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September 24, 2014 / bswitaba

The Youth Problem – A Righteous Plea

The other day, a headline in one of South Africa’s leading tabloids caught my eye.
“Jobless and poor Ghana’s youth turn to selling blood”. As curious as any reader would be, I decided to delve into the story.
Apparently, youth in Accra have resorted to selling of their own blood at a price ranging between $27 – 33 per pint. I was torn between terming this as heartbreaking and or entrepreneurial – depending on which angle you decide to at it from. The “gateway of Africa” as my patriotic Ghanaian friend Wisdom Addo likes referring to the nation formerly known as the Gold coast, was once seen by the IMF as a model for African growth. However in recent times, things have been on the spiral down for this cocoa producing nation. The economy has been coupled with a loss in sparkle, rising bond yields, mounting inflation that’s capped at 14% and a weakening currency (Cedi).

Therefore it’s no rocket science as to why the Accra youth have resorted to desperate measures in the quest to survive in such desperate times.

Back home, the youth situation is no better. Last year, Kenya celebrated her 50th jubilee. Amid all the pomp and glamour, the problem of youth unemployment has been rife with those with sane minds posing to ask – has there been anything to smile about for the nation’s youth? By youth I mean youth proper; and not the 60+ years old politicians who still term themselves as youth. The UN definition identifies a youth as someone between 18-35 years of age.

The promise and the Long wait
Let’s face it, the youth problem did not start today. Some of us can recall that when we were young, we were promised that we were the “leaders of tomorrow” by the very leaders who still happen to be in realms of power to this very date. In other words, it has been a never ending cycle; a long wait to the promise.
As a matter of fact, the youth in Kenya is an endangered species – endangered in the sense that the old guards are not willing to pass the baton and give him/her the chance to flourish and prove him/herself.

Since the jubilee government ascended to power, it’s been evident who’s had the lion share of government appointments. The old guards have carried the day while the youth have been left on the periphery as far as many of appointments are concerned on grounds of “experience”.

The Kenyan youth has to withstand all manner of discrimination metered on him, the scathe hurled at him ranging from the most common one “inexperienced”, unmotivated, immature name it. You would think that those shouting from rooftops about his inexperience and immaturity were born mature with experience themselves. They forget that youth is a stage whose journey keeps making him wiser, not because of the mistakes he’s subdued to, but for the responsibility he anticipates ahead.

Right from his dwelling, the youth is always misjudged and treated with suspicion even from within his own circles in the form of family.
He can’t even earn a legitimate penny that’s he’s genuinely sweated for without eyebrows being raised – as if he is was born to be a criminal, a loafer and or poor for eternity.
Patronising of the youth seems to easily pass as the order of the day – He can’t make an own informed decision without it being overridden.

The old guard thinks he’s more responsible than the youth, yet wiser.
When an old guard undertakes a task for instance, it is taken for granted that he will succeed. On the other hand, the old guard and his elite class are usually surprised if a youth undertaking a similar task does not fail!
The old guards should not pass judgment upon the youth though, too quickly or too harshly. Yes the youth has obstacles, discouragements, and temptations to battle with that are little known to those not situated as he is.

8-4-4 Education system
Our education system has been a total let down and of disservice to the youths; producing half baked individuals. It is akin to what America’s Linda Darling-Hammond terms as a “factory model”- which puts learners on a conveyor belt and moves them from one overloaded teacher to the next, from 45 minute class period to 45 minute class period, to be stamped with separate, disconnected lessons six or seven or eight times a day.

Ideally, the 8-4-4 education system teaches everybody a little of almost everything. It however teaches very little on just what the learners ought to know in order to make their way successfully in life. More so, the system doesn’t put into their hands the tools they are best suited to use, and thus a production of mass failures in life (not necessarily in exams).

Furthermore, the system doesn’t acknowledge that we are all gifted differently be it psychologically and or skill wise. Everybody taking the same exam for a fair selection is like asking an elephant, a monkey, a fish and a dog to all climb the tree to see who’s the genius of them all. In this case, if you judge all the animals by their ability to climb a tree, some will live their whole lives believing they are stupid!

In order to be competitive in this fast changing world, what the youth needs is a system that will equip him with vocational skills – and not just an exam based system where passing means everything and skills mean nothing. I am not trying to argue that one is better than the other – no. My view is that they should both complement each other.

Mere book education leaves the youth in a weak position. Ignorance and lack of skills relegates the youth near the bottom of the ladder in the economic sphere – making him unable to compete effectively for opportunities.

