MUGA: In job creation, Kenya opts for Philippines model

In Summary
  • Getting hundreds of thousands of young Kenyans overseas jobs may not have the same glamour as brand-new industrial complexes
  • But it does offer an immediate solution to the problem of youth unemployment.

If you agree with the view that our most urgent national priority  is to create jobs for our millions of unemployed youths, then the current government has good news for you.

Although not stated explicitly, the government seems to have embarked on an aggressive adoption of what I shall call 'the Philippines Model' in its policy for job creation.

This is a dramatic switch from previous governments promising (and failing) to give us 'Industrialisation on the South Korea Model'. Or creating a 'Silicon Savannah' to rival the iconic American 'Silicon Valley'.

For we could have dozens of foreign investors coming here to set up factories; or to establish ICT innovation centres; but even then, we could hardly hope to absorb any appreciable numbers of the roughly one million young Kenyans who enter the employment marketplace every year.

I have been fortunate to go on study tours of various countries over the years. In the course of these, I have visited massive industrial parks (in Egypt and Germany for example) which have the kind of enormous factories that most governors here in Kenya dream of having investors set up in their counties.

But the first thing you notice when you arrive at the industrial complex, is that there are very few cars in the rather small parking lot. And when you get inside one of these giant factories, you realise why this is so.

Apart from a handful of engineers in the control room, everything in that place is automated and requires no human hands. What you would call the 'factory floor' consists entirely of machines in an automated production line.

So, if a governor were able to get investors to set up such a factory in a suburb of his county headquarters, the locals would no doubt stare in awe at the sheer size of the building. But at most this would create a few dozen jobs.

So, it seems to me a positive step that the government is now defining this function, as not so much 'job creation' within our own borders, as a quest for 'global economic opportunities'.

And one of the countries that have had remarkable success in assisting its citizens to obtain such opportunities is the Philippines.

Training programmes provided inside the country, which lead to advanced accreditation in various fields (but above all healthcare) allow Filipinos to access jobs in the US, for example, for which they would not otherwise qualify.

And as was illustrated by the tragic example of the young Kenyans from the upper Rift Valley who sought similar opportunities for advanced training in Finland, this kind of initiative need not cost the government anything at all. The government just needs to play the role of facilitator and ordinary Kenyans will make heroic sacrifices to get their children into these programmes.

Such sacrifices are made out of an awareness that the escape from poverty is often a multigenerational effort. One qualified Kenyan working abroad can help educate younger siblings whom the parents might otherwise have been unable to support all the way to a university degree. The next generation in that family will then be technocrats – not small-scale farmers who have to sell their livestock to pay college fees for their kids.

Getting hundreds of thousands of young Kenyans overseas jobs in various categories may not have the same glamour as brand-new industrial complexes, with their many rows of factories and warehouses.

But it does offer an immediate solution to the problem of youth unemployment.

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