Kenya: Youth Unemployment in Kenya Displayed at Public Gatherings


In my formative years back in the village, just around the time Kenya was witnessing a political transition from a single party governance to multiparty democracy, I attended dozens of political rallies. I loved politics and ritually patronised city spaces where political conspiracies and schemes were hatched.

I enjoyed tough political rhetoric and posturing that characterised such meetings. I was occasionally fascinated with the grand entries of the opposition chief to the political venues, once throwing a swift unsolicited security cordon around him and clearing the way for his entourage, in an albeit mock exercise.

He had a well-established security detail that rendered mine comical and a mere show of brinkmanship for my village peers. In retrospect, I was young, ignorant and idle, but I had my moment of fun and fame.

Political handshake

And a while back after several years, I attended an EMBRACE political rally in Kisumu as a staff of an organisation involved in the function and chanced at a rare moment to view things deeply from the outside, and as a different person altogether. EMBRACE was a conglomeration of county woman representatives supporting the political handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga. The weekday meeting, not very much of a surprise as the trend has nearly normalised in the country, was well attended, with over 90 per cent being the youth.

But on the sidelines, I noticed that dignitaries who walked out briefly to relieve themselves at the mounted mobile cloak rooms were escorted and treated to a rare large security detail by young men with very mean looks. They meant business. They shoved and roughed up anyone on the way, struggling to demonstrate security service prowess with some bravado. They would do that to every high profile guest entering and exiting the podium. You would mistake them for additional private security details engaged by the local leaders. Alas! These are men out to eke a day's means.

The true sorry state of my local economy was on display the moment one of the dignitaries reached out for her purse and the young men went for each other's jugular, struggling for the spoils.


It turned messy, almost with casualties. This state of affair is evidently replicated across the country. Recently, in a video trending on social media, at a reported political function in Siaya County, also graced by a popular Nyanza senator, young men are seen providing unsolicited security cover and evacuating their preferred politicians after the meeting turned violent.

They are later spotted almost violently demanding cash from a politician inside a chopper, oblivious of the dangers posed by the swirling copter propeller that was raring to go. I think our country's moment of introspection is now. We must have a conscious dialogue on how to slay the poverty dragon. The skyrocketing unemployment and the slumping economy is a recipe for future disaster.

According to a survey by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, in 2018, 7 million Kenyans were unemployed with 1.4 million of this figure actively and desperately looking for a job. It also details that in 2016, there were 25 million Kenyans in the working age bracket of 15 and 64, with 78 per cent of the figure economically active.

The survey further indicates, there are over 4 million Kenyans of the working age brackets, who are underemployed, meaning they are available to work for additional hours but aren't given an opportunity to do so.

Kenya's unemployment rate is estimated at 7.8 per cent with slightly over 1.5 million unemployed persons between 15 and 34 years. These figures have now gone up exponentially as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Lost employment

It is additionally estimated that over 3 million people have lost employment since the pandemic struck two years ago with over 60 per cent of this statistic falling between the ages of 18-35, the youth bracket. The entertainment and hospitality industries that host the bulk of this special category have been hit the most.

The net effect is a ticking time bomb. At a precarious political period when the nation is contemplating a referendum to amend the Kenyan laws under the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), and a subsequent general election, likely to be the enlisting outfit for idle and desperate youth, the focus must now shift to bridging the gap.

The government must reinvent working policy models that can steer this nation for the better. Kenya simulates great international economic orders, but painstakingly work themselves up with very little results.

Lack of general goodwill from the political leaderships seems to be the greatest undoing. The normalized corruption, where everyone handed a responsibility of leadership views such positions as opportunity to amass wealth is a death knell to our prosperity as a nation.

I'm not a policy expert to prescribe the perfect fix policy model to our messed economy, but I'm sure the president's firm hands hold the key to the solution. Lest, unsolicited youth security brigades will continue to take over the political functions and at a very costly outcome.

The writer is the Advocacy Coordinator, Friends of Lake Turkana

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