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Friday, 24 July 2009

Kenya's Youth Council Bill is merely a means to keep the old guard on top

Kenya's National Youth Council Bill 2009 came up for reading this week in parliament, though lack of quorum once again caused some delay. Though this should be cause for celebration for the country's youth movement, several clauses illustrate the government's inability to respect the needs and demands of Kenya's youth.

Indeed the Bill is ambiguous even when it comes to the definition of who actually constitute the youth. In the Bill's preliminary, the youth are termed as persons between fifteen and thirty years. However,the United Nations categorises youth as those between the ages of 15 to 24 years old. And for one to benefit from a loan from the country's Youth Enterprise Development Fund, one has to be between the ages of 18 to 35 years.

Then there is the issue of actual youth participation in the proposed Council. Section 5 of the Bill states that the Chairperson shall be appointed solely by the Minister of Youth Affairs & Sports. However, she need not even consult with youth groups when making her decision, so she could appoint a geriatric if she chose.

On further perusal of the clauses regarding the composition of the Council, it turns out that it is not only the Chair that could turn out to be old. Apart from the traditional practice of having permanent secretaries from the parent ministry and the Treasury in addition to the Attorney General (or an appointed proxy), the Minister also holds sole powers to appoint six other members to the Council. The clause once again does not insist on any consultation with youth groups, and also has no mention whatsoever of the age of these members.

Further, the Chief Executive of the Council can be as old as Methuselah as far as the Bill is concerned. This is the same officer who should serve as the face of the Council and be the voice of the youth to the Council members, yet the Bill omits to mention that they even need to form any liaisons with the country's youth groups or have any prior experience in youth policy making.

The staff of the Council too do not have to be youth. And remember that it was only a few months ago when the retirement age of civil servants in Kenya was hiked up by five years to 65! Seeing that the government claims to be striving to implement austerity measures, most likely the staff will be deployed from other government ministries; so who is to say that the Council offices will not be manned by 59 year olds? This in the same country where nearly 10% of the total population are unemployed youth, stinks of the same insensitivity government policies have had towards the Kenyan people.

The bid to control the youth through this reactionary document, also rises higher up in government echelons, not merely resting on the shoulders of the Minister of Youth Affairs. The President who himself is inching closer to 80 years holds the sole power to appoint the Chairperson of the proposed Advisory Board to the Council. This is the same person that oversaw the re-appointment of the oldest civil servant in Kenyan history back to the Kenya Airport Authority! Even scanning appointments to commissions and government agencies, it would be more in keeping to norm for the President to appoint someone over retirement age, this time not even having to consult with younger MPs let alone youth organisations themselves.

But there is a glimmer of light where the advisory board is concerned where the Minister of Youth (again!) has the power to appoint eight representatives of youth organisations. However, yet again the youth are locked out in getting extra seats on this board by the following factors:

  • Though one member must be nominated by the Kenya Private Sector Alliance, to be a member one has be an association or a corporate entity and fork out at least Kshs. 5,000 (US$ 65). Youth entrepreneurs generally tend to be cash strapped, and thus more likely to be unable to even afford this sum, precluding them from such a nomination.
  • Including only the Commission of Higher Education to represent the education sector ignores the millions of youth who never had or will have the opportunity to benefit from tertiary education.
  • The National Economic and Social Council has a small minority of youth members, who once again only represent the creme de la creme of industry and financial services in the country. What about the informal sector entrepreneurs who form the majority of business activity in Kenya and employ 75% of Kenyans of working age?
  • Finally where are the nomination categories that will nominate members to press for the rights of rural and urban poor youth?

Even the experts that are supposed to advise the advisory board do not have to be youthful. To us, the best expert is the one that is living the life - the youth themselves!

Another toothless dog?

It seems that indeed this proposed Council is once again a PR gimmick of the government, a mere toothless poodle to appease and control the youth. Under the Bill, the activities and mandates of the Council are only a duplication of what national youth movements have already being doing for eons. The proposed Council pales in comparison to the youth council in Rwanda, which even has enough power to elect members to the country's Chamber of Deputies, the second chamber of parliament.

As Hon. Denis H. Obua MP of Uganda writing earlier on the blog comparing the mainstreaming of youth policy in his country to that of Rwanda commented:

"My observation was that issues of the youth are given top priority by the Rwandan government.

Their youth councils are one of the best supported in Africa and the Ministry of Youth Affairs is considered one of the core ministries ... But does the Rwandan government have more resources than Uganda’s? The answer is no, but issues of the youth attract top attention in Kigali".- Govt crippling youth efforts to live better, November 21 2008

Though the Kenya Bill tries to promote fresh talent by limiting the number of years one can sit on the Council or the Advisory Board to three years, a better measure would be to ensure that the main decision making powers rest with the youth membership, while the permanent secretaries and Attorney General's representative act as advisers to ensure they act within mandate and the law. The maximum limit for the youth Council members can be either 30 or 35 years, after the Ministry of Youth finally settles on one age. After that the Council members should retire.

Also the powers of the Minister of Youth to hire and fire should be curtailed, by insisting that there should be some consultative process with the youth of Kenya, before embarking on such actions.

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