East Africa

Solution to youth unemployment stares us in the face - By Philip Odera

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Solution to youth unemployment stares us in the face -  By Philip Odera

Last Sunday I spent my lunchtime seated between two women who were in a heated discussion about many things. I, on the other hand, was busy negotiating my way through a succulent chicken piece, having successfully hauled my overweight body through an 8km run (actually I walked through most of it) that morning.


 Consequently it was only when I brought my head up from the plate for some needed oxygen that I finally paid attention to what they were talking about. If anything, my actions only served to prove the old adage that democracy doesn’t work on an empty stomach. But I digress a bit.


Toothpick in hand and with a twirling silent mission to remove any evidence of the chicken from my misaligned dental ware, my head moved back and forth between the two ladies sitting either side of me.


It would appear that the ladies who both work for social organizations that were established to empower the youth, were having challenges in translating the theory of noble activities (socialism) into some practical revenue earning activities (capitalism) that placed food on the table.  And speaking of food and with my toothpick deep in search of some stubborn residue hidden somewhere between my molars, the ladies both turned to me and asked the proverbial question; “what do you think?”


Somewhat goggle eyed, but having sufficiently recovered from the temporary panic of engaging my gray matter on a Sunday afternoon, I leaned back in my seat, quietly rubbed my newly extended stomach (indeed democracy doesn’t work on an empty stomach) and suggested that their approach was all wrong.


“You see, what you people are trying to do is spread socialism to the youth.” I said. “Your models are intellectually appealing to the youth because they are the closest thing to what it is the youth studied at school, but this will not help them” I added.


“The challenge with your model and thought process, is that it is reliant on a third party (the state) organizing resources that ultimately put much needed food on the table.” I went on to remind the ladies that Kenya was a highly capitalistic oriented state and that short of a few well intentioned or tax efficient philanthropists, nobody was going to step forward to feed our youth.


I proceeded to remind my now captive audience that the whole notion of empowerment without the means to earn a meaningful living from it was no different from the socialism that the great Mao Zedong tried to propagate and which the Chinese eventually abandoned.

Not one to be discouraged by a Sunday lunch pseudo-intellectual, one of the ladies came back strongly with the rejoinder that I had a selective application of the facts. She reminded me that if this was the case, how was it that most of the Scandinavian countries, which have such extensive social programs for all their age categories, have been so successful?


Equally not to be outdone and now having experienced the initial highs and sugar kick of the dessert that I had just helped myself to, I responded with confidence. “Aah, but you see the social structure in Scandinavia only works because it is sustained by an inherently capitalistic structure underneath it.” I challenged them to think through how long such a system would work if the capitalistic structures were removed.


As you might well imagine, we now had a few more people who had gathered around our table, including one particular gentleman who had garnered his fair share of lunch and was expertly twirling his toothpick with his tongue in a manner to suggest that he was well practiced and skillful at this art.


It was this particular gentleman who blurted between a loud belch “You seem to be very confident about what doesn’t work.” He then proceeded to paraphrase the issue in his own way.  “If I understand the ladies correctly, what they are asking is how do you make it work? Give us some practical examples of how our young and unemployed youth can put food on the table?”


“Agriculture” I stated. “The solution for Africa and in particular East Africa lies in our exploiting our agricultural potential.” “Do you know that over 60% of the world’s remaining arable land is in Africa?” I proclaimed to the group that had now swelled to six or seven people.

“Interesting statistics, but examples man, we need practical examples,” stated the toothpick man. He clearly wasn’t a man to be pacified by lofty quotes and as I was to discover later, he had two or three freshly minted and unemployed graduates waiting for him to deliver food every day. Practical examples were precisely what he wanted to hear and practical examples were the only thing I would be allowed to get away with.


“Oh, but I do have some practical examples” I confidently proclaimed. “You see a few years ago I set up a small farm with the intention of demonstrating precisely what we could do with our agriculture.”


“Our approach has been all wrong,” I stated. “We rely largely on rain fed agriculture and also principally to grow long gestation crops like Maize, Sugar Cane, Coffee, and Tea,” I reminded the now nodding group.


“My philosophy was that if we have small individual parcels of land, then these should be used only for short cycle crops.” I explained that short cycle crops were anything that had a gestation to market period of 90-100 days max. In this case cabbage, tomatoes, onions, spinach, carrot, and the like qualified for such consideration.


“The whole idea about short cycle crops is that the youth get to see money coming out of the ground quickly and in this regard form a very different view of farming and agriculture as a whole.”


Now clearly on a roll I added, “In my case and not wanting to rely on rain, I invited a team of civil engineers from the local university to come and help me dig a dam just before the long rains commenced.” I added that during the rains, the dam was quickly filled up and provided a healthy supply of water for the following planting season.


“I invited some irrigation specialists from the same university to come and establish a simple and basic system to irrigate the crops that we were to plant the following season.” By this time the gathering around our table was most attentive.


“I invited a team of electrical engineers to set up a solar system that fueled the water pump that fed into the irrigation system and watered the crops. Thereafter I asked a recent telecom graduate to hook up my solar pump system to my phone so that I could activate my pump by remote, if need be.”


“And that my friends, is how we empower our youth to apply their skills in a practical way that can put food on our collective tables in a relatively short time,” I pronounced triumphantly.


“And the following season?” asked the toothpick man. “Did you plant anything? Did anything grow?” he queried.

“It’s funny that you should ask,” I responded, opening my trusted iPad to show the gathered crowd the bountiful harvest of fresh entula (white eggplant) that we had sent to market that season.


The toothpick man slowly removed the stick from his mouth and quietly studied the photos on my iPad for some time before proclaiming “Ehh, you man, I’m told that you’re a banker. What are you doing in banking, if you can do this?”


And one late entrant to our discussion retorted, “you mean this is not your main line of business?” He continued: “by the way, since you’re here, can you tell us why Barclays is pulling out of Africa?”


At this point I felt that I had made my case and decided that I should stand up and help myself to some more dessert. After all I had walked 8km that morning. And as for Barclays, we will deal with them another time.     



Level 4 (XP: 1050)
Brilliant, Philip. Your mastery of English writing is only surpassed by the depth of the message. I believe that a reset of the mindset is urgently needed. University and other school graduates who embrace your recommendation will be pleasantly surprised by the returns. Those who choose the old path of waiting for an office desk job will continue to face financial difficulties and an uncertain future.

Now, about Barclays.......

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