation anymore! They have and are failing us! Let us love our country and pursue education. I like how Lord Henry Brougham puts it when he said, “Education makes a people easy to lead but difficult to drive, easy to govern but difficult to enslave.”

As a young Pan-Africanist, I have come to reason that a country progresses when majority of the citizens are educated; the country advances if the people stop talking and start working! The country develop if the people start investing their time, idea and resource in community businesses, programs and projects. They become great if the people of the land respect and put their country first in unity, far above tribal and personal desires.

Recently I wrote this abstract in my diary from the Liberian National Youth Policy (Positioning the Youth in Post-Conflict Recovery and Reconstruction, December 2005):The 19th President of Liberia, William Richard Tolbert, once remarked that the youth are the “precious jewels” of the nation. Perhaps one of the realizations dawning the late president’s mind was that the youths are the indispensable asset of the nation or the index finger pointing to the future progress and continuity of the state. If their growth and development process is obtuse or obscure, it reflects the function of the generic malaise of that nation. Each nation will prioritize the welfare of its youth consistent with its spiritual and moral ethos.”

The first step is to stop depending on government and start identifying educational opportunities. Don’t ask me how. Ask yourself why. Once you know ‘why’ you will act and know ‘how.’ Keep at the back of your mind that ‘Liberia’ is our life, our heart, our love and our world! Follow your dream and be good at what you do. Master your skills and develop your talent. Learn. Keep learning and don’t stop. Run from political issues until your mind have been empowered to effect change. These are the secrets to national development. Listen to Bill Clinton, “Politics is for people who are too ugly to get into showbusiness.”

The Bible insisted in Psalm 19:28: “For thou LORD will light the candle of [Liberia]. The LORD God will enlighten our darkness.” I believe Liberia has now reached to a place where eyes are focused on the youth. We must go the way to a new birth or go the way of death. The choices are up to me and you. Should we continue to let political leaders take advantage of our right to freedom and pursuit of our happiness? According to one of my favorite African poetsI met back in Nigeria during my training with the AU, AkpeziOgbuigwi, in her book ‘Africa Birth Pangs of a New Day, wrote:

“And let the world’s men and women of honor and integrity arise against such and their institutions.

For the oppressed are held ransom by the oppressors

Who have unjustly manipulated international and financial laws

Shackling innocent children and unborn generations to debts they know nothing of

Debts that have found their way back to the countries of origin.”

How To Be An Agent Of Change As A Liberian Youth?

  1. Manage Your Emotions: No one feels comfortable around an angry young man or woman. It is very important to manage your emotions. See things from a more positive view about your country and try to relax. How you feel towards helping to solve a problem matters.
  2. Manage Your Time: You cannot make any change if you are wasting your time every day talking and not impacting lives. Find a way to learn one new thing every day. Develop your talent into skills. Time is valuable. Instead of thinking about what to buy with your money, start thinking about developmental projects and business ideas that will benefit you and the people of Liberia.
  3. Manage Your Priorities: The last time I took a week to ask some young Liberians some simple questions like, “Who do you wanna to be in the future?… What is your plan for Liberia? What do you want from life?” I was shocked! Most of them know a lot about things but know nothing about themselves and has no plan for their future. This included their country. Set your priorities right and focus on them. The old proverb is true,“If you chase two rabbits, both will escape.”
  4. Manage Your Energy: Liberians are disreputably noted to be people who love pleasure. You know this culture is true. We love to focus our energy on pleasure and not purpose. We do things that don’t seem to matter. You can only help change Liberia if you are able to do things that really matter. You need to reduce your ‘free time’ and focus on your ‘work time.’
  5. Manage Your Thinking: I love to develop my mind by reading because it is the treasure of my life. I have developed a habit to think about things that are developmental. I encourage you to think for a change. Find time during the day to think. You will find it valuable and your life will progress.
  6. Manage Your Words: Do you know that every month in Liberia we have a new LIB slang? In fact, if you do not manage your words well, ‘you will stay long inside.’ You have to manage your words as a Liberian youth. When you speak, let people feel the weight of your words. Words can make or mars your life. Words can bring respect. Make your words count. Listen and think before your speak. Be a young man or woman that will speak words that will bring about positive change to your country.

