One Party’s Quest to Solve the Unemployment Question in Kenya

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Employ Me Now! launch poster

The Social Democratic Party in Kenya has a campaign dubbed ‘Employ Me Now!’ which was launched in February this year. This is probably the first grassroots led campaign by a party (and young people) not in power. This is new and welcomed approach the employment question in Kenya. This campaign is basically a petition by young people to the government requesting the state to employ them. Though not the best solution there could be on unemployment, it does show the worsening conditions on the ground in regards to lack of employment opportunities. It is also an indication of the increasing audacity of the Kenyan youths who are now petitioning the state to offer employment opportunities to them.

To fully understand this campaign one needs to read the speech given by Benedict Wachira, the Secretary General of the Social Democratic Party given on February 1 2015 at the launch of this campaign at the San Valencia (a restaurant based in Nairobi – ironically situated next to the University of Nairobi).
Benedict Wachira was a colleague in the University, he is one of the young people who are putting their heads in matters of party administration in Kenya with the hope of changing the narrative. I hope he succeeds and I wish him the best of luck. This speech, which I mostly agree with apart from some sections which I will highlight below paints a picture of what is happening on the ground – especially what job seekers go through in search of employment opportunities here in Kenya. In my consented opinion this is also a reflection of what is happening in the region.

Also, to fully understand the campaign, one needs to know that there was a freeze in government recruitment in Kenya at some point. I am not fully aware if this was lifted but this freeze was put in place as a result of the government wage bill reaching unsustainable levels. However, also one has to note that appointments to parastatals and ambassadorial positions have largely gone to the ‘old gizzards’. This has left most of the youths – the majority of the population who voted for this administration disenfranchised.

Going back to the launch speech, I disagree with the notion that formal employment ought to be the default option as is advanced by the SDP secretary general. I think I understand where he is coming from, party ideological point of view nonetheless that should not stop him from appreciating the role of markets.

I think one of the biggest failures in Kenya has been the education system which pins everything to formal white collar jobs while overlooking other channels such as vocational training. This clearly highlighted by the government’s push to turn technical colleges to universities. At the end of the day what you have is degree conveyor belts! However, if vocational training can be taken up as an official policy where making of livelihoods becomes the centre piece of learning, then perhaps things would change.

The Secretary General has put the blame of unemployment squarely on the doors of capitalism! That as it may be I do not think that is entirely correct because even under socialism you have some form of unemployment. I think instead of blaming ideology, the right thing to do would to seek a balance perhaps been the two such that in areas where blunt capitalism is a danger to the welfare of citizen then it is tamed. Capitalism can be checked with a strong trade union and enacting policies that protect the weak in society.

One of the things we have been observing in Kenya and other countries in Africa has been the rise of tenderpreneurs. Basically middlemen who are well connected in government or working in cahoots with government. The tenderpreneurs seems to be the new face of capitalism in Africa and unless we divorce public service from business and business from public service that shall we get our act right. Many of the so called scandals which result to siphoning of public resources are as a result of collusion of the two. The leakage of taxpayer’s funds subsequently results less resources in public coffers which could be used to employ new workers.

The other thing I don’t agree with is obviously the socialist ideology advocated by the SG in the latter parts of his speech. However, I wholeheartedly support the petition by the party since this will give traction to this conversation and the more people talk of this – the more people will try to look for solutions for this unemployment endemic.

i) This petition by SDP can be found on this link: https://www.change.org/p/this-is-a-petition-to-the-president-of-kenya-his-excellency-uhuru-kenyatta-to-come-up-with-solutions-to-the-high-unemployment-rate-in-kenya-the-petition-is-sponsored-by-the-social-democratic-party-of-kenya-sdp
ii) Speech: http://sdpkenya.org/87-recent-news/145-speech-by-benedict-wachira-at-the-launch-of-the-national-campaign-against-unemployment

The author of this piece is a blogger and a cultural practitioner in Nairobi. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of FES

Identity Blues!

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By Davis Wesley Tusingwire

For little Jennie, going to one of the best schools in town, where your mother is a teacher and thus guaranteeing special treatment and extra access where students/pupils are concerned, was not such a big deal. She disliked how that particular environment worked against her true identity. See, she wasn’t looked at or treated as Jennie. Instead she was expected to be more than she could be at the time. She probably had the potential to be more, but constantly comparing her to elder sister Judith wasn’t exactly helping. Teachers punished her because she did not write as well as her sister, did not dress as smartly as her sister and for a teacher’s daughter, did not perform as excellently. No body cared about who she really was.

She is not the only one. We have heard stories about mistaken identity, mixed personalities, misjudgement, among others. An identity crisis is common among teenagers across the world, as they discoover themselves and their abilities. Books have been writen and movies have acted about this issue.

