Sometimes last month, there was an announcement that the government was reviewing the Employment Act and Social Assistance Act and that the process had begun.
The idea behind this is to mitigate our youth and the unemployed against the tough economic era. One of the key considerations is to create a system where graduates and diploma holders will be absorbed as interns entitled to a monthly stipend of Kshs. 25,000. Another related item in the raft of changes is to accord unemployed a monthly hardship allowance of Kshs. 3,000.
The rate of unemployment has reached astronomical levels, that’s a fact a lot of leaders and development partners should be worried about. A survey published by Aga Khan University in 2016 found out that for the youth between the age of 18 and 35, the rate of unemployment was 55 percent.
This prompted one Member of Parliament two years later to suggest that unemployment be declared a national disaster. What I find worrying is the short term solutions being tossed around, which unfortunately might see the light of the day due to the influence of the proponents.
In the run-up to 2017 elections, one of the key election pledges was for the Jubilee government to ensure placements of all graduates into government or private entities.
This graduate internship program or paid apprenticeships would ensure all graduates from universities and technical institutes are engaged for a period of 12 to 18 months. Probably the program is being designed in some government quarters but so far, two years later, little or no traction can be attributed to this matter.
While extending welfare benefits to the unemployed is considerably a noble idea, it has its own misgivings. The worst would be to create some sense of comfort among the beneficiaries. It is said necessity is the mother of invention. Challenges among graduates coupled with a sense of entrepreneurial awareness could help create enterprises. That comfort is likely to kill innovation and creativity.
One of the best examples of dealing with the growing population is actually stimulating innovation as Israel has done. The Israel Innovation Authority fosters research and development within the country.
The office of chief scientist, as it used to be called, is willing to invest in sectors that are failing but ensure enough lessons are picked to spur innovation. Supported by leading behemoths like Google and Intel’s presence in the country, this culture of supporting R&D is already bearing fruit. And Israel stands out as the start-up nation.
I would be excited to see such measures being embraced in our country today. This forms the basis of entrepreneurship development. One of the things we have done as a country is to set up several funds for financing marginalized segments of our population.
Youth Fund, Uwezo Fund, and Women Enterprise Fund, all follow this route. The structure of advancing these funds, coupled with the perception that it is government money not only hinder repayment but also impoverish the youth than establish them. These funds could work well if the basis of this initiative is innovation.
As gradient is to the flow of water, so is innovation to reducing unemployment in Kenya.