Kenya’s ‘Demographic Dividend’ is a disaster waiting to happen

November 11, 2015

Kenya’s population is expected to hit over 50 million by 2025 and according to Kenya Bureau of Statistics,more than 70 percent of East Africa’s largest economy men and women will be of working age by then. Although this sounds incredible news for one of Sub Saharan Africa largest and still-expanding economy, it very much depends on the current Uhuru Kenyatta and his successor’s government’s decisions in the coming years whether Kenya will be able to make the most of this unique competitive advantage.While Kenya’s economic growth might be slowing somewhat at the moment, the country is politically stable and in many ways far ahead of many other African nations that have so far failed to install a functioning democracy.Take a look at the North, Central and West African countries turmoil, for instance. Kenya share with many countries there the prominent place of religion in public life and also many of the social and political challenges those countries have long faced.Kenya has one of the largest Muslim-majority population in the Sub Saharan Africa, and while the vast majority of the faithful adhere to a peaceful understanding of Islam, this does not mean that all of them are immune to extremist thought with biggest threat coming from coastal and north eastern parts of the country.The roots of discontent in Kenya lie in poverty, corruption, unequal opportunities and the inability of the government to deliver essential public services.

Terrorist organisations in Kenya and its neighbouring country Somalia are recruiting men and women who are in their productive age and have nothing to lose, as they can be easily influenced and manipulated. This is not something Kenya should be overly concerned about right now, but it could become a serious problem down the road.Education and job opportunities are key for a young population to prosper. But currently,Kenya educational institutions consistently score low on any international ranking lists. Myriad of allegations about exam cheating have become common in the recent past and has worsened this past two months with leaking of national examinations papers on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp to mention but a few. Lack of even curbing the spread of examination papers leakages has proved beyond reasonable doubts the weaknesses of Kenya’s security apparatus.Serious attention and investment is needed to bring Kenyan schools up to par, quickly. To guarantee prolonged growth and create more equal opportunities, Kenya needs to embrace its role as East Africa’s leading economy.Free trade within the East African Community coupled with investment in infrastructure, the protection of property rights, the enforcement of contract law and credit systems to help start-ups, will create plenty of opportunities in Kenya. But most of these sectors are currently still in their infancy.Kenya is not yet a competitive economy contrary to what many people believe.

Exploitative state institutions have made sure only the well-connected could profit, leading to social instability and, ultimately, the failure of the state.Thats is why Kenya is among the World’s top 20 failed states and one of the top most corrupt countries in the world.Allegations of theft of public funds at Planning and Devolution and massive irregularities at the National Youth Service(NYS) from which KSh791 million has been reported lost is just a tip of the iceberg. An investigation on how the money was siphoned from NYS established that the entries for payment through the Government’s IFMIS system were manipulated by adding zeroes to all the transactions according to what Kenya and international media has been reporting.The reformation Kenya was expecting to experience since the current administration took over, has failed to allow political institutions to grow and the political process to prosper under a functioning democracy. Then again,Kenya face plenty of challenges when it comes to the implementation of government policy. In short, while Kenya is on the right track on infrastructure projects, the country still has long way to go.The culture of business monopolies and corruption has become so entrenched in Kenya that only a revolution can save the country, but that is too pessimistic and such a tribally divided country, that would be a recipe for disaster.

In just two years Kenya has turned a thriving democracy to a failing, utterly corrupt state. Surely in the years ahead Kenya can iron out the flaws it faces today.But to make sure that indeed there will be no revolution with Kenya’s demographic dividend,the country need to implement change now, starting with educational reform and the firm adoption of an economic policy with a clear, regional and international outlook.Only 10 per cent of the working-age population in Kenya has any sort of social security net. So improved measures to support the aged, such as a universal pension, are urgently needed and has a unique opportunity to take economic advantage of its youthful population.However, Kenya’s demographic dividend could easily turn into nightmare unless meaningful employment can be found for its increasingly aspirational citizens.Kenya also has to find ways to look after a growing band of elderly but must cater for its ambitious youth. The response to these respective challenges will have a major bearing on the long-term economic performance of Africa’s largest non mineral economy.Structural reforms need to be enacted because if Kenya fail to increase the quality of education system, many of the almost 28 million Kenyans of productive age by 2025 will not be equipped with the tools they need to succeed. And if that happens, Kenya’s demographic dividend will not turn out to be an advantage after all rather, a possibly dangerous disadvantage.Kenya need to make sure its youths never lose faith in their own future. And it is never too soon for the current Uhuru Kenyatta government to start working on that.

Contador Harrison