Creative Commons

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Youth are vital to the future of the East African Community

A survey conducted by the East African Institute revealed that less than 5 percent of youth between 18 and 35 years identify as belonging to the polity that is the East African Community (EAC). The youth believe that the EAC is a political construct of the elite. They believe the EAC is some regional trade deal to open up markets for free movement of goods, labor and capital.

The community of the people of East Africa is not just a figment that dwells in the minds of the political and business elite. It is more than an expansionist or federal obsession of the Arusha bureaucrats. The Community is more than the lofty dreams of common currency or common trade tariffs.

There is something more wholesome – we the people. We are the Community. The community, joined by bonds of kinship and exchange as are ancient as the hills. Mwalimu Julius Nyerere or Jomo Kenyatta or Milton Obote did not bequeath the Community to us. When they created the first EAC, they were merely repairing the division that was wrought upon the people of East African by the British and the Germans.

Across the borders, we share languages, traditions and beliefs. We share the picturesque beauty and splendor of Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika, the Indian Ocean, Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Elgon, the Great Rift Valley, the Mara, the Indian Ocean, and yes the iconic statuesque men and women of the savannas. More importantly, our destiny is shared through the fears, hopes and aspirations of our youth.

When asked what the future will look like the youth from Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania were was consensus about the expansion of material wealth among the few. The youth also believed there would be better access to quality health, education and that there would be more jobs for the youth. In Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, the youth believed there would be more corruption and substance abuse and that their societies would be poorer in ethics and values.

The youth were unequivocal about what they want government to do tackle urgently. Nearly 70 percent of the youth want government to address unemployment and expand access to capital for investment. Youth were confident about their skills for entrepreneurship and possessed strong entrepreneurial aspirations, with over 60 percent of youth saying they would like to start a business.

While the youth are suffer the highest rates of unemployment, they are willing to be part of the solution if only the government could provide access to investment capital, business opportunities, skills, and advisory services.

But more importantly, high unemployment among the youth in East Africa should invite us to examine the structural flaws that have caused just so few to reap the benefits of the last two decades of economic prosperity.

Clearly, there is no such a thing as trickle down prosperity. To secure the East African Community we must grapple with our biggest challenge – youth unemployment – and harness the potential demographic dividend to drive greater and inclusive prosperity.  

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.


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