Liberian youth, our days are running, generations are awaiting our success, Don’t sit there. Do something positive everyday!


About 65% of the total population of Africa are below the age of 35 years, and over 35% are between the ages of 15 and 35 years – making Africa the most youth full continent. By 2020, it is projected that out of 4 people, 3 will be on average 20 years old. About 10 million young African youth arrive each year on the labor market.

The African Union envisions and is striving for an integrated African economic social, cultural and political development agenda: A prosperous Africa at peace with itself and its partners.


Clearly an emergent and integrated Africa can be fully realized only if its demographic advantage – “large population of youth” is mobilized and equipped to help drive Africa’s integration, peace and development agenda. This vision emanates from the belief and conviction that a strong and accountable leadership and successful integration needs to be anchored on participation of the key segment of the population of which the Youth are an essential pillar.

Against the foregoing and in light of, the great potential, dynamism, resourcefulness, resiliency, and aspiration of African youth, the continent continues to face daunting challenges of maximizing benefits from this critical social capital by for example, adequately investing in its growth and enrichment.

The African Population is estimated to be more than 1 billion people of which 60% are youth. The greater proportion of this percentage does not have the opportunity to fully develop its potential and contribute effectively to the realization of the declared Vision and the Mission of Africa’s leaders. Consequently the majority of African youth continue to face; unemployment, underemployment, lack of skills, relevant education, access to health-related information and services including those related to diagnosis, treatment, and care of those living with HIV and above all prevention of new HIV infections among them. Along with other groups such as women and the disabled, the youth bear the brunt of internal and external crisis, be it those related to financial, food and energy crisis amongst others. In addition, many disadvantaged youth are unwittingly conscripted into armed struggle, used to settle political scores and are exposed to various negative media that erodes their positive heritage- leading them to delinquency, drug abuse, and other risky behavior. Furthermore and as is well known, most youth that migrate to foreign countries or even within continent, in search of greener pastures also face exploitation and mistreatments among other things.

Obviously, the Vision and Mission of the African Union and the NEPAD goals of Africa’s renaissance would be realized not only through economic growth but also deliberate efforts to accelerate social development that gives high priority to youth empowerment and development.

At national level, there is full recognition of the dire challenges and great opportunities the youth presents and most African countries are making efforts to involve young people in political and decision making processes, as reflected in the establishment of national youth parliaments and youth appointment in executive positions and consultation with young people on policies and programmes that affect their lives.

At regional and continental levels, Youth networks have been established including the Pan African Youth Union to serve as a channel for youth engagement and for conveying youth perspectives for integration into national, regional and continental policies strategies and programmes.

It must be noted that most African countries have youth related policies and programs. The same is the case with the Regional Economic Communities. At continental level among other things, the African leaders have collectively taken the following actions:

Adopted and approved the African Youth Charter (2006) which as of date 37 countries have signed and 21 have also ratified. The Youth Charter is a comprehensive framework that addresses the rights and obligations of young people. It also constitutes the social contract of the State and the Youths that responds to the priority needs regarding their development and empowerment.

Adopted the plan of Action of the second decade of Education (2006-2015) to emphasize the need for higher, quality in African Education at all levels.

Declared the years 2009-2018 as the Decade for Youth Development and approved a Plan of action to implement the priority activities identified during the Decade. This is in harmony with International consensus on the International Year of Youth 2010 through 64th UN General Assembly Resolution 34/134

The International Youth Year 2010 declared by the United Nations General Assembly (UN GA) offer an excellent opportunity to undertake National, Regional and International activities in favor of promoting dialogue and mutual comprehension, particularly through effective participation of Governments and young Africans in the United Nations Conference on Youth.

