ESHUCHI: Kazi Mtaani re-awakened youth labor force in urban areas

As an economic recovery strategy, the Government of Kenya unveiled the Kazi Mtaani Initiative in July, 2020

In Summary

•The initiative was recognized as the most promising government program that saw the rehabilitation of 900 informal settlements across all 47 counties in Kenya.

•Essentially, it created employment for the youth, who need it the most and to where it was most needed, informal settlements.

Kazi Mtaani workers clean Katwekera in Nairobi's Kibera on July 16, 2021.
Kazi Mtaani workers clean Katwekera in Nairobi's Kibera on July 16, 2021.
Image: MERCY MUMO

From as far back as the 1990s, successive governments, academia, civil society, the private sector and politicians have contributed different strategies to the question of youth unemployment in Kenya.

A recent extract on labor statistics by the Kenya National Bureau of Standards published in 2020 indicated more than four million youth between the ages of 15 to 34 were eligible for work full time, part-time, seasonal or as casual laborers but had no jobs. This serves as the highest demographic in Kenya’s labor force that is unemployed.

Considerable variance likewise was displayed with the data indicating that unemployment among the youth stood at 96 per cent in informal settlements.

To put this into perspective, out of the estimated over four million unemployed youth, 3.8 million, which means the greatest number of youths with no wages or any form of income, are in informal settlements.

The statistics were further exacerbated by the effects of the Covid 19 pandemic that led to a slowdown in economic development, reducing employment opportunities on one hand while raising commodity and service prices on the other.

As an economic recovery strategy, the Government of Kenya unveiled the Kazi Mtaani Initiative in July 2020. The initiative identified the youth as vulnerable citizens and sought to engage them in undertaking skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled urban development projects using a daily work for wages approach.

The initiative specifically targeted youth aged between 18-35 years old in informal settlements who were involved in the improvement of social and public facilities within areas of residence, rehabilitation of access roads and walkways as well as environmental hygiene through activities such as fumigation, garbage collection, unclogging of drainages, street cleaning, bush clearing and planting trees.

Interestingly, reductions in young people getting involved in violence, drug abuse, delinquency and crime were recorded as a result of the initiative which exhibited the value of empowerment opportunities, more so local, and the need for a multi-sectoral approach to urban development.

The initiative was recognized as the most promising government program that saw the rehabilitation of 900 informal settlements across all 47 counties in Kenya and directly provided a daily wage to 283,000 local youth workers.

Essentially, it created employment for the youth, who need it the most and to where it was most needed, informal settlements.

More importantly, however, the initiative established the youth as holding the greatest potential in providing locally-based labor and presented the use of local youth as a strategic policy recommendation and innovative tool to bridge the infrastructure and service gap in urban and even rural areas.

With Kisumu city in Kenya holding the 9th Africities Summit, the Kazi Mtaani initiative presents a case study of what youth labor portends for developing intermediary cities with regard to human capital.

Looking at urbanization from a labor perspective, clearly, the youth’s full potential is underutilized in urban areas with the most vulnerable found in informal settlements.

From the initiative exists empirical evidence that; the youth can be indeed facilitators of urban development, the youth can indeed provide labor near you and young people can definitely contribute to national prosperity through labor.

Eshuchi Richard is a postgraduate student with Masters in Research and Public Policy (UoN)

Twitter: @eshuchi_richard

Email: [email protected]

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