The remarks that Deputy President William Ruto made last week when he addressed the National Youth Convention at Kasarani Stadium were of great import. He told the assembled youths that they had failed to utilise the Sh50 billion set aside for them by the government. Only about Sh2 billion had been used, he said.
These statements validated an opinion I have always held, that Kenya’s approach to job creation is fallacious. In my opinion, most Kenyans are not looking for a chance to set up a kiosk or run a small scale business. I believe most Kenyans just want a job, an eight-to-five with a decent wage and access to affordable and reliable services.
I also believe that as successive Kenyan governments find it difficult to build an economy that can supply this modest desire of the unemployed workforce, they have found a way to shirk this responsibility by passing the burden to the people to create their own employment.
My opinion of the fallacy of this approach is based on three premises. The first is that not all persons are gifted with entrepreneurship. And as economists tell us, entrepreneurship, while it can be learnt to some degree, is largely innate. Its essence, being the ability, often in fact the desire, to take risks with one’s financial security, sometimes even life, true entrepreneurship is rare.
But even if the youth are wheedled and prodded, as the government is doing, into taking the funds and starting new business, the predictable end result is that most of the Uwezo funds will be lost in the hands of hundreds of persons with no business acumen.
The second premise of my hypothesis is that the government has assumed the universality of the desire of the workforce and the unemployed to become traders. While this may be true of some people, and whereas there are even sectors of the population to whom commerce has become part of their socio-economic dynamics, this assumption cannot be held for the larger portion of the population. It is little wonder then that the Uwezo funds are attracting so few applicants.
However, ever since civil servants were allowed to engage in business and the average politician became the person who had financial ability, invariably from engaging in commerce, but often actually in corruption, policymakers in Kenya have assumed that all people want to do likewise. They cannot contemplate that anyone would want anything less.
Which brings me to the third premise, and that is that further to confining policymakers to this snobbish outlook, this approach serves a critical political purpose. Successive Kenyan governments have used this approach as a way to abdicate the responsibility to expand the economy to create jobs and to pass on the responsibility to a clueless proletariat.
Whenever government is put to task on job creation, its standard response is to state the amount of money it has set aside for business and to quote unverifiable statistics of jobs created in the informal sector. To create growth, the government must formulate and implement bold policy initiatives and lay out huge capital investment in the targeted sectors.
For instance, the colonial government invested in infrastructure, notably a harbour and railway line, and in the introduction of cash crops. The independence government, in the years it worked for Kenyans, marketed Kenya as a tourist destination, implemented many irrigation schemes, set up research institutes that came up with viable animals and crops for drought and pest-infested areas, invested heavily in hydro-electricity and many more such initiatives.
Today, we do not come up with anything new to keep up with our changing realities. Indeed, the likely “new idea” in Kenya is either a poor innovation of an old policy from the 1960s or an inapplicable imitation of an equally old idea from Singapore and Malaysia.
Had the amount of money being poured into projects such as Konza City and the standard gauge railway been invested in activities in which most Kenyans are directly engaged in, it would produce astronomical economic benefits within unbelievably shorter periods of time.
Mr Mwangi is an advocate of the High Court.