Despite, the conducive policy environment created at the country, regional and continental levels, major challenges still exist. These challenges are a result of multiple factors including the development stage of most African countries and the gaps in-between policies, strategies and their effective implementation. This is not backed by adequate budgetary allocation to support and scale up effective and evidence-informed youth programmes.

Key Challenges

1. Inadequate investment in quality and competitive education and skills for the youth and especially those with special needs;

2. Limited access to youth friendly health information and quality services including those related to planned parenthood;

3. prevention of new HIV infections and diagnosis, treatment and care for those living with HIV;

4. Non-availability of productive employment and self-employment for a good majority of young people; consequently the exclusion of the critical mass which is indispensable social capital required both for economic growth and social development.

5. Limited opportunities to learn, utilize, develop and apply modern technology;

6. Rare opportunities to civic participation, governance and education that engenders human rights; issues of equity, equality and the relevance of social inclusion;

7. Gender inequity and inequality particularly in tertiary education, representation in key institutions i.e. parliament, and sectoral ministries;

8. Inadequate availability of comprehensive and age appropriate sexuality education for in and out of school youth coupled with high level of sexual exploitation and gender-based violence in many countries.

9. Inadequate absorptive capacity of academic institutions including those of higher and technical learning.

10. Poor access towards financial and other resource in ensuring youth development;

11. Poverty among the youth remain a great challenge.


– Harnessing the benefits of the demographic dividend presented by the large population of youth by Increasing investment in their development could enable the continent to attain its growth and development objective as demonstrated in South East Asian countries;

– The African Youth Charter, the approval of the African Union Youth Volunteer Corps and the Plan of Action for the Decade; all of which provide a framework for harmonization with country level policies and programmes and which pave the way for implementing agreed upon priorities;

– Africa’s commitment towards good governance, economic and social integration facilitates a meaningful contribution from the highly mobile and globally aware young people. This Business acumen of young people- if tapped contributes to Africa’s economic;

– Current efforts towards the promotion of peace and security through advocacy for; dialogue and reconciliation among conflicting parties; avoidance of undemocratic change of government; and the establishment and contribution for the operation of the AU peace keeping force. Establish and strengthen a directorate of youth development within the AU to ensure effective coordination, monitoring and evaluation of youth development interventions.

Key Priority Areas for Action

1. Incrementally increase in investment for Youth development, empowerment including the preparation of adolescents for positively emerging into enabled youth, which requires priority investment in health, education, and employment creation;

2. Accelerating the implementation of the African Youth Charter, the Plan of Action for the Decade and provide the necessary mechanism and adequate resources for their implementation;

3. Operationalizing the African Youth Volunteer Corps at continental and country level in the identification, training and deployment of African Youths for placements;

4. Establishing an effective mechanism for coordinating and evaluating the implementation of the above (1, 2 and 3);

5. Establish the Africa Youth Trust Fund through effective resource mobilization, with a mechanism for management and oversight for implementation;

6. Strengthening the technical and institutional capacity of (a) academic and technical entities so that they could in turn enable youth to meet the current and future development demands including the utilization and application of modern technology (b) of selected African networks such as the PYU; (c) the African Union Commission so that it could effectively monitor and evaluate the implementation of the Youth Charter as well as the Plan of Action for the Decade and the AU-YVC;

7. Appropriately resource and scale up comprehensive age-appropriate sexuality education for in and out of school with the aim of preventing unwanted pregnancies, new HIV infections, substance usage, harmful cultural practices, gender-based violence, and preparing youth for a gender equitable and mutually respective relationships and families;

8. Expand access to quality sexual and reproductive health services including those preventing mother to child transmission of HIV and ensuring safe motherhood and planned-parenthood for all young Africans.

Call to Action

Clearly, the implementation of the African Youth Charter, and the Plan of Action for the Decade (2009-2018) and the African Youth Volunteer Corps cannot be implemented fully without international collaboration. Thus, this African position on youth presents an opportunity for coordinating and harmonizing national, regional and international efforts geared at the realization of Africa’s objective pertaining to youth development and empowerment.

