Wednesday, March 8, 2017

East African youth share common challenges but hold different values and visions for the future

In 2016 the East African Institute of the Aga Khan University released the findings of a youth survey conducted in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. The findings of the survey were received with both despair and hope.

According to the survey 53 percent of youth in the four countries were unemployed. About 80 percent of youth aged 18-20 who were not in school were unemployed. About 63 percent of rural women are unemployed. About 50 percent East African youths with university education were unemployed.

Circa 53 percent of the youth said they would like to go into business. Less than 25 percent expressed interest in pursuing traditional careers in medicine, engineering or education. Only 12 percent said they would take up farming as a full-time vocation. The survey shows that youth who had the strongest interest in business and farming had no more than primary education. Moreover, 54 percent more youth with primary education reported they were self-employed compared to youth who have attended university.

Over 80 percent of the youth surveyed valued faith first. Hard work and family were ranked first among 50 percent of the youth. The youth also indicated that wealth and freedom were important values for them. The values of faith, family and hard work are largely founded in the Abrahamic faiths of Islam and Christianity, which are the dominant religious traditions of East Africa.

With the exception of Rwanda, the survey findings on integrity set off alarm bells. In Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania parents, faith leaders and civil society were befuddled by apparent contradiction between the values youth profess and how they would act. The survey findings raise concerns about the moral character of the future generation.

Between 30 and 45 percent of the youth believed corruption was profitable and would readily give or take a bribe; over 50 percent of the youth believed it didn’t matter how one made money as long as one didn’t end up in jail. Moreover, 60 percent did not believe it was important to pay taxes. In contrast, only less than 10 percent of Rwandan youth believed corruption was profitable and would give or take a bribe. About 20 percent believed it didn’t matter how one made money as long as one didn’t end up in jail.

Rwandan youth were the most optimistic about the future. Over 70 percent believing that their countries will be richer materially with better access to quality education and jobs. Tanzanian youth were the most pessimistic. Less than 35 percent of the youth believed the country will be wealthy materially with more jobs for youth and that hard work would be rewarded. About 60% believed Tanzania would be poorer in ethics and values, and more youth would engage in substance abuse.


This Saturday, March 11, the East African Institute will bring together youth leaders from Kenya, Uganda Rwanda and Tanzania to grapple with the moral, ethical and governance imperatives fo  just, prosperous, inclusive and equitable societies.

Battle for equal treatment of women has not been won

There are pervasive claims, often without evidence, that the Kenyan boy child is forgotten, left behind and adrift. Those who peddle this tale claim that we have taken affirmative action too far. In their view, girls are no longer left behind. Nothing could be more fallacious.

Here are some disconcerting statistics. The enrollment of girls in primary schools in counties like Turkana, Garissa, Tana River, Samburu, Homa Bay, Wajir, Migori and Mandera is between 33 and 57 percent lower than that of boys.  For the KCPE class of 2012, 30 percent more boys completed secondary education in 2016. Unemployment among rural women is about 68 percent compared to 49 percent among rural men. Moreover, participation in self-employment is 34 percent higher among men than women.

Men comprise 81 percent and 73 percent of elected and nominated leaders in Kenya’s National Assembly and Senate respectively. Women’s representation in Kenya’s legislative bodies remains shamefully below the constitutional minimum of 33 percent. Similarly, women comprise only 21 percent of Kenya’s cabinet. Measured against Sustainable Development Goal 5, we are wanting.

Two articles in this week’s Economist are enlightening. The first article, “Why governments should introduce gender budgeting”, argues that failing to educate girls properly, unequal access to jobs have negative economic consequences. It notes that decreeing an end to discrimination against women is easier than making it happen. The article concludes that gender equality makes economic sense and hence should be measured and budgeted for.

The second article, “Why national budgets need to take gender into account”, observes that governments often treat spending on infrastructure as investment, but spending on social services such as child care as a cost. The article argues that investment in clean water and electricity reduces household chores and frees up time for mothers to find work outside the home and for girls to attend school.

It is unconscionable that in the 21st century women and girls are still treated like unworthy citizens. They are discriminated against in education. The labour force participation rate of male far outstrips that of women across many professions.  Women empowerment, measured by the proportion of public service appointments and parliamentary seats is disheartening.

Discrimination against women is barbaric and morally reprehensible. To paraphrase John Donne, discrimination against any woman diminishes me because it curtails their development, erodes their freedom of choice and undermines human progress.

Equality between men and women cannot be a discretionary privilege grated by men through law and at a moment of their choosing. While women are different from men, they are equal to men by the fact of their humanity. The rights of girls and women to liberty, choice and opportunity are inalienable human rights.


Protecting the rights of girls and women is a moral and ethical imperative. Hence, equality between men and women must be a core national value. Progress toward gender equality must be evident through equal treatment legislation, integration of women’s perspective into all policies and specific benchmarks for the advancement of girls and women.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Africa’s urban growth inefficient and unsustainable



The pace of urbanization in Africa is bewildering. In 1950, no city in sub-Saharan Africa had a population greater than one million. It is estimated that over 50 cities now have a resident population of over one million.

As a consequence of dizzying population growth, city and municipal authorities are overwhelmed. City leaders are unable to respond with sufficient planning and regulatory tools, as well as services to harness this phenomenal demographic change.

Our cities are drowning in municipal garbage. Nairobi, Kampala and Dar es Salaam are a gridlocked disaster. Commuting in our cities is miserable and expensive. Housing is scant and squalid. It is estimated that about two-thirds of Nairobi’s residents live in just 6 percent of the city’s land. These informal slum neighborhoods lack basic services such as water and sanitation, schools, health and education.

