Kenya’s youth bulge: A ticking time bomb

The youth population in Kenya has been increasing steadily since independence in the early 1960s. By 2005, according to the Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs, 75% percent of Kenya’s population was under 30 years of age. In a country where unemployment figures stand at 40 %, of that 40%, the majority are youth. Without an innovative, robust, and meaningful government policy intervention, this high youth unemployment figure is a ticking time bomb. This was clearly demonstrated during the last general election. Youth registered to vote in this election in huge numbers. When President Kibaki was announced the winner of the Presidency, contrary to the expectations of many, violence broke out. Politicians, who had failed to address the youth issue in the past, used their unemployed status to their advantage, enticing them, with small amounts of cash, to participate in the violence. The election is not the only example of this. Young people form the rank and file of many urban militias, like Mungiki, that have become a security threat in many Kenyan towns.

Youth during the election violence

If these issues of youth unemployment are not addressed, the impending 2012 elections, where President Kibaki is constitutionally barred from contesting, and transition thereafter, may prove as explosive as 2007. Further, with the ICC’s indictment of six perpetrators of the 2007 violence, the role of youth, and their potential manipulation, will assume greater significance. The use social media will influence this as well. The revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa were aided by new media technology. Kenya has a very high level of internet and social media penetration, particularly through cell phones, and particularly among the youth population. Ensuring a positive use of social media among Kenya’s youth requires collective vigilance.


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