Cablegate: Kenya's Youth Bulge: A Ticking Time Bomb


DE RUEHNR #1294/01 1411201
P 201201Z MAY 08





E.O. 12958: N/A

Ref: 07NAIROBI1981

1. (U) Summary: Other valid explanations aside, one of the key
under-appreciated drivers of the unrest and violence that gripped
Kenya in early 2008 was the country's "youth bulge," a potentially
destabilizing demographic phenomenon that in Kenya has generated a
large pool of disaffected young men, angry over their exclusion from
the political and economic mainstream. Channeling the power of this
youth bulge into productive vs. destructive ends will require an
investment and reform effort so massive and cross-cutting that it
looks a lot like the one envisioned in Vision 2030, Kenya's
extremely ambitious long-term development plan. It is a daunting
task for the new coalition government. The economy has already lost
ground this year, and there are reasonable estimates that given
current trends, Kenya will need to produce 8-10 million new jobs for
young people between now and 2012. In the absence of focused
leadership to address the problems caused or exacerbated by the
youth bulge, Kenya could be in for a protracted period of
instability and even violence in the years ahead. End summary.

Background: Arm-Chair Analysts

2. (SBU) During and after Kenya's two month descent into near-civil
war in January and February, much has been written and said about
the causes of the violence and on what Kenya must do to prevent a
similar scenario in the future. In addition to analyzing the spark
provided by the disputed election results themselves, politicians,
journalists and arm-chair analysts have been thorough in analyzing
the underlying causes: Seething ethnic tensions based on real or
perceived unfairness over how resources - especially land - have
been allocated in Kenya over the decades.

Too Many Young Men of "Fighting Age"

3. (U) Fewer observers and policymakers, however, have addressed
the demographic tinder that fueled the explosion of violence in
early 2008: the surfeit of young, angry Kenyan men. Indeed, Kenya
continues to experience a "youth bulge", a demographic phenomenon
that can destabilize a society. With falling mortality among
children during the past three decades, the pool of sons ready to
inherit farms and jobs from their fathers has grown. The 1999
Census of Kenya showed that for every man aged 50-54 there were
almost four men aged 20-24, and the situation has gotten worse since
then. The German sociologist Gunnar Heinsohn, who coined the phrase
in the 1990s, recently wrote in the International Herald Tribune
(January 17, 2008) that "Kenya provides a textbook example of
domestic violence that is driven by what I call a youth bulge."

4. (U) Heinsohn defines the youth bulge as "a period of rapid
demographic growth in which 30 to 40 percent of all males are aged
15-29," a period in life he dubs the "fighting age." This large pool
of unemployed, landless (and hence unmarriageable in many ethnic
groups) males is prone to crime and violence, particularly in a
context of widespread poverty and weak political institutions. In a
context of inter-ethnic tensions, such young men are easily
manipulated by promises of land and jobs that they can wrest from
"outsiders." (Note: A demographic corollary to this grim scenario
is the "demographic dividend," as best seen in some Asian countries.
A vigorous family planning program can reduce the number of
children under age 15, and hence the dependency ratio. Coupled with
better education and other improvements in productivity, these males
in the 15-29 cohort can both produce and save more, and thus help
fuel economic development instead of violence. End Note).

The Numbers Don't Lie

5. (U) Writing in April in the Nation, Kenya's largest daily
newspaper, Kinuthia Murugu, Kenya's Permanent Secretary for Youth
Affairs, also rang the alarm bell: "Kenya is heading for a youth
bulge of such magnitude that it has the capacity to seriously
destabilize our social order as we know it today." Heinsohn and
Murugu paint this disturbing picture in numbers, as well as words:

-- In only 80 years, Kenya's population has jumped from 3 million to
37 million.
-- Kenya is among the world's top 40 high-growth population
-- In 2007, Kenya's total fertility rate still stood at an average
of five children per woman (in the U.S., it's two).
-- Kenyan men have a median age of 18 (vs. 35 in the U.S.).
-- 75% of Kenya's population is below 30 years of age.
-- 42% is below the age of 15; of these, 7.5 million are male.
-- Of the 11 million Kenyans aged 18-35, three million are
-- 45% of the unemployed in Kenya are below 24 years of age
-- 90% of the unemployed youth do not have appropriate vocational or
professional training.

6. (SBU) Kenya is in "demographic armament," according to Heinsohn,
and as both he and Murugu note, Kenya's current generation of youth
is far better educated and more aware of events and trends in the
wider world than predecessor generations were. As a consequence,
they are much more ambitious than their seniors, and thus much more
likely to become disillusioned if their heightened economic
expectations are not met, as they so often aren't in Kenya. This in
turn explains the scale of violence in early 2008. In earlier
electoral cycles, there was also heightened political and ethnic
tensions, and often violence. But it was never to the degree
experienced in 2008 due to the youth bulge.

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

7. (U) The youth bulge can work as a positive change agent if it
takes place in the context of sound social investments and strong
political and economic institutions. Hence Murugu's call for a
"fundamental shift in our planning paradigm and resource allocation
framework" in Kenya. Like others, he says one vital key is job

8. (SBU) But on the employment front, the numbers are daunting.
Murugu estimates that Kenya has three million unemployed youth
today, and that this number will grow to 4.5 million by 2013. But
he's probably low-balling his estimate. An analysis prepared by
prominent Kikuyu businessman Kibby Kareithi and obtained by the
Embassy attempts to quantify Kenya's "jobs deficit." It estimates
that there are nearly 2.5 million Kenyans aged 25-34 currently
looking for jobs, with another 8 million Kenyans aged 15-24 who will
be in search of jobs over the next five years. If one accepts these
estimates, then Kenya will need to create a staggering 10 million
new jobs by 2012 in order to stave off another round of violence and
unrest at the time of the next national election. This, says
Kareithi, is the 800 pound gorilla in Kenya's living room, and he's
working to make policymakers aware of the issue and pressing for
fresh policies and programs.

