Does Africa have a youth problem? The next time somebody mentions the word youth in in social political and economic contexts, I am going to push foam into their mouth. Well, that’s not diplomatic, but I am fatigued. I am fatigued about youth employment programs, youth funds, youth volunteer programs, affirmative action that allows youth to access procurement action. Am tired about a statutory youth council that draws tax money to advance ‘youth affairs,’ am tired of countless youth organizations that are conveniently placed to draw resources from organizations that are conveniently placed to fund youth organizations. I have heard the word ‘youth’ a few too many times; there seems to be a new urgency especially in Kenya to address the ‘the youth problem.’ New organizations, money, slogans, professionals, and policies have been discovered to ostensibly deal with the youth problem. The other day an old man came to our office with the idea of us helping him to raise KES 100 million (USD 1.2 million), for a youth TV show with the slogan, ‘The Youth Problem is a Solution Waiting to Happen.’ 100 million shillings for a TV show?! Abhorrent!!!
So what are youth problems? Do the youth have problems that are fundamentally different from social, economic and political problems suffered by all else in the dysfunctional economies and environments of institutional paralysis? Do the youth need empowerment? Forgive me for burdening you with so many questions? From where I sit, I am despondent; I am silently watching the institutionalization of a conditioning of minds in Kenya; ideas like throwing money at the youth, keeping them busy and making them feel self-important will wish away broad ranging economic and social problems is slowly but surely taking root. It has become very fashionable to be ‘seen to do something for the youth of this country.’ The government is doing, multilateral aid organizations are doing it, the bilateral, and the corporate too, are doing it. The belief that satiating the youth with gazillions of ‘non-productive’ activities can stymie them from realizing what the real problems are is very popular.
In Kenya, proliferation of youth programs are uncountable, from the Youth Enterprise Development Fund to Uwezo Fund, from the Kenya National Volunteer Program to the revamped National Youth Service. Whereas this new found urgency might seem laudable, it is superficial at best and seems ill-adapted to solving broad ranging socioeconomic problems that beleaguer Kenya as a country and Africa as a continent.
The problem with this new thinking and new found faith in solving youth issues is that it has bred a new generation of dependent ‘rentier youth and youth groups’ that have learned to position themselves strategically for almost free financial freebies that the government and other organizations have to give. The system has spawn of equally quite as many youth groups that not primary different from each other. They come in names that infer grandiosity, like the National Youth Senate, National Youth Parliament, National Youth Alliance and names of that sort. These organizations are leeches of the system.
Issues of youth unemployment cannot be solved without broad-ranging policy reform. Indeed issues of youth unemployment can be solved without wholesome changes in economic and political policy environments. Even if billions of dollars were poured into youth problems and the fundamental factors that cause unemployment remain unaddressed, problems are going to persist. The problem with Africa and Kenya is not youth unemployment; that is just but a symptom of larger economic and political mismanagement. The benefactors of persistent poor governance are alive to this fact, they lull the youth into a hazy spell of confusion, and they bring too many youth programs on the table, obscuring the fundamental problems of macro and microeconomic policy mismanagement. Politics and politicians do not provide or create jobs, economies do. Politicians who do not appreciate this fact need to ship out and that should be the youth’s biggest pre-occupation.