WASWA: Where Kenyan and Egyptian youth can find jobs

Egyptians know some dates by heart: July 26, 1952 marks the overthrow of Egypt’s last monarch October 6, 1973 is the date of the country’s attack to reclaim the Sinai Peninsula.

Another date can be added to that list: January 25, 2011 was the first day of anti-government protests that led to President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation 18 days later.

Mubarak had ruled Egypt for nearly 30 years, during which the country’s population grew by 90 per cent—from 45 million to 85 million according to UN estimates.

I’m currently in Egypt. For our tenth wedding anniversary, my wife and I decided to check off one of the items in our bucket list. And Egypt it was. We have a great guide in the name of Ahmed.

He has taken us to the Great Pyramids of Giza, The Valley Temple and the Sphinx. Not to mention The Egyptian Museum, Coptic Cairo and Khan El Khalili Baazar.

But the most eye-opening experience for the social anthropologist in me has been the conversations with our tour guide. He was in Tahrir Square during the revolution and is part of the Egyptian “youth bulge”— one in five Egyptians is between ages 15 and 24, and one-half of the population is below age 25.

Ahmed’s story resonates with me because currently 70 per cent of Africans are under the age of 30. By 2040, 50 per cent of the world’s youth will be African, most of whom will be women and girls.

With nearly half of the youth population in Africa unemployed or inactive, it means we will be reaching crisis levels unless new avenues and solutions for creation of quality jobs are found. How our countries address this challenge could shape the future of the world in unprecedented ways.


As a start, we must have a total transformation of the traditional rote education to help our young people meet the challenges of our fast-paced times.

We must help our youth to cultivate and exercise the skills that will help them to create solutions for complex problems while bringing value to the labour market and creating a demand for their skills. They need courage and confidence, hands-on problem-solving and critical thinking.

But there is another side to this coin. To put it starkly, of what use are vocational training and entrepreneurial skills to a young Kenyan when he or she still has to contend with deeply entrenched corruption, bureaucratic strangulation, and economically self-interested elite who subvert such processes for their own privileged self-enrichment?

Job creation is an overwhelming social challenge that is the responsibility of everyone and anyone — the public sector, private sector and citizens. In short, all of us have much to learn from each other.

The crisis of unemployment is deepening at a faster pace than our economy is restructuring. We are linked in to the structural position of the regional east African economy, which is in turn linked to the global one.

This means that the impacts of weak external demand, rising food and fuel import prices and the possibilities and problems of labour migration ar with us.

Miles away

Ahmed tells me that his friends are looking to migrate, mostly to oil-rich Gulf States and largely because they do not expect to find work at home they say that they were jobless because there is no work.

He is in Cairo, thousands of miles away from Kenya. But I think he speaks for a lot of Kenyan youth.

A bolder, more imaginative course of action is required. Unemployment frustration leads to instability: In the face of chronic unemployment, youth can feel disempowered, frustrated and disoriented.

This has key implications for political, social and economic instability in the region as can be evidenced by the global increase in protests in the past decade.

Traditional forms of employment are being replaced by rapid market and opportunity shifts. They are being replaced by increasingly urban, mobile-enabled and consumer-based options. Youth need to be prepared to redefine “jobs” based on shifting opportunities and continue to adapt to bridge the skills-opportunity gap.

If the conversations I’ve had in Cairo are anything to go by, we all need to get into this conversation. And this needs to happen by yesterday.

Mr Waswa is a management and HR specialist and managing director of Outdoors Africa. E-mail: waswa@outdoorsafrica.co.ke.