Kazi Mtaani insult to youth, they merit more than state handouts

Creating youth employment opportunities shouldn’t just be opportunistic projects.

In Summary

• The problem is Kenya is denied opportunities to build indigenous capital investment that would support a welfare state by the forever-pilfering debt-supported vanity mega projects.

• Without indigenous capital, our investments are fickle, loan-debt dependent and cannot create sustainable employment.

Youths at work in Kiandutu slums in Thika on May 20
KAZI MTAANI: Youths at work in Kiandutu slums in Thika on May 20

A report by British Council titled 'Youth Unemployment in Kenya (2017)' says Kenya’s economy has had comparably high growth rates in the last two decades but this positive macro-economic status hasn’t translated into benefits for its youth.

"While Kenya has regularly recorded annual GDP growth of more than five per cent, Kenya’s youth unemployment rate has shown no positive development, and stands at a staggering 22 per cent for 2016 (International Labour Organization).  In addition, underemployment is a rampant phenomenon for young Kenyans. Ironically, the danger of a ‘lost generation’ is running high in Kenya’s relatively strong economy."

The report goes on to indicate that with 500,000 to 800,000 young Kenyans entering the job market each year, our economy is not able to provide employment opportunities.

“Economic progress has primarily benefitted the older generation; young females in rural locations constitute the largest share of unemployed Kenyan youth ...youth unemployment is rampant throughout Kenya…Little or misdirected preparedness for the labour market is one of the major complaints from employers,” the report concludes.

It’s daunting.


The report amplifies UNDP's warning in 2013 that youth unemployment rates are high and youth represent, by far, the bulk of unemployed people.

"The unemployment problem in Kenya to a large degree sffects young people, thus, a youth problem.”

And adversity will remain grim into the future. “By 2030, Kenya will need to solve a difficult equation: On the one hand, a working-age population at approximately 60 per cent; on the, the British Council report says.

Adversity for the young people got worse by 2020 and the government response is wrong because to address youth unemployment meaningfully, reliable and up-to-date data is needed.

Unfortunately, such data is currently lacking, according to the critical British Council report. But it is as if we’re scared to let the genie of the bottle. We don’t want to know how many youths are unemployed, where they are, what skills exist or not among them and the potential for employment sectors.  

Until I saw them queuing to be allocated tasks, I didn’t know there existed a multitude of energetic, educated and unemployed youth in my neighbourhood. The desperation is clear, when such groomed youth hustle for menial jobs.

And that the government that trotted to power on the strength of the youth vote can only offer  - how do you describe this condition?

Covid-19 is only a convenient excuse. Government may claim it’s offering stimulus support to youth affected by coronavirus disruption of the economy. But were these youth employed before the coronavirus hit? Are they the ones who’ve been retrenched as a result of a shrinking economy? Of course not!

These are youth who have been on the unemployment queue since they graduated. In their own dialect, they’ve been marking time.

Which means the government, hoping to postpone the unemployment problem, is diverting youth attention from the bigger issue — dearth of sustainable livelihoods for the young population.

The National Census 2019 describes the danger in absolute numbers.

Out of Kenya’s 48 million populatin, 38 per cent (18 million) are youth. Of these, 9,733,531 (20 per cent) are aged 15 to 24 years. Half of this cohort might be in school, the rest jobseekers. Add another 8,187,057 (17 per cent) aged 25 to 35 years and boom! Some 13,043,823 (27 per cent) of 48 million are hungry youth.

This data confirms the cynics saying that whatever it is worth now to the youth, Kazi Mtaani is an escapist, a cover-up for a failed system that is unable to create decent and relevant job opportunities for them. Were it not a decoy, it wouldn’t have been launched opportunistically at this time of the coronavirus. It would’ve been policy, but getting a stipend isn’t policy.

Whenever cornered by the problem of a ulging youth unemployment, our choice  is the easy decoy of stipends as if the youth are indigent. We previously had Kazi Kwa Vijana, which was another wayward venture for the corrupt whom the youth outed by mimicking the whole project as Pesa kwa Wazee pilferage.

