We have this weird story today of William Ruto demanding an apology from Raila because the Azimio leader had said Kenyan young graduates need real jobs and not just Jua Kali pop-ups to survive and build their families.
Talking about youth development in Kenya and this issue of Kenyan college graduates doing menial jobs to survive I will start with myself.
I graduated from the Nairobi University in 1984 even though I spent nine months at Nairobi Area Remand Prison (INDA) in between my college studies.
They arrested me because I was a student leader and the government claimed we worked for the 1982 coup attempt. With no evidence, we were released. Some of my lecturers, Prof. Ngotho Kariuki, the dean of the faculty of commerce who was my accounting teacher on campus was sent to detention and almost died there.
So I went back to college and graduated in 1984 with a Bachelor of Commerce degree in accounting. My parents could not believe it because after jail they thought my academic life was completely ruined. My four sisters used to laugh at me telling my parents that the little boy they sent to college never came back and was gone forever but the new one was not that bad.
When I graduated I had two job offers on my table right off the bat. One was to work in the Auditor General’s office from a starting position as an accounting officer. They asked me to go to Thika to start my work. I liked the offer.
Then I got a second job offer to be a lecturer in accounting at the then Mombasa Polytechnic now Mombasa University. I weighed both offers and chose to go to Mombasa Polytechnic where I was greatly welcomed and was given very good job benefits. For the first time in my life, I had my own house and it was a big one on campus with three bedrooms owned by the polytechnic. I was 25 years old at that time and you can imagine what that meant to me and my family.
When I got my first pay my mother was in campus and giving me instructions on what to do with the money. She took me to a Mabati factory in Mombasa and we bought all the mabatis she needed to build her house at home. That is the dream of millions of Kenyan parents doing everything they can to get their kids through school.
I tried to tell my mother that I can come home and we buy the mabati there but she wasn’t listening. She was going to build the house which I promised her when I joined college and I kind of felt happy I am at least fulfilling one promise I made to my parents who were actually peasants who decided the best way forward was to send their kids to school.
Come today 2022 in Kenya for our youth. I will talk about what I know. I have many nephews and nieces in Kenya just like all of us do.
There is this young man. He has a First Class honours degree in Mechanical Engineering for Nairobi University where he graduated in 2018. He can’t get a job in the country. His options now include leaving the country to go get a job somewhere. I keep telling him to hang in there because his skills are needed in the country. But you can’t eat skills, can you? You need a job to feed yourself and your family.
In my day every mechanical engineering graduate had ten or more job offers before they left college. Today their best hope is to do Kazi Mtaani or open a kiosk to sell something, anything to make a miserable living.
One of the things our politicians need to take seriously is that Kenyan parents are committed to having their children succeed in school. So when it comes to which schools and kids get first grades to go further in their education we are all excited and that is good. But when these kids as adults graduate from college and have no jobs and no hope to grow as professionals we are dead quiet. That is a shame.
Ruto turning all Kenyan youth including college graduates into his bottoms-up sloganeering campaign may be good for him but it means nothing for the Kenyan youth. They need real solutions and they need them now.
Number one. We need a government agency set up as soon as possible to have a full record of youth graduates from universities and colleges all across the country. Have direct contact with these young people, have direct contact with possible employers both private and government, and facilitate communication between both parties.
There are a lot of deals that can be made. For example, a private employer can say I will take so many graduates on trial jobs for two years and if things work out they have a full-time job.
I remember in my final year at Nairobi University they sent me to work for Bata Company as an accounting officer. They liked me there and told me if I needed a job after graduating I should contact them.
Secondly, set up youth employment centers all across the country. So if you are from Limuru town, there is an employment center there. You come in and see what employment opportunities are out there and what skills they need. If you are ready for it apply. If you think you need additional skills to get a job then work on that.
Our employment system today is based on who knows who. Can we build an employment system based skills and capacity of employees and employers and not on tribes and those very unproductive cultures of favoritism. It is not working for anybody and has to be stopped by a government dedicated to equity and efficiency in the workplace.
Third. Build the capacity for Kenyan youths not just to open kiosks but to build real business and even industries to grow the Kenyan economy.
My sister in Uyoma called me a few months ago and told me the lake where she lives is being taken over by fish farmers from all over the world and we need to do something about it.
So we talked and decided we have to invest in Cage Fish farming and get some space in the lake before it is all taken over. We are working on that project right now.
New industries and opportunities arise every day in modern economies around the world. Fish farming is one of them. Get Kenyan youth involved there and give them the resources to do it effectively.
Finally, the next government needs to invest very heavily in the ICT sector in terms of creating jobs and opportunities for our youth. They have those skills and they are extremely good. The government has to open all doors for them and that means working with countries around the globe to have Kenyan ICT business involved.
Those are a few ideas and I am sure the Kenyan youth have even better ideas. That is why our country is a good place. We will grow from there. That is our struggle as a country and as a people.
Adongo Ogony is a Human Rights Activist and a Writer who lives in Toronto, Canada