New urban growth is essentially unmanaged, disastrous sprawl. Owing to lack of planning and inefficient land markets, peri-urban neighborhoods have turned into bourgeois slum cities. In Kenya, Kitengela, Ongata Rongai, Ngong Syokimau and Ruiru are perfect examples of bourgeois shantytowns. They lack roads, public schools, open public spaces and sewerage services.

Many of Africa’s youthful urban workers are in the low wage service sector. You see them in food markets, on the street or traffic-choked highways where young men and women weave through dense traffic under the gray cloak of vehicular emission selling chewing gum, water, fruits, car accessories and pornographic videos.

Many young urbanites are low-skilled construction workers. A sizeable proportion of workers in our cities are in the semi-skilled low technology fabrication sector known a jua kali in Kenya. Africa’s urbanites work so hard and so long for so little. Hence, a defining characteristic of Africa’s urbanism is low productivity and low income. A majority of Africa’s urban workers live below the poverty line.

Rapid urbanization has not been accompanied by economic growth. African cities are largely metropolis of concentrated consumption. Our cities are the epicenter of non-tradable goods – public service, big hotels, plush suburbs and fancy retail shops with imported cloths and shoes, and fancy schools. Hence, it is easy to understand why rapid urbanization has not been associated with economic growth.

My sense is that Africa entangled in an unsustainable path of urban development. The cost of cleaning up the mess is in my view incalculable. A new report by the World Bank and UKaid, “African Cities: Opening Doors to the World”, concludes that African cities are crowded, disconnected and costly.

The report asks three questions, with which we must grapple: How can cities become economically dense, not crowded? ; How can cities be more connected? ; How can cities attract investors and skilled workers with a more affordable and livable urban environment?

Perhaps there is hope in emerging cities like Machakos, Arusha and Jinja. But these cities will not be nodes of equitable prosperity unless urban growth is led by planning. Only then can we build cities that are integrated, affordable, economically dense and prosperous.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Youth are our future, not pawns in political competition

Edmund Burke, 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 the learn determines our place in the global productivity league table.

Over 80 percent 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 of the cities and towns of this great land.

Alvin Toffler, 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 the society around them is that they are not needed, that the society will run itself quite nicely until they — at some distant point in the future — will take over the reigns. Yet the fact is that the 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 2017 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 percent of Nairobi’s population is between 18 and 35 years. But not to think of youth beyond voting would be tragic.

The problems that face Kenyan youth are complex and urgent. Our schools fail too many young people. Labor participation among youth is less than 40 percent. Majority of youth are unskilled, unemployed, underemployed and underpaid. The ranks of working poor youths are swelling rapidly.

Policy makers and donors, without shame or remorse, continue to promote wrongheaded interventions in the name of youth empowerment. For example, there is little evidence that 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 TVET proliferation plans is not informed by skills gap or labor market needs.

According to Burke, “the arrogance of age must submit to be taught by youth.” Alvin Toffler’s warns that to imagine that we can run our society without the full participation of even very young people is imbecile.


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.

Success of Kenya's new curriculum will depend on implementation

On January 30th 2017, Education Cabinet Secretary Dr. Fred Matiangi launched Kenya’s new basic education framework. The process to replace the current 8-4-4 system of education has now commenced. The current system has been criticized as overburdened with subjects, examination oriented and not capable of producing entrepreneurial graduates.

The new curriculum is competency-based and is undergirded by values. This new child-centered curriculum will nurture our children’s potential and produce engaged, empowered and ethical citizens. According to the framers of the new curriculum framework, education will not be about grades but about learning how to learn, critical thinking and problem solving. School will be a place where imagination and creativity will come alive. And most of all, our schools will inculcate in our children the most important obligation– citizenship.

In the new curriculum, basic education will be delivered in three stages: Early years (2 years in pre-primary and 3 years in lower primary); Middle school (3 years in upper primary and 3 years in lower secondary); Senior school, comprising three streams of specialization, i.e., science, arts and social sciences.

I am awed by what Kenya Institute for Curriculum Development (KICD) and the Ministry of Education have achieved. The curriculum framework is based on sound theoretical foundations. Moreover, the curriculum design has taken the bold step to diminish the primacy of standardized test scores. This new curriculum is focused on the learner and their intellectual and personal growth throughout the education experience. 

What is especially laudable in this new curriculum is that the role of the teacher is fundamentally changed. The teacher will be the sage on the stage no more. The teacher will be a friend, the guide on the side. The new curriculum re-casts the teacher as coach, facilitator and mentor. The new curriculum promises to make school about learning, not senseless memorization of irrelevant facts and standardized test scores. The new curriculum is about creativity, imagination and passion. And most of all, the new curriculum is about learning to learn, giving students the skills for life-long learning and building a solid foundation for self-efficacy.

Implementing such a bold and liberating curriculum will not be easy. A majority of teachers and parents will be lost and disillusioned. Many will wonder if this is even practical or realistic within our context.  For some, that citizens will be prepared to think, reason and challenge is a pretty revolutionary proposition.

We must think carefully about the implementation of this new curriculum. While it is bold and novel, it will not be self-executing. We must invest in teachers. Teachers currently in service must be re-tooled in pedagogical approaches that will support their new roles. Teacher training and certification must adhere to the highest standards.

Let us all support KICD and the Ministry Education to prepare our children for a truly brave and new world. We must not be discouraged or overwhelmed by those who want us to lower our ambition and scale down our investment in the children of this great land. 

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