And yet it doesn’t end there. Beloved and now fallen, former NTV News anchor Rosemary Nankabirwa endured the bitter words from critiques when someone leaked a picture of her, sick and frailing . To the public, she and all the other public figures are regarded as super human and therefore not expected to be as human as everyone else. It is funny to think, people were surprised she could look that way, as though she was born on Mars. They are human, like you and me and therefore, bound to suffer illnesses, eat the same kind of food, gain or lose weight or even die. Just like everybody else. But alas! A very dangerous stereotype is attached to their identity and we see them misjudged if they dressed differently from what we expect of them, or visited places we think are way below their standards. We almost think they are immortal.

During Easter prayers, a Burundian National dorning a Rick Ross look alike beard was arrested at Rubaga cathedral in Uganda where he had gone for service and detained on suspicion of being a terrorist, all because of his beard. Most terrorist attacks across the world have been linked to the Muslim fraternity, who as a cultural practice grow a beard; for whatever reasons, and this young man could have innocently grown one too, unaware that it would get him into trouble.

Ladies have been called sluts/whores because they dared expose more flesh than the ordinary woman.

Men have been branded homosexuals because they are more soft spoken than their brothers, or because they have a pierced ear or because they prefer brighter colors in their wardrobe among others.

Not so long ago there was a debate on social networks especially Facebook and the mainstream media in Uganda as to who is the fairest? This discussion centred on our current Miss Uganda-Miss Leah Kalanguka who upon being crowned, was criticized and demonised for being ugly because of one poorly taken photograph of her that appeared on the scene. The criticism arose from the angle and comparison with the the recently crowned Miss Rwanda who was deemed and declared a true beauty due to her appearance on the outside.

We have witnessed some people being harrased because they are related to a given person or are over worshiped because of the same.

And through all this, nobody seems to notice what they have to endure, if they manage to make their true self shine through. Many go unrecognised most of the time.

Families are distabilized by identity battles. Children want to be their own person but their parents/guardians want them to be something else. Siblings compete with each other, and of course the brightest usually steals the show and the other(s) are almost forgotten. In schools teachers favor some for given attributes and forget the others. And those forgotten are teased/bullied so badly, sometimes they never recover from it. In workplaces we see superiors harrass their subordinates of out of insecurity. They fear their identity in the company will be overshadowed by those they lead, and so they feel threatened.

Identity is a broad and sensitive issue. It is encouraged though, to always give each individual an opportunity to identify themselves and decide what/who they want to be remembered as. It can be hard to accept others for who they truely are, but since we all need to be accepted or want to impose on others what they should be, it’s only fair that we let them be. It is easier to live with a happier person, regardless of their identity crisis.

What is identity? What identifies us?

The author of this piece is a member of FESYLF (Uganda). The views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of FES

You can follow him on twitter on this his handle @w_tusingwire

Garissa Terrorist Attack

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Thursday April 2 2015, I heard the news of Garissa terrorist incident on Radio on my way to work – probably like everyone else I know. My initial reactions were ‘not again’. Since April 2 was a busy day of moving around I did not have an hour to hour breakdown of what was taking place. However, around 3 pm I picked wind that the situation was still happening and naturally the ghosts of Westgate were awoken. It was only later in the evening that I was able to have a sense of what had taken place.

Today it is two weeks since the Garissa incident happened. A lot has been written especially on how the security apparatus responded to the incident (mostly the failures). We are now aware that Recce Squad, an elite group within the General Service Unit (GSU) was not able to be on location due to lack of a helicopter to take them to the terrorist scene as early as 6 am when the attack was made aware in their radar. The Police helicopter which would have taken them to the scene was in Mombasa – apparently it had taken the daughters of the air commandant on vacation. Details of this were unearthed by one of the bloggers in Kenya and shared widely on social media.

That as it maybe, it there were few things the security apparatus was able to do right. Their response thought slow was far much better than what happened during the Westgate incident. The Inspector General and the Minister for Interior and National Coordination, both new in their offices were at the scene of the incident fairly early. However, the question raised by most analysts has been what their use was being at the scene early as opposed to the paramilitary who would have disposed of the situation. Developments on this end have been – Recce Squad now has been allocated aircraft – helicopters.

The other notable development has been the civil society involvement in the whole episode, during the Westgate incident the government was more or less controlling the narrative. Especially, events that took place – there was the ‘we are one’ narrative which was pushed by corporates and other big entities. This was enviable and it is still is today. Immediately preceding the incident the government communication machinery came up with the ‘One Kenya’ hashtag. Good as it may have been there seemed to have been a deliberate effort not to remember the students who lost their lives in the terror incident. This is something that is quite common in Kenya – where a phenomenon happens and people either forget or it is swept under the carpet. That is why a group of activists – to be specific, Boniface Mwangi (a photojournalist by profession who now runs Pawa254 Hub) and Ory Okolloh Mwangi (a technologists and a founding member of Ushahidi) came up with the hashtag on twitter ‘147 is Not Just a Number’. Their intention was to remember the 147 mostly students and security personnel killed during the terrorist incident.

The 147 is not just a number picked up pretty fast and overtook the government ‘sanctioned’ hashtag ‘one Kenya’. This has had a snowballing effect to the rest of the world and they went a step further to organize a vigil and a memorial at Uhuru Park. This was unprecedented.

