NDEMO: Youth apathy hampering entrepreneurship

I participated in a panel discussion on entrepreneurship and governance with Ory Okollo-Mwangi at the iHub last Wednesday.

The discussion as moderated by Angela Angwenyi and the audience comprised mainly of the youth. From the discussion, it emerged that although many youth have good education, majority are apathetic. Many do not know what to do. Others have ambitions but don’t know where to start. Others wouldn’t care less.

Our youth are, for all intents and purposes, lost souls in need of being saved from themselves and the overwhelming nature of post-modern life.

As such, if we need to succeed with the many youth programmes, we must step up mentoring. Even when the government has come up with policies that favour youth and women, apathy is still glaring.

When Angela asked the 200 participants whether they had an idea as to what Access to Government Procurement Opportunities (AGPO) is, less than five said they had heard of the programme and only two were registered. These were mainly urban youth, so the level of ignorance amongst rural youth must be dire.

Since the programme came into effect in September 2013, only a few have exploited the more than S0 billion opportunity.

I blame virtually everybody, from media to legislative assemblies that were elected to serve the interests of their people, for the failure to market the opportunities to women and the youth.

Whereas we are quick to complain about the shortcomings of the government, we are slow to take up our collective responsibilities. It has become a culture to see a speck in the eyes of the government when we have logs in our own eyes. This is because the entire country, including desperate unemployed youth, breathes and lives politics. We are a people literary consumed by politics.

It is time we realised that our politicking is counterproductive to development. We need to develop a mechanism where development must continue as our politician politic.

It does not help the cause of the youth and women when we become cheerleaders for our querulous politicians, worshipping them at huge rallies, hanging onto their every word, closing ranks around them when they are accused of corruption, all at the expense of job creation.

There will never be a time when leaders will cease politicking and focus their attention on development. In a country like Kenya where we are trying to reform politics and the economy at the same time, chances are that one of them will suffer unless there is strong leadership.

We marvel at Ethiopia and Rwanda on their continued economic progress but critics point to the fact that these two countries have held back on political reforms. It is for this reason that I strongly believe that the professionals in this country and media must rise up and start working towards mutual accountability to ensure that youth and women within their professions have taken up the opportunity that the government has put on the table.

There is no doubt that our country is going through momentous change amidst ceaseless challenge of corruption. We are watching accusations and counter accusations of corruption to the extent that it is impossible to distinguish the corrupt from the non-corrupt.

There is no single institution that can get us out of the challenges we face. It needs teamwork and collective accountability.

Like Dr Wale Akinyemi correctly said in a recent article, aersity births creativity. If poverty, unemployment and corruption are not enough for us to begin thinking creatively, then I don’t know what will.

There are disruptive ways of dealing with the issue of unemployment but no one listens. It is for this reason that I propose a voluntary multi-stakeholder institutional framework, including the government, whose task is to market new policies like AGPOA, and test and monitor the implementation of new government-sponsored initiatives.

From my experience in government, removing inefficiencies increases revenue, lowers corruption and promotes job creation. However, even evidence of the efficacy of concepts we introduced was resisted by cartels and brokers, some of whom even threatened the lives of implementers. A single department or ministry cannot overcome the power of these people who can mess up your image for days to come.

While we promote alternative means to employment, we must be cognisant of the fact that entrepreneurship will not succeed unless we create a mentorship programme. Many countries have incubation centres for all manner of entrepreneurship.

In Kenya, we have managed to incubate the tech community but we must expand this to include other enterprises across the country. Only through such interventions can we deal with the current apathy among the youth.

The writer is an associate professor at University of Nairobi’s Business School.