Africa calls on all stake holders for full support in the implementation of these priority areas!



A Framework defining Africa‘s Youth Agenda!

In July 2006, African Union Head of States and Governments meeting in Banjul, Gambia, endorsed the African Youth Charter (AYC). The Charter is a political and legal document which serves as the strategic framework that gives direction for youth empowerment and development at continental, regional and national levels. The AYC aims to strengthen, reinforce and consolidate efforts to empower young people through meaningful youth participation and equal partnership in driving Africa’s development agenda. Overall:

  1. The Youth Charter is a legal document to support policies, programmes and actions for youth development in Africa
  2. The Charter refers to the rights, freedoms and duties of Young people in Africa
  3. The Youth Decade Plan of Action 2009-2018 is a roadmap for the effective popularizing, ratifying and implementing the AYC


As of April 19, 2012

  1. 28 Member States have Ratified the Charter
  2. 39 Member States have Signed the Charter
  3. 6 Member States are yet to sign and ratify




ImageDomestication and Implementation

Work needs to be done to domesticate and implement the African Youth Charter. Law makers should align national laws and policies with the provisions of the African Youth Charter. Youth Rights and Responsibilities should specifically be made enforceable in respective constitutions and other laws of member state.

The specific duties imposed on Member States in the African Youth Charter vis a vis observing the rights of young people may involve huge financial implication. However, to avert non implementation after transformation, Member States should amend their constitutions and other related laws to impose an obligation on governing bodies to embark on time-bound progressive implementation of their duties by providing specific percentages in their national budgets to carry out such duties.

All member states are thus encouraged to take appropriate steps in ratifying and transforming the Charter. This would further strengthen the youth to play their inevitable roles in sustainable national development.

Judiciary bodies, the African Human Right Commission, and higher international instances have their roles to play in protecting the provisions of the African Youth Charter by managing judicially and judiciously the issues of enforcement. For instance, it would have to accord every African Youth the locus standi to enforce the provision of the charter transformed by Member States where their national courts are reluctant about enforcement. Further, such judicial instances should adopt a liberal approach of interpretation by subsuming the rights in African Youth Charter into the civil and political rights in the various national constitutions.

Member States are expected to have Youth Ministries which shall be strengthened to execute the legal and policy frameworks aimed at empowering the youth. A very few Member States (e.g. South Africa) have taken an examlatory lead in establishing of a National Youth Commission to contribute positively to the political, sociological and economic employment of the disadvantaged members of the society.


It is a great opportunity to offer a synopsis of 2012 Model AU Summit Theme:  Boosting Intra-Africa trade through Youth Entrepreneurship.” Despite Africa’s lingering challenging, we as young people remain highly enthusiastic about boosting our trade through entrepreneurship.  African Youth are the entrepreneurs of the future.

The question at the moment is: ‘What do youth of Africa know about being entrepreneurs and boosting Intra-Africa trade?’ Our constant curiosity about the world around us, hunger to pursue a dream, ability to create, willingness to take risks, capacity to think great thoughts and unbridled enthusiasm for national development add up to our uniqueness of being great entrepreneurs. My perspective of Africa trade connotes the transfer of ownership of goods and services from one nation to another by getting something valuable from the buyer, in the process benefit Africans and the international business communities.

At the 2012 Model AU Summit on 25th May 2012 in Accra, delegates are expected to make extensive research on the theme to contribute towards the final deceleration and communiqué for the summit. The objective is to make possible discussion between non-governmental organizations and governments on subjects from all over Africa concerning decisions on Intra-Africa Trade Through Youth Entrepreneurship and programs on African youth development.

The MAUS Commission is working towards an aim of focusing the summit on solutions to the various impediments that hamper intra-African trade. These impediments among others are inefficient transit regimes and border crossings procedures for goods, services and people; poor implementation of regional integration commitments. We shall prioritize solutions to the differences and uncertainty of having access to internal and external markets in Africa. Discussions on domestic agenda will be highly prioritized. Delegates and Officials are expected to make research extensively, finding new solutions and bringing onboard ideas by ensuring that African our Governments and the International community focus on fostering regional integration and boosting intra-regional trade in Africa. Subsequently, our focus is to find a way forward, making sure that African youth champion the harsh challenges of entrepreneurship and Intra-Africa trade.