I for once have been trying to figure out what this means – is this a ‘Bring Back Our Girls’ moment? For those not in the know, I think the Boko Haram situation especially the kidnapping of school girls in Northern Nigeria by Boko Haram was the beginning of the end for the Jonathan Goodluck Presidency. The question is, will the insecurity posed by terrorism be the Achilles heel for President Uhuru Kenyatta presidency?

Time will tell but going by the events I noticed while in Lamu for the Lamu Food Festival and sentiments/comments from the Deputy President, we are a long way from getting it right.

The author of this piece is a blogger and a cultural practitioner in Nairobi. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of FES

To The Young of Our Day

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Picture via Ancestral Essence’s Facebook Page

by Wobusobozi Amooti Kangere & Chris Nkwatsibwe

Saw the story below this picture on the Facebook group ancestral essence, and got moved to share a few words from our journey in this time. These I send to the young of our day.

The story behind the picture is a first person account of a captured slave. It recounts his experience of first contact with ‘the new world.’ and his thoughts and sentiments of the dehumanizing ordeal his captors put him through.

The story itself is likely fiction. But sometimes we need fiction to rearrange the facts so that we can see TRUTH in its context.

Many of we who remained here on the continent are often disconnected from the experience of those who were taken. We must never forget though that we are of one blood; we are of one root.

Today the same snake that came to steal our men, women and earth 500 years ago, stealthily makes its way to finish the job it started. The fires in our shrines have gone cold from neglect. The mountains where our journeymen made pilgrimage to carry our children prayers to the gods are abandoned.

Our homes, which once never needed doors, are as sterile as prison garrisons and boarding houses for travelling strangers. We have forgotten how to have conversation with each other. We have forgotten how to remember the names and works of those who came before us. And so we carry their names like lifeless limbs we can’t wait to replace with alien sounds like Laquinta.

When their voices reach out to us from beyond to help us correct the error of our ways, we call them demons and bind them; yet the real demon is this strange culture that plants inhuman instincts in our young. And then we wonder why everything in Afrika is a mess.

Remember who you are Afrika. You are the children of the SUN. You are the body in which its living essence dwells. That is the secret behind your skin. Your blood is the Holy Grail. Humanity begins with you. Your ancestors were once called gods because of their power. But what they had was wisdom and knowledge of the stars, the wind, the earth, and of how life came to be.

Fool yourself not, you are not mortal. You are the immortal essence of the sun; clothed in flesh for a time. A time defined by a purpose measured in your talents and mental fields of prowess.

As for you slavers of our kind; in the different shades of skin in which you come…Enjoy the comfort of the living tombs you have turned our land into. A time shall come, in this lifetime or the next, when the tables will turn. The fires that burn in our shrines shall warm our spirits again. Those taken and those lost will return. The children will find their way back home.

This is not prophesy: It is only statement of the inevitable. The ancestral power wakes from its long sleep. And when the Afrikan wakes, you who laugh at our passing fate will remember that your Jesus and Muhammad learnt at the feet of our ancestors. And that Krishna and Budha were spawned from this soil.

Remember who you are children of the sun. Memory is the beginning of knowing, and knowing is the spring of life.

They will do everything to make you forget. They will keep your eyes in TVs, and teach you that their history of war is greater than your history of peace. And you will believe them for that is all you will know.

They will tell you that the conflicts engineered by their agents and puppets are tribal clashes. And that your ancestors- those beings who made your parents and spent their lives building the heritage you have squandered- hate you and wish to destroy you, just as you hate and wish to destroy the lives of the descendants you toil for every day in a job you hate.

You will celebrate the conquest of your backward past filled with spears, superstition and treacherous spirits. And seek haven in their cities where justice is for sell and truth is whatever you want it to be.

Your men will sleep with men and call it nature. And when the temperature of debauchery is just right, the tourists will make way for settlers, and then for colonies. And what started as kidnapping of our folk 500 years ago, and the partitioning of our lands into mega ranches controlled from cities in Europe; will be completed in your annihilation.

And when there is completely no trace left of you, and your beloved cities have turned into the ghetto concentration camps they already are degenerating into; may be then, someone will remember that prophets of old warned of such times.

But we are fools- we who speak of such things. We are foul evil creatures- we who speak of ancestral voices. We are lunatics, we who read the signs of the times and share what we see. And so our words shall remain lofty and befuddled to you.

For those whose minds still yearn for better times, the future is bright when the past is resolved. You don’t have to look far. The future and the past are all in the present. You, young African, are the meeting point between your ancestry and your progeny. So choose your path wisely. You are the hope of this nation.

You do not have to live in huts to be in touch with your past. We are the parents of civilization. We built the first cities. The ancestors ask only that we remember them kindly, as we ourselves would wish to be remembered by those we leave behind.

Build families. Make communities. This is the message that reverberates daily from beyond.

We should like to think that even the Jesus and Muhammad of whom our slavers and exploiters preach would not be offended by this simple counsel.

Blessings and Peace

Chris Nkwatsibwe is a Human Rights activist from Uganda

The views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of FES