Majority of youths in Kenya are grappling with unemployment, with the rate feared to rise due to the coronavirus pandemic.
According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, unemployment rate in the third quarter of 2020 was 7.20 %, ranking Kenya at position 31 in Africa, with South Africa leading in unemployment rate.
Austin Wafula Masika, a 31-year-old youth from Kibabii, Kanduyi constituency in Bungoma county is part of this statistics. Austin undertook a course in Journalism and Mass communication at Elgon View College, Eldoret, graduating in 2012 with high hopes of landing a job. However, close to 10 years now and he is yet to get a job, in the already flooded field, his dreams fading day by day.
“At graduation, I was optimistic. I knew it was time to turn around having come from a humble background,” said Austin, with bitterness written all over his face.
With the search for employment ostensibly an uphill task, Austin, who gave up on government projects, acquired a few equipment to start a cyber café in Kibabii. “I acquired a single desktop computer and a printer from my savings in a bid to boost my business,” he added.
“I applied for a business grant from the Kenya Youths Employment Opportunities, KYEOP, in 2020. The program’s officials visited me, assessed my home situation but I was however, ruled out for one single reason; I had acquired post-secondary education!” Austin noted.
KYEOP is a World Bank youth enterprise fund established under the State Department for Youth Affairs in 2016. The project is implemented by two parastatals; the Micro and Small Enterprises Authority (MSEA) and the National Industrial Training Authority (NITA).
It is set to run through 2021 in 17 counties. These are Bungoma, Kakamega, Mombasa, Kilifi, Kisumu, Nairobi, Nakuru, Kiambu, Nyandarua, Mandera, Turkana, Wajir, Kwale, Kisii, Machakos, Kitui and Migori. The Kshs.15 billion project is focused on increasing employment and earning opportunities among targeted Youth in Kenya.
A youth, as per the Constitution of Kenya 2010, is a person aged between 18-35 years. However, KYEOP has capped the age at 29 years. “Now, is this not discrimination against the youth?” poses Austin, who also feels that improved academic qualifications should not be used as an excuse to exclude some youth from accessing the grants and training.
“One can be from a humble background like me where a parent will only struggle to cater for your school fees, then leaves you to wander on your own. He cannot afford to give you money to start a business or support you to work as a volunteer. It will therefore be prudent on the side of the government to consider such youths,” he said.
The program was rolled out in Bungoma when it was in the fourth cycle. Ashton Machodi, a KYEOP Project Assistant in Bungoma, says a total of 281 youths have received business grants of Kshs. 40,000 each in the fourth cycle. Out of this, he said, 139 are male whereas female beneficiaries are 142. A further 496 youths received grants in the fifth cycle, 996 in the sixth cycle while another 1000 youth are targeted in the seventh cycle.
“It is a system-designed program. For me it is difficult to explain why the government chose to cap the age at 29,” says Mr. Machodi.
Apart from business support, the program also trains youths on skills of their choices, such as carpentry and hairdressing.
Joyce Nabalayo a Bungoma-based policy expert, lawyer and men rights activist is in agreement with the funder’s decision to cap the age at 29, although she notes that the discrimination is detrimental to youths.
“Age brackets for youths vary from country to country. Therefore, the World Bank being the funder of the project takes into consideration some parameters before zeroing in on a particular age bracket,” Ms Nabalayo explained.
According to the policy expert, it is not clear how many youths have been locked out of the scheme. This, she says, is because majority of youths do not report the discrimination, while others lack knowledge on what exactly KYEOP looks out for in applicants.
Consequently, Ms Nabalayo recommends that KYEOP carries out mass civic education to publicize the program. She further hopes that the World Bank, in future, will expand the age bracket.
“In fact, those who should be supported more are the ones from age 35 and above. You see, these are people already with family and are under intense pressure to provide for their families,” she recommends.