During the Summit, delegations shall serve on unlimited committees following the Specialized Technical Committees that are composed of Ministers or senior officials responsible for sectors falling within their respective areas of competence of the African Union.  There shall be four committees during the Session: Committee on Monetary and Financial Affairs; Committee on Trade, Customs and Immigration Matters; Committee on Transport, Communications and Committee on Tourism and Peace and Security Council.

Currently, the honorable President of the Republic of Ghana, John Evans Atta Mills, at the 18th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union, on the theme: “Boosting Intra African Trade” said any attempts to initiate moves to boost trade within the Continent should first consider the youth and create opportunities for them to have gainful employment. He said the youth were the continent’s greatest resource and the welfare of the youth must be paramount to any trade mechanisms.

President Mills called on African leaders to ensure that trade initiatives were better planned and coordinated for greater success.

He said the discussion on boosting intra-African trade was timely and opportune, and Africa could not continue to sit on the sidelines and watch. The President said: “We have to take the giant steps that others have taken, to boost trade within our countries,” because it is fundamental to the growth and prosperity of the continent.

I am highly convinced that participants at the 2nd Model AU Summit in Ghana will show the world that Africa is the home of Africans, and that the youth of today are highly intelligent, innovative and productive. Members of their delegations are expected to act as Diplomats following the code of ethic at the summit. Again, I encourage accepted delegates and officials to put on a Pan-African Spirit. Contributions during simulations at the Summit must be done with enthusiasm, passion and confidence. The world will be watching and witnessing young men and women of Africa engaging themselves in great discussions that concerns generations.

I read recently in an article titled, Youth Unemployment: Challenges & Opportunities in Economic Development, that, ‘Almost half of Africa’s population is under 25; about 75% is under the age of 35. It is estimated that by 2050, Africa will account for 29% of all people aged 15 to 24. This is about 348 million of the total 1.2 billion persons globally. Young make up 37% of the working-age population in Africa, but 60% of the unemployed.’ Whatever the conditions are, greatness lies in the Youth of Africa. We must encourage ourselves to unleash our creativity by demanding governments to chose the right policies, right investments and making us a priority. They must build the right institutions and support the youth to engage in trade, IT and entrepreneurship.

Conclusively, officials and delegates must seek to find answer to the following questions at the end of the Model AU Summit: How do we break the barriers to trade in Africa? How do we promote trade amongst youth entrepreneurs? How do we get funds for business start -ups. What financial tools exist to help Business start –ups? What effective tools are available to promote trade in transport communication and Tourism? How do we use ICT particularly innovation to boost Entrepreneurship to promote trade? Can we suggest ways and means to promote Trade through ICT?

God bless Africa!





Ladies and Gentlemen, Hamjambo!

I am delighted to be with you here today in the setting of the famous University of Nairobi. This is the third and last day of my present visit to Kenya, and I was very keen not to leave the country without visiting the University and speaking on one of the most important issues facing Africa today: the situation of the region’s youth and particularly the issue of employment.

A few months ago, when the Spring Meetings of the World Bank took place in Washington, I organized a high-level round-table meeting for leaders from all over the world to come together to share views on the nature of the challenges that the youth now face, and especially on possible solutions. One of the keynote speakers at that event was a Kenyan, the late Kinuthia Murugu. He did a wonderful job in showcasing the perspective of Kenya and providing all of the participants with a better understanding of the complexity and importance of the issue. Again, I would like to express my condolences at his passing, but also thanks for the insights and inspiration that he gave to us at that historic meeting.