Then came the National Youth Service heist, originally meant to increase intake of NYS trainees who would earn their training and upkeep undertaking civic works. Corrupt undertakers stole Sh1.9 billion in the NYS I heist and Sh781 million in NYS II. We’ve not recovered from that, yet we’re into this Kazi Mtaani thing. The Youth Enterprise Fund faced the sthievery.


There are many issues with Kazi Mtaanithe usual notorious problem of never recruiting the right applicants and ghost listings. Youth complain the names of 'foreigners' are loaded onto lists of their locality, leaving out genuine qualifiers. Implementors won’t bell the cat because their fingers are soiled from dipping into the Kazi Mtaani cookie jar.

Kazi Mtaani is an insult to the youth and absolutely not fulfilling. There is no decency in the tasks undertaken. A group of women was plucking grass using their bare hands. They earn a handout that the government camouflages as wages. The thought that the state is legitimising the politicians’ pastime of handouts is scary.

Handouts for plucking grass on the roadside don’t bestow skills or experience for youth careers. The exception is Machakos county where, according social media, Kazi Mtaani goes beyond clearing bushes and unblocking drainages. Youths are trained to build cobblestone roads. The training will guarantee them entry into county community contracting opportunities. Training on the job is creativity and innovation at its best!

Kazi Mtaani youth slog for 11 days a month. Lucky ones — a measly 250,000 out over 12 million jobless — earn a paltry Sh450 each a day for 11 days at Sh4,950 a month. This is for three months, and then back to joblessness.

Some will say this is 'at least something'. But it’s this minimalist fatalism that lets government off scot-free where it’s failing. Youth employment shouldn’t be an experiment or like a stimulus packages for SME’s or stipends for the elderly. Indeed, if that’s it, why not have a binding, reliable and accountable unemployment benefits stipend?

Whenever there is a government intervention targeting young people, the urban youth is the first port of call. I’ve never understood this obsession with the urban.

However, when Kazi Mtaani targets only urban low-income areas, it’s part of inbuilt deception not to holistically address youth issues. It is discrimination against the majority youth in rural Kenya.

It’s perhaps a legacy from colonial experience and recently by donors viewing youth from vitongoji (villages) as an existential threat to state stability that must be pacified. Yet, post-independence African history records that surgency against the State succeeds only where there is a rural putsch. Urbanites largely carry the mindset of the comprador bourgeoisie comfortable with crumbs from the State.

The problem is Kenya is denied opportunities to build indigenous capital investment that would support a welfare state by the forever-pilfering debt-supported vanity mega projects. Without indigenous capital, our investments are fickle, loan-debt dependent and cannot create sustainable employment.


It’s sometimes maddening for government layabouts to sing praise that our economy is largely hinged on small- and medium-size enterprises or Jua Kali. A hustler-state is like a drug lords’ fiefdom that cannot build a stable economy. Indeed, coronavirus has exposed this weakness – SMSEs can’t survive a pandemic siege - they’re the first to crumble and with them the façade of an economy.

I’ll not dwell on our dismal failure to succeed in youth human resource capacity building through TVETs. The gap in middle-level skilled labour is yawning yet TVETs are empty. We’ve bastardised TVETs to rank as borstal institutions so that there’re no takers for technical centres, despite tuition waiver incentives. The identification of TVETs with prisons for education system failures means they have no allure for youth.

Holistic interventions need to be followed through - secondary, tertiary and technical- level education curricular revision, to allow the youth to become a readily employable skilled workforce; and promoting internships and apprenticeships across all sectors.

Creating youth employment opportunities shouldn’t just be opportunistic projects. Youth need entrepreneurial, communication, finance, leadership, strategic thinking and navigating conflict skills for them to realise their own potential and capacity.

Youth don’t need state handouts. They need skills investment, stupid!

Kabatesi is a communications and political consultant.