A new initiative is aiming to provide opportunities and inspire young people in Coastal and Northern Kenya.
Lamu Island, known for its pristine beaches, trading history and UNESCO world heritage town, has until recently been spared much of the instability that has affected mainland Kenya. However, rapid social and economic shifts and an insurgency along the border with neighbouring Somalia are spilling over and affecting the region. Only 21% of people are in formal employment, and it has some of the lowest literacy rates in the country. Only 13% of the 115,000 population have a secondary level of education or above.
“When I was growing up, the community was tightly knit, people shared everything. One person working could support their whole family,” says the Deputy Governor of Lamu, Abulhakim Aboud Bwana. “Now Lamu is part of the free market. Tourism, mangrove, fishing -- all are in decline and the only people with job security are those in formal employment, which is scarce. People are scared. They feel they have been left behind.”
Young people are particularly vulnerable to the negative and destructive influences that have become a serious threat to regional security.
“With no education and no work, the impact on society is crime, robbery, and drug abuse,” says Walid Ahmed, Director of the Lamu Youth Alliance. “We have a problem with heroin use. Women are made to marry too early to try and secure their future. Young people just drop out of the system.”
Creating opportunity for youth in Northern Kenya
In response to these challenges, and with the support of the European Union, the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) is working with Islamic Relief Kenya and the newly established National Council for Nomadic Education in Kenya to tackle the complex array of problems faced by youth in Lamu, Garrissa and Mandera counties.
Recognising the need for education and training, the Foundation is working with leading youth organisations and schools to provide the skills that young people need to take advantage of job opportunities. The Foundation is also working closely with local businesses to ensure youth are job-ready, and with local government to make sure youth are aware of the entitlements available to them.
The goal of this initiative is to provide opportunities for 16,000 vulnerable young men and women, aged 15 – 35 -- which will further support 25,000 members of families and the wider community.
The Foundation is supporting many civic organisations like these to help mentor, train and represent young people in Northern Kenya. These groups act as platforms through which to connect young people to opportunities. They also help youth engage constructively with local government around local development issues.
Impressively, these organisations have begun to negotiate apprenticeship programmes with large private sector companies like major utilities as well as with local enterprises, such as carpentry workshops and beauty salons.
Abood is a good example. Once an idle youth who hustled a living from tourists by the port, Abood heard about an apprenticeship at Maja Ali’s carpentry workshop from Lamu Youth Alliance. He has now been learning the trade for several months. “One day, I want to set up my own business and employ young people like me,” he says.
The longer-term vision, according to Atrash Ali Mohamed, AKF’s Coast Region Manager, “is to invest in ‘super trainers’ to improve the quality of products, like furniture, that will help these businesses to grow and to be able to hire a greater number of youth.”
Mabruk Beauty Salon is an example of another business identified as having potential. With financial investment to purchase more equipment, it will soon be able to take on many more apprentices. Its young entrepreneurial owner, Nuru Mohamed Obo, feels a strong sense of civic responsibility: “There are many girls in Lamu living at home with no skills and nothing to do, I would like to help them.”
With the potential for tourism to make a comeback, training for water-taxi services has also been identified. Trainees receive an official licence when they complete a subsidised course that allows them to legally provide water-taxiing services.
AKF also works with Lamu Vocational Training Centre. An investment in basic equipment such as tailoring materials, electrical appliance training tools, IT hardware and sports equipment has seen class numbers rocket from a handful just a year ago to a new cohort of over a thousand.
A Focus on strengthening local civil society
AKF is partnering with the Ministry of Education to integrate values-based education across curriculums, promoting tolerance, peace, and pluralism, to unite disparate groups and build a buttress against extremist ideology. It is committed to building and strengthening civic groups, such as the Lamu Youth Alliance. AKF mentors and supports these groups to grow and flourish so that they can continue their important and essential work long after the end of the programme.
Groups are trained in accountancy, marketing, fundraising and public relations so that they are more resilient and sustainable and can even support other fledgling civic groups.
A brighter future for young Kenyans
The region is at a cross-road. Investment in strong, local civil society organisations that promote values such as inclusion, tolerance and openness, is vital. These organisations are essential to help young people navigate the rocky road ahead, and a powerful bulwark against those that would seek to divide and harm them.
Adapted from an article written by Nicholas McGrath on the Aga Khan Foundation UK website.