About 80 percent of East Africa’s population is below 35 years of age, and the median age is estimated to be approximately 18 years. Our future is in the hands of this unprecedented large proportion of young people. Hence the future is not out there, nor is it some unknowable instance in the misty horizon.
Through the combined actions or omissions of the old and young, we are employed in the active construction of both the present and the future. But more specifically those youthful today, are the true curators of the future.
The East African Institute of the Aga Khan University commissioned a survey of youth in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania between 2014 and 2015 to understand their values and attitudes, concerns and aspirations. To paraphrase Irish author, political theorist and philosopher, Edmund Burke; if we understand the sentiments that preoccupy youth today we can shape what the future could look like.
The Kenya Youth Survey report was released yesterday in Nairobi. The report reveals important and surprising insights, and offers reasons both for optimism, deep concern and the need for urgent action. Moreover, some of the findings are contradictory and counter intuitive.
The good news is that Kenya is not hopelessly fractured along ethnic lines; 40 percent of youth identify as Kenyans first, while 35 percent identify as youth first. About 12 percent identify by their faith first. Less than 5 percent of the youth identify by their ethnicity first. Less than one percent identify as East Africans first. Moreover, when asked what they value most, 85 percent value faith first, 60 percent value family first, 45 percent value work first. The report also suggests that we could be reaping the benefits of massive expansion of primary and secondary education. About 78 percent of the youth had post primary education. Only 22 percent had primary education as the highest level of education.
What is cause for deep concern is the dearth of integrity. About 30 percent believe corruption is profitable, 50 percent believe it doesn’t matter how one makes money as long as one does not end up in jail, only 40 percent strongly believe that it is important to pay taxes, 35 percent of the youth would readily take or give a bribe and, over 70 percent of the youth are afraid to stand up for what is right for fear of retribution. Moreover, while 70 percent of the youth believe it is important to vote 62 percent are vulnerable to electoral fraud, with 40 percent stating categorically, that they would only vote for a candidate who bribed them.
About 50 percent of the youth were aware of government initiatives for youth. Only 24 percent of the youth have benefited from government-initiated youth programs. Unemployment and lack of access to capital were the two most important concerns the youth feel must be addressed urgently. About 68 percent of young rural women were unemployed. Nearly 1 in 2 youth with a university degree was unemployed. While 48 percent would like to go into business, only 1 in 5 youth are in self-employment.
The youth are optimistic and pessimistic about the future. Optimistic because 77 percent of the youth believe Kenya will be richer materially, with better access to quality education and health, and more jobs for youth; 67 percent believe society will reward merit and hard work. Pessimistic because 40 percent believe there will be more corruption, and 30% believe the country will be poorer in ethics and values, and substance abuse will be rampant.
The staggering lack of opportunity and the dearth of integrity among youth demands urgent action. The capacity of our economy to create opportunity for the youth remains weak especially in the decade when Kenya recorded the highest headline GDP growth. A high tolerance for corruption, tax evasion and a corruptible electorate could stymie economic progress and undermine democracy by making politics and leadership the precinct of a corrupt cabal.
The Kenya Youth Survey report does not prescribe solutions or policy recommendations. Instead, it furnishes key evidence that could inform the collective search for a shared framework for policies, programs and actions necessary to prepare Kenya’s youth to thrive and lead in a competitive and globalized world. The report is also an invitation to all stakeholders to earnest dialogue, debate and new questions to inform and shape new research priorities.