Edmund Burke, an 18th Century political theorist and philosopher wrote, “Tell me what are the prevailing sentiments that occupy the minds of your young men, [and women] and I will tell you what is to be the character of the next generation”.
The future is not some indistinct unknowable property. We are all involved in the active construction of the future. Through policies or actions, we enable or obstruct the thriving of our children and shape our destiny. What our children eat and how they learn determines our place in the global productivity league table.
Over 80 per cent of Kenya’s population is aged below 35 years, and the median age is just 19 years. If you doubt these statistics, take a close look at the faces of Kenyans who swarm political rallies. If you are still not convinced, take a walk on the streets in the various cities and towns of this great land.
Alvin Toffler, the American futurist and author of Future Shock, argued persuasively about why youth must participate in the present moment. Toffler wrote, “The secret message communicated to most young people today by society around them is that they are not needed, that society will run itself quite nicely until they — at some distant point in the future — will take over the reins. Yet the fact is that society is not running itself nicely… because the rest of us need all the energy, brains, imagination and talent that young people can bring to bear down on our difficulties”.
Politicians have exhorted the youth to register and vote in the August elections. The imperative to register has been unanimous across the ethnic political divide — Kenya’s future is in the hands of the youth. The electoral power of the youth is consequential. For instance, about 55 per cent of Nairobi’s population is between 18-35 years. But not to think of youth beyond voting would be tragic.
The problems that face the Kenyan youths are complex and urgent. Our schools fail too many young people.
Labour participation among youth is less than 40 per cent. The majority of them are unskilled, unemployed, underemployed and underpaid. The ranks of working poor youths are swelling rapidly.
Policymakers and donors, without shame or remorse, continue to promote wrongheaded interventions in the name of youth empowerment. For example, there is little evidence that the youth funds are working.
There is also a growing fantasy that somehow agriculture and entrepreneurship are the panacea for youth unemployment. Moreover, the current wave of technical and vocational education and training, known as TVET proliferation plans is not informed by skills gap or labour market needs.
According to Burke, “The arrogance of age must submit to be taught by youth.”
Toffler warns that to imagine we can run our society without the full participation of even very young people is imbecility.
The youth have exemplary passion and creativity, and are enthusiastic about being part of the solution to the myriad problems we face as society. They are crying out for a chance to get involved, beyond voting.