You may be aware that Africa faces a pressing problem of youth unemployment. Steadily worsening over the years, youth unemployment on the continent is now assuming crisis proportions, particularly in the wake of the current global economic recession. But Africa cannot wait; it has to explore potential options and take action now to respond in the short-term to the impact of the global recession, while also putting in place programs to address the structural causes of the problem.

Let me share a few facts that typify the African youth. Young make up 37% of the working-age population in Africa, but 60% of the unemployed. Young people are more likely to work longer hours under insecure work arrangements, characterized by low productivity and meager earnings. Females face particularly strong challenges in entering the labor force, due to early motherhood and lack of education.

The face of Africa’s youth is an eighteen-and-a-half year old female, living in a rural area, with some education and literate, but not attending school. The main challenge for her is to find and sustain productive employment with a reasonable income.

There are several dimensions to the problem of youth unemployment but let me focus on two. There’s a demographic dimension: Africa’s population profile is shaped like a typical pyramid – it is has a “youth bulge” at the base. Almost half of Africa’s population is under 25; about 75% is under the age of 35. It is estimated that by 2050, Africa will account for 29% of all people aged 15 to 24. This is about 348 million of the total 1.2 billion persons globally.

This raises the question: will the continent be ready to accept the responsibility of managing the lives and future of a majority of the world’s youths?

For Kenya, this means that economic opportunities driven by a high growth rate must outpace the increase in population currently estimated at around 2.9%. Development literature tells us that that to bend the curve of poverty you need growth of above 7% sustained over several years.

Then there is a labor markets dimension. The rate at which young people find jobs depends on how prepared the labor market is to receive them, and how ready they are for the labor market. Even with high primary school enrolment with an equal number of girls and boys starting school, today primary school completion can no longer be our goal. In Kenya, out of every 100 students who start primary school, only 68 transition to secondary school; and just 6 of this group go to universities or tertiary institutions to learn the skills required to give the country an edge in an increasingly competitive world.

Experience worldwide has shown that no nation has achieved a technological and socio-political advance where less than 15% of its qualified young citizens have access to tertiary education. The US has achieved over 80% access while in Europe the average is 35%. In emerging economies like South Africa and Brazil—which Kenya seeks to emulate—the percentage of access to tertiary education is 18% and 25% respectively.

It is not surprising to find, therefore, that potential employers in Kenya as well as elsewhere say that our institutions aren’t graduating people with the skills they need to enhance their success. This means there is need to fundamentally address the skills gap, as well as the skill mismatch. The abilities of job-seekers are falling short of the ambitions of industry.
This Africa-wide problem is also reflected in Kenya. In fact, Kenya’s youth unemployment situation is particularly serious. For instance, in the period 1998-2005, aggregate unemployment fell from 15% to 12.5%, but the share of the youth in unemployment rose from 60% to 72 %. And the rate of joblessness is almost 40% of youth, or an estimated 5.2 million young adults. This is double the adult average of 21 percent.

Kenya’s vision 2030 sets an ambitious target to become a middle income country by 2030. This goal not only requires uninterrupted growth of 10% per year, but will also demand citizens with globally-competitive skills.
While I have pointed out the reality of the challenge, let me now turn to the latent opportunity. If effectively managed, this “youth bulge” could become one of Africa’s drivers of economic growth, delivering significant demographic benefits—as it did in some of the Asian tiger economies.
It was Churchill who said, “The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” Which do you want to be?

An Agenda for Action

We clearly need an agenda for action to address these challenges and let me propose some of its possible components. First, policy makers have a duty to build capable states with the clear purpose of not only expanding economic opportunities but also effectively and efficiently delivering basic services to citizens. This means every Kenyan shilling spent on education, health and other basic services must deliver commensurate value.

Growth is best sustained by creating policy predictability as well as a political and investment climate that encourages investors to make long-term commitments, even across election cycles. These investments must be targeted at improving the human skills base of Kenya as well as providing the basic infrastructure that citizens need to thrive. Leaders must clearly communicate in word and deed that public probity will be rewarded and impunity or misuse of office, predictably, will be sanctioned.

