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