By Michael Asudi
The idea of “empowering youth” might mean different things to different people. What does it mean to you?
In Africa, the median age is around 19 years. We must help these young people harness their potential. That means helping them build economic and political power, individually and collectively, in ways that respect their diverse demographics, cultures, and beliefs.
The median age in Africa.
How do we do that? In your experience, which approaches to youth empowerment work best?
I am passionate about youth building coalitions and advocating for their right to empowerment, which is guaranteed by the Kenyan constitution. To do that, they need to be given education, information, and tools to join together and amplify their voices. This is the approach I took as the founding chairperson of Jiactivate youth movement. Coordination is extremely difficult, but there is always power in numbers.
With that power, youth can shape an agenda that includes four key things:
- health, including the ability for youth to plan their families;
- education that prepares youth for the jobs of the future;
- an economy that works for everyone;
- and accountable governments that put youth at the center of decision-making.
You specifically mentioned family planning. Why is that so important for youth empowerment?
Contraceptives are a sensitive topic in Africa. But that doesn’t change the fact that they have a lot to do with empowering youth. When youth can time their pregnancies, they can study, work, and grow. Then, when they do decide to have children, they’re ready to take care of them. This isn’t just good for youth—it’s important for the economic development of a nation.
When youth can time their pregnancies, they can study, work, and grow. This isn’t just good for youth—it’s important for the economic development of a nation.
What is the biggest obstacle you see to youth empowerment in Kenya?
The biggest obstacle to youth empowerment in Kenya is unemployment. The unemployment rate is over 20 percent, and most people are underemployed or do menial jobs, even though they’re skilled and talented.
Recently, there was a story in the media about a young girl. She is a top graduate, but she is also a single mother who can’t get a job. The family exhausted its resources educating her, and now they depend on her, but she can’t support them.
When youth aren’t meaningfully employed, they can’t stand up and organize. They can’t afford food, health care, education, and other basic needs. This leads to exploitation, desperation, and disillusionment. They lose hope in life.
What is needed to overcome that obstacle?
I go back to my four pillars: investment in health care, education, the economy, and governance. Kenya is a rich county. If public resources are spent properly, youth will be able to take active roles in their communities and governments and impact decision-making.