We must focus on developing micro, small and medium enterprises as a credible springboard from which to canvas for Foreign Direct Investment. International investors follow the lead of local entrepreneurs. In Kenya, as much as 20% of the value of sales is lost due to crime, insecurity, power outages, bribes and inadequate transport. These costs are higher than in other East African countries, and 6 times the comparable cost in South Africa.

In addition, it is the duty of policy makers to modernize the curriculum, sponsor programs to assess and re-equip youth, so they have the skills the market will be looking for tomorrow. They must also aim for expansion of tertiary and university education, explore public private partnerships, and take advantage of technology to innovate and expand education beyond their walls.

The foundation of all of this is the commitment of government to build consensus on how to tackle what I have been told are the two chief enemies facing the country’s development: poverty and corruption. In this regard, the ongoing discussions under “Agenda IV” of the Kenya National Dialogue and Reconciliation Framework that looks at long-term issues including national cohesion, land and institutional reform, a new constitution, and youth unemployment, provides a veritable platform for building this common understanding.

While there are challenges, Kenya also has proven potentials. It has a dynamic private sector, a vibrant civil society; it is making its mark on the global stage in mobile technology innovation and it is strong in the service sector. The ingredients for a rebound are in place. But success will also require managing the risks and establishing strong systems of social accountability.

Second, our communities must get involved. Our schools and colleges are fertile soils: we can choose to sow the seeds of our future success or let them become swamps of neglect. We all need to be part of the solution; this is not just the government’s problem; if we bury our heads in the sand, it will soon become our problem.
It was Margaret Meade who said, “The solutions to adult problems tomorrow depend, in large measure, on how children grow up today. There is no greater insight into the future than recognizing that when we save our children, we save ourselves”
Third, I have a message to the youth. Your generation must realize you are living on the cusp of a revolution. Just like those who saw the dawn of the agricultural or industrial revolution, you who are living in this unique moment of history must learn how to leverage ICT. Use this platform not just to update your Facebook page but to close the knowledge gap since access to ICT equalizes people of all cultures.  

The biggest change that you need to make is in your mindset; shifting from that of job seekers to job creators; from writing good bios to writing great business plans. It also means transitioning from being provincial to thinking regionally and yes, even globally; from waiting for change to becoming the drivers of change.

We must all aim for nobility of character and eschew ignoble wealth acquired by dishonest means. Theodore Roosevelt once said “I wish to preach not the doctrine of ignoble ease but the doctrine of the strenuous life; the life of labor and strife; to preach that highest form of success which comes, not from the man who desires mere easy peace, but the man who does not shrink from danger, hardship or bitter toil and who, out of these wills the splendid ultimate triumph. We admire the man who embodies victorious effort.”

Roosevelt equated a life of ignoble ease to that of “peace that springs merely from the lack either of desire or of power to strive after great things”.

And you do not have to look far to see Kenyan models like Ory Okolloh a young Kenyan lawyer and blogger, who founded “Ushahidi” – an ICT platform that uses members of the public to provide information from areas too remote or turbulent for official sources to get to quickly. For Ory, the power of technology can enable ordinary people to demand accountability

As you strive towards bringing about change, your citizenship of Kenya should be a constant reminder of the divine call you all must have to sacrificial service to your nation. It must also be a reminder that character is after all the destiny of individuals, families, communities, firms, organizations, and nations; and service that prioritizes personal benefit above the common good is contemptible and ignoble.

It was Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, who said, “Everyone wants to be successful, but I want to be looked back on as being very innovative, very trusted and ethical and ultimately making a big difference in the world.”

You have all you need within you to create the Kenya of your dreams. A new Kenya – known for its world class citizens. That, my dear young people of Kenya, is your destiny. And remember, Character is Destiny.

Thanks for reading and I trust that this article will be helpful for your intended purpose. Kindly let me know when you need further assistance as I look forward to your good comments or questions. All the best!

Best regards,

Joseph M D Johnson

AU – YVC – Liberia

Researcher / Youth Advocate

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