Faster Growth Not Matched by More Jobs

9. (SBU) The capacity of the economy to create even a fraction of
10 million new jobs over the next five years is in doubt, according
to Murugu. He points out that in 2002, the year the National
Rainbow Coalition of President Mwai Kibaki came to power promising
500,000 new jobs per year, the economy barely grew. It still
managed to create 450,000 new jobs - not bad. But in 2006, when it
was growing 10 times faster at 6%, it only created an additional
540,000 new jobs, of which only 50,000 were in the formal sector.
In short, as Murugu points out, even the more rapid economic growth
experienced in recent years in Kenya has not generated the needed
job gains to help obviate the risks of the youth bulge.

The Vision 2030 Connection

10. (SBU) Indeed, successfully channeling the awesome force of
Kenya's youth bulge in a productive vs. destructive direction over
the coming years will require a massive national, cross-cutting
development effort that touches on every element of Kenya's
political, economic, and social reform agenda. Fortunately, that
sweeping, cross cutting agenda for change already exists in broad
terms in Vision 2030, the previous government's reform and
investment roadmap to middle income prosperity by the year 2030
(reftel). Unfortunately, the economic impact of the political
crisis and violence probably has set the vision back by a year or
two. Moreover, it will be difficult for any Kenyan government to
demonstrate the cohesiveness, focus, political will and
institutional capacity to enact the sweeping and painful reforms
required to make Vision 2030 a reality and generate the educational
and job opportunities needed to stave off the potentially
destabilizing impact of the youth bulge.

Other Ideas: National Service

11. (SBU) According to Kareithi, a successful businessman with a
social conscience, there are other big-picture proposals circulating
amongst policymakers designed to specifically address the impact and
implications of the youth bulge. A seemingly simple one, in which
USAID and other USG agencies are currently involved, is to
strengthen access to free primary and secondary education in Kenya.
At the same time, others propose re-writing Kenya's primary and
secondary curricula, with help from the private sector and civil
society. The goals: To improve the quality and content of education
and vocational training to make it more relevant to private sector
skill needs, and to foster a stronger sense of Kenyan national
identity. Improving access to, and the quality of, education would
not only keep more young people in school longer, but would also
impart the skills needed to succeed after graduation.

12. (SBU) USAID is also improving productivity and market access for
staple and high value agricultural products. Agriculture is a main
driver of the Kenyan economy and a major source of employment for
youth. Another USAID initiative is strengthening access to credit
and training for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) since
SMEs, many in the informal sector, are the biggest source of new
jobs in Kenya.

The USG Role

13. (U) In addition to these efforts, the U.S. Mission has long been
addressing youth issues as part of program portfolios, with
campaigns targeted at youth in terms of HIV/AIDS, education, voting,
and the like. Post, however, appreciates the need to target
alienated youth under our peace and security programs. The Mission
will be using FY 2007 1207 funding to provide job skills training
and outreach in Northeastern Province. Also, in realization that
disaffected Rift Valley youth were easily co-opted into nefarious
activities in the aftermath of the disputed 2007 elections, we have
submitted an FY 2008 1210 proposal which will address youth issues
in the epicenter of post-election violence. While such programs
will not solve the problem, they are expected to provide some degree
of encouragement and buy-time for the structural reforms and
reconciliation processes to work.


14. (SBU) The destructive potential of Kenya's youth bulge is real
- the violence that followed December's polls and the subsequent
outbreak of Mungiki violence prove that. Thus, it would be wise for
policymakers and pundits both in Kenya and elsewhere to avoid the
temptation of believing that leadership politics in Nairobi are the
only thing that matters in Kenya. In the run-up to the elections in
2012 (or maybe earlier), the fate of the country may hinge more on
Kenya's large, restless, but largely powerless younger generation.
Members of the youth bulge in Kenya will face daunting economic
challenges in the coming few years even under the best scenarios.
But if on top of this they perceive that the country's political
elite is indifferent or worse towards their ambitions and
aspirations, then Kenya is in for some rough times ahead.


© Scoop Media

World Headlines


Werewolf: Gordon Campbell On North Korea, Neo-Nazism, And Milo

With a bit of luck the planet won’t be devastated by nuclear war in the next few days. US President Donald Trump will have begun to fixate on some other way to gratify his self-esteem – maybe by invading Venezuela or starting a war with Iran. More>>

Victory Declared: New Stabilisation Funding From NZ As Mosul Is Retaken

New Zealand has congratulated the Iraqi government on the successful liberation of Mosul from ISIS after a long and hard-fought campaign. More>>

Gordon Campbell: On The Current US Moves Against North Korea

If Martians visited early last week, they’d probably be scratching their heads as to why North Korea was being treated as a potential trigger for global conflict... More>>


Gordon Campbell: On The Lessons From Corbyn’s Campaign

Leaving partisan politics aside – and ignoring Jeremy Corbyn’s sensational election campaign for a moment – it has to be said that Britain is now really up shit creek... More>>


Another US Court: Fourth Circuit Rules Muslim Ban Discriminatory

ACLU: Step by step, point by point, the court laid out what has been clear from the start: The president promised to ban Muslims from the United States, and his executive orders are an attempt to do just that. More>>