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Katindi Sivi Njonjo - A bulging youth population: Infinite possibility or definite disaster for Kenya?

Lead consultant for LongView Consult in Kenya considers the impact a bulging youth population will have on her country

Katindi Sivi Njonjo speaks at the Salzburg Global session on Youth, Economics and Violence

Katindi Sivi Njonjo speaks at the Salzburg Global session on Youth, Economics and Violence

Katindi Sivi Njonjo | 19.11.2015

Kenya is at a crossroads on the issue of its young people. With a bulging youth population, the country has a window of opportunity to expand its labor force and increase its economic growth, savings and investments while decreasing its dependency. A big youth population can also be a source of unprecedented challenges, if the numbers are not anticipated and well managed.

In cases where these young people have been well educated and where their energy and ingenuity have been sought, young people have been great assets. Segments of youth in Kenya have been able to come up with incredible innovations. Some of these include: 

Inserting an ultra-thin chip in the sole of a shoe and subjecting the shoe to motion to generate energy that can be used for charging mobile phones in rural areas; 

  • Attaching flashing lights around a perimeter fence to scare lions and thus reducing human-wildlife conflict; 
  • Producing solar-powered LED lanterns that are distributed in rural households while teaching poor youth how to reproduce them in order to create employment and a source of livelihood; 
  • Designing a crowdsourcing app that enables people in disaster situations to submit reports by calling, texting or e-mailing, with information then placed on a Google map to connect the need and the help required; 
  • Putting youth facts together in a fact book that enables youth concerns to be collated in one place in order to conspicuously bring out trends and policy gaps that can immediately be identified; and 
  • Using cartoons, pictures, songs and graffiti to mobilize youth for social change. 

However, in cases where these large youth populations are relatively well educated but unemployed, they have become a social challenge and a political hazard. 

The continued exclusion of youth from a productive role in the economy has exacerbated crime, drug abuse and vandalism, and escalated the vicious cycle of poverty. An elusive search for status and livelihood has driven many, particularly young men, to religious radicalization and involvement in terror activities. These youth are also ready fodder for political manipulation and expediency. The recent discovery of commercially viable oil and gas in the country is the latest addition to the pot of violence triggers and political contestations. 

Whereas many efforts have been put in place to try and create opportunities for young people – such as providing loan facilities to start small enterprises or youth work programs – these efforts have been short-term and tokenistic in nature and have therefore not led to the meaningful change that is required to turn the large youth population into a great asset. In a country where these two realities of advantaged and disadvantaged youth co-exist side-by-side, a systemic approach to provide long term solutions is urgently needed. 

Understanding the country’s population growth, structure and distribution will provide insights that help minimize the challenges of a growing youth population. Adequately investing in the enrollment and completion rates of young people in secondary, tertiary and university education as well as improving the quality and relevance of education would sufficiently prepare students for work and life. Additional investment in youth reproductive health, urbanization, innovation, and meaningful employment would certainly help to maximize on the opportunities that youth bulges present.


Katindi Sivi Njonjo was a Fellow at the session Youth, Economics & Violence: Implications for Future Conflict, which was held in partnership with the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York. For more information, please visit the session page: www.salzburgglobal.org/go/549

19.11.2015 Category: FACES OF LEADERSHIP, JUSTICE, SOCIAL COMPACT
Katindi Sivi Njonjo