Tuesday, 8 November 2011

The Threat of Unemployed Youth and 2012 Elections

I fully support the war in Somalia against the Al-Shabaab -that ragtag band of terrorists whose cross-border attacks have terrorized Kenyans and threatened to destabilize our country. And whereas I fully approve of the government’s response to the Al-Shabaab attacks, I contend that the threat posed to our nationhood by our very own able-bodied men and women who feel they have no stake in our society and consequently feel they have no responsibility towards it because they are unemployed, is greater than the threat posed by the Al-Shabaab. This was clearly demonstrated in the 2007 post-election violence; it is an existential

Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States of America had a timeless leadership nugget: ‘the important is seldom urgent and the urgent seldom important.’ The ability to discern between what is important from what is urgent and majoring on what is important is quintessential to leadership in today’s globalized world. Indeed, the Al-Shabaab threat has received the right response in a timely fashion but the more deadly threat of unemployed youth is painfully blameworthy.

And the problem is essentially that age-old problem of lack of leadership which has for far too long impeded economic development and social progress in developing countries and especially in sub-Saharan Africa despite being well endowed.

If the current job crisis in the US which is fast turning the American dream into a mirage  is anything to go by, it is not possible to draw up a concrete employment plan for a developed country much less for a developing country like Kenya and the problem is compounded by the fact that the global economic situation is not conducive for growth and development something that is threatening to reduce Vision 2030 to wishful thinking.

For the longest time, the problem of joblessness was unique to developing countries but not anymore. The world indeed has changed at a stupefying pace and now joblessness is a major problem in developing countries too. There are however fundamental differences between how developed countries and developing countries are handling the problem. Going by the communiqué of the just concluded G8-G20 Summit in the French resort city of Cannes, the level of unemployment in the developed world is first and foremost unacceptable. Now that is a fundamentally different from how we conceptualize and consequently handle the same problem. While the problem is giving policymakers in the developed world sleepless nights, policymakers in Kenya can’t be bothered.

For our leaders, joblessness it seems is merely another subject for politicking despite the fact it actually poses an existential threat to us. I’m not one to praise the West just for the sake of it but it is obvious that the problem has taken centre stage in their national discourse unlike here where the Kibaki succession politics which remains hopelessly bankrupt rule; devoid of issues and full of empty rhetoric.

In all fairness, the Prime Minister’s Youth Marshall Plan which gave birth to the rather amateurish Kazi kwa Vijana (KKV) is deserving of praise even though a lot more  policy ingenuity is needed in the plan to make it a lot more productive both in the short and long terms. The recent allegations of embezzlement of World Bank money in support of KKV was indeed a very serious matter but as it turned out, politicians were merely politicking as the allegations were malicious. Be that as it may, I was not particularly impressed by the way the Prime Minister countered the allegations even though he disproved them effectively. The malicious allegations was a tragedy that was wasted seeing that it provided an opportunity to bring the problem of unemployment to the fore and broadening the issue beyond merely auditing the World Bank grant. It was a perfect opportunity for everyone with presidential aspirations to present concrete proposals on how they intend to tackle the problem of youth unemployment.

Come 2012, the youth should vote wisely. But what exactly does voting wisely mean to the youth? It’s really quite simple. First, it means having a good understanding of what the issues in the 2012 elections will be. And second, is evaluating who among the candidates has a genuine interest in the issues that matter and more importantly a genuine commitment to addressing the issues that is evidenced by a viable plan for addressing the issues. Promises of handling the issues decisively should not count; the ideal aspirant must present a detailed plan that should be appraised publicly.

The two most important issues in the next General Elections as things stand are full implementation of the constitution and the economy. As it regards the constitution, the pertinent issue is the full implementation of the devolved system of government. In choosing who to elect to be the next president we must elect the candidate who has demonstrated a genuine commitment to reforms and particularly the devolved system of government. In this regard, the ‘watermelons’ and those who opposed the new constitution do not qualify for consideration.

As it regards the economy, the pertinent issue is the problematic issue of joblessness that is adversely affecting millions an entire generation. In choosing who to elect as the next president, the youth who are the largest voting bloc, must elect the candidate who has demonstrated a genuine commitment to fixing the nation’s economic woes and addressing the problem of joblessness. On this issue, presidential aspirants must present to the Kenyan people not promises but concrete proposals on how they intend to address the issue. Without such proposals, advising the youth to vote wisely is meaningless.

Why is it that the government no longer provides statistics on the jobs is has helped create as it used to during President Kibaki’s first term in office? I know they were highly contentious but at least they helped maintain the focus on the need to address the issue of joblessness. The manpower survey should the statistical accuracy and the next administration must commit to evaluating its efforts on the jobs issue.

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