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One afternoon at work, I was standing by my office window downtown, looking at the traffic jam that had formed just down the street. Suddenly, I realised that the jacaranda trees had bloomed.

I asked a colleague, “Is Nairobi cleaner? It actually looks very lovely outside.” She retorts, “Well, we are in a 15-storey building, anything from that height would look lovely… As soon as you actually step outside at ground level, you will notice all the trash that has collected on the street. Nope! Nairobi is filthy.”

That’s probably how our government looks at us, their policies look just fantastic on paper, but get down to the ground and it’s a whole other story.

Sure enough, when we went down to the ground floor for lunch, we noticed the filth that has now become part of our city’s nature floating through the air on the dusty streets.

President Uhuru Kenyatta has recently been named UN Young People’s Agenda global champion. The global partnership’s Vision of Youth 2030 is to focus on global education as a major investment.

By 2030, there will be two billion young people and the focus be will on secondary education, skills for learning, employment, and even leadership opportunities for young people.

No surprise that Kenya was among the first countries to join up along with Ghana and Rwanda – we normally hop on board quick, with absolutely no plan. Yup, you guessed it, to focus on all the things we are struggling over with young people in Kenya. There are 1.8 billion young people in the world today, but few of us are actually working.

In Kenya, we produce one million graduates from institutions each year and have no clue where to place them. For many youth after graduation, tarmacking for more than three years is not unheard of, it is a scary reality: That is why it boggles my mind to sit in meetings to hear people talking about how lazy the young have become, and how they are still living with their parents… When did we start living on air?


In President Kenyatta’s speech, he mentions that in Kenya there is access to free primary education and free secondary education; fine, but doesn’t anybody want to talk about the challenges? A primary school in Nairobi recently had raw sewage flowing through it, many have no glazed windows, the basic utilities for a learning environment. We can see signs that there used to be glass in that window.

Others are surrounded by walls of mud. Upto four children can be found sharing a desk. And what about access to books and information? In the midst of this chaos, we have a programme for providing schoolchildren with tablet computers.

Imagine that, a tablet being used in a building that should be labelled hazardous and demolished as quickly as the illegal buildings on riparian land.

In his address, the president mentioned that access to loans for youth has been enhanced but in reality there are multiple issues with those loans.

The accountability measures are not transparent; some have been forced by late payments by the government to close the very business they are trying to build. Lack of training means youth often squander the money before any meaningful foundation for the business has been laid. Then there is the rampant corruption around receiving a loan…

When people look back at President Kenyatta’s rule, they are going to love him for his ambition. All the grand promises of doing great things in impossibly short time periods, with no general planning on how to tackle issues that could arise.

His Big Four agenda, yes, it’s needed – we all want access to health care and housing for instance. But who can talk about a house, when most young people share rooms? Rent is just too high.

The very dynamics of employment will have to change; having a few online programmes will not be enough.

But we can argue that his heart is in the right place. Rolling out ringing phrases such as, “There can never be peace if the interests of the youth are not addressed.”

To quote Maya Angelou, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Our president really can make us feel nice.

Nerima Wako-Ojiwa is executive director at Siasa Place. @NerimaW