Education and skills are thus fundamental for industrial development of any given nation.
To paraphrase W.E.B Dubois “Without industrial development, there can be no wealth, without wealth, there can be no leisure, without leisure, no opportunity for thoughtful reflection”

The government therefore needs to restructure the 8-4-4 system to one that will embrace talent academies. Additionally, the adopted system should advocate for an improved relation oriented curricula, for high quality of education starts with better relationships – with the learners and educators.

Youths voice
On many occasions, I have seen the youth called up at government conventions in the quest to portray that they (government) are engaging the youth.
As usual the youth will be fascinated by this gesture not knowing that they are being duped into being just mere rubber stamps and pawns.

Such invitations of young people by government to observe decision-making processes without conferring equitable decision-making authority does not necessarily amount to meaningful youth participation. This generally leaves the youth with little choice about how they participate and have limited or no influence in decision-making – which is actually detrimental to meaningful youth participation, as it does not treat young people as equal stakeholders in decision-making processes. While consultation is useful to some extent, I do not perceive it as a truest form of meaningful youth participation, because young people are only able to advise or consult without influence over the final decision-making process. So how can there then be anything for the youth without their voice being taken into consideration?

Youth Empowerment
Currently, statistics show that the youth unemployment rate stands at 64 %. Considering that youth make up more than half of the population, there is indeed a cause for alarm when such figures are bared.

In the wake of the post election violence, many have argued that the “youth bulge” helped fuel the skirmishes. Well, what do you expect particularly with the high levels of youth unemployment? The question of youth unemployment is a time bomb, and will continue to be so as long as the youth are marginalized.
In 2009, the Kibaki administration launched the Kenyan youths empowerment initiative dubbed as “kazi kwa vijana”. This multi-billion shillings World Bank project was intended to boost jobs for the youth with the sole aim of arresting the unemployment situation that had proved to be a menace.
In as much as this was seen as a noble idea that was meant to keep the youth busy, the approach was entirely wrong. It is necessary for the nation’s youth to learn the difference between working and being worked – to learn that working means civilization and social progress, while being worked means degradation. Kazi kwa Vijana sounded more like the latter.

It is said that some people see a lot in a walk around the block than others see in a trip around the world. I have taken walks in slums, neighbourhoods and the youth situation is in a dire straits. Our leaders must think global and act local to address this issue before us. My take is that In order to best economically engage the youth, the national government in conjunction with county governments should set up talent and vocational centers that will help inculcate technical skills to the youth.
After completing their respective vocational and mentorship trainings, the youth should then be allowed access to grants and or microfinance to help them set up income generating projects that will uplift them from poverty and aid in attaining economic self reliance. In this case, the uwezo fund would come in handy.
Like Booker T. Washington, I am of the opinion that mastering skills in a specific industry for instance embroidery, dairying, horticulture, catering, accounting, and computing, coupled with the culture of brain and heart will be the strongest of assets the youth can boast of.

Last Analysis
While the history and the challenges of the youth have been strife, there have been notable youths who have managed to overcome all odds to make it to the peak.
I must acknowledge this has not been possible without mentorship of a few honourable individuals of character who have been there before him, and who had great belief in the youth potential.
This talented tenth of our classification have shown that despite the misgiving about the youth, his star can still dazzle, and he can go places and exceed expectations – for his dreams are valid. Such talented tenth include ladies and gentlemen with character; Monicah Marubu – the youngest MCA from Lamu county who against all odds rose to the top. My friend “chief” Lawrence Ongoma – who’s flying our flag and that of the world super power higher than ever. Lazarus Nolasco- a peer and mentor who’s instilled the mantra of “brutal pragmatism’ in my attitude. Francis Mbate – an ICT technocrat who doesn’t flinch when it comes to criticism on governance and accountability. Evans Wadongo – the CNN hero. There are many more youths whose names I cannot exhaust.

The government should thus play its role in setting a thriving environment to support youth ventures in the quest to uplift the other submerged tenth of youth –who are most vulnerable to society’s vices such as organized crime, gangs, terrorism, and last but not least paid trouble making loafers. All that the youth desires is social progress without being cursed and spat upon by the old guards, and without having the doors of opportunity closed roughly in his face simply because he is a youth.

To the government of the day, the youth problem is thus far plain before you. You can choose to fix it or leave it. The youth are here in their millions, and here they will remain. These young people, full of vigour and vitality, are in the bloom of life. Kenya’s prosperity is bestowed on them.
If you therefore do not lift them up from poverty, they will pull you down economically and vision 2030 will just be but a mirage.vision2030_for_web_1.

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