By Kennedy Kachwanya
Whenever I think of the youth issues, I remember: “Our youth are not failing the system; the system is failing our youth. Ironically, the very youth who are being treated the worst are the young people who are going to lead us out of this nightmare.” – Rachel Jackson.
The youth are talented and full of energy and if channeled in the right direction, the outcome is amazing. But at the same time there are a number of problems they face which sometime may turn them to something else. From unemployment to public policy, Kenyan youth are turning to mobile phones and social networks to voice their concerns and encourage policy makers to address their needs.
Unemployment ranks as one of the most important issues shared by Kenyan youth. Whether highly educated or not, the unemployment is a challenge to all more so in a developing country like Kenya. The biggest headache for many new young graduates is the so called “Experience tag.” It is the reality that you can’t get a job without experience, and at the same time, you can’t get experience if you are not given the job. It is a Catch 22 kind of a situation. Are the employers to be blamed entirely? I don’t think so. Companies prefer to hire people that can hit the ground running.
Yet, Kenyan youth are not sitting idly by to let their frustrations build. They are communicating with one another and sharing discussions on the current state of affairs the country is challenged with. The most amazing trend is the growing rate of young people who are now using mobile phones, and to a larger extent, social media to do amazing things. With a short supply of work, they have the time to collect their thoughts and voice their opinions to others in the community, which is fostering a high level of awareness.
The same energy has not gone unnoticed by politicians and policy makers. A majority of them have joined social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter to reach out to the young people. A good example is when the current budget was being prepared by the Kenyan Minister of Finance Uhuru Kenyatta. In what was a first not only in Kenya locally, but probably globally, Kenyatta asked Kenyans to share their ideas and suggestions on the budgetary interventions that they would like to see in the 2011/2012 Financial Year Budget through his social media accounts, among them Twitter and Facebook. The response was overwhelming. The Treasury received an unprecedented 4,000+ submissions through Twitter, Facebook and blogs.
Collective action when faced with a crisis
Another classic example of young Kenyans setting the agenda on social media came last summer. Due to the pressing situation where many Kenyans were affected by the drought, young Kenyans grew weary of waiting for the government and other NGOs to step in. Youth took matters into their own hands. Ahmed Salim — also known as @ahmedsalims on Twitter — in collaboration with Kenya Red Cross, started a campaign on Facebook and Twitter that urged Kenyans to skip at least one meal and donate it to feed starving Kenyans residing in the Northern part. Donations were made through SMS on the mobile money payment system, Mpesa. The campaign dubbed #FeedKe went viral on social media just within a few hours. A week later, Kenyan corporate members, among them mobile phone network operator Safaricom, Kenya Commercial Bank and Media Houses, joined the campaign. At least Ksh.114,564,470 ($1,287,241) had been raised. Not only did youth manage to raise awareness and combat a humanitarian crisis, but they bypassed the current political system and effectively solved a critical problem under one collective.
The debate continues as many young people are now telling the government outright to come up with lasting solutions for the recurring drought in Northern Kenya.
Without a doubt, the use of mobile phones and the creativity of Kenyan youth have made Kenya a shining light in Africa when it comes to technology and direct action. As more youth are becoming increasingly civically engaged and drawing attention from politicians, Kenya is sure to be a country of incredible social and political growth for the next coming years. As long as youth remain active in the democratic process, anything is possible.
Kachwanya is the chairman of BAKE (Bloggers Association of Kenya), social media consultant based in Nairobi and lead blogger at Kachwanya.com — sharing tech ideas in Africa. He is also the content manager of Mobilemonday.co.ke, and co-founder of Maduqa.com. This commentary is published by Daily News Egypt in collaboration with Global Experts (www.theglobalexperts.org), a project of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations.