Youth unemployment: Stories behind the stats

There was a video doing the rounds on Facebook recently. It featured three young ladies who ordered an Uber in Nairobi, Kenya. They seemed polished. In fact, they spoke in English and they were toting big phones. But they could not pay for the ride after they reached their destination I guess perhaps they were counting on someone, probably a colleague or a parent, to fix the bill but that person didn’t come through for them. This incident happened in Nairobi, Kenya.

This story is a microcosm of the plight of many young Kenyans who can’t fend for themselves. They are educated but they can’t find decent work for reasons beyond their control. Young adults are in a bad place. Only 19% of young people in sub-Saharan Africa received wages last year according to the World Bank. There are a lot of statistics alluding to the bleak state of youth unemployment which could be the subject of a whole other blog.

I feel there is an insidious danger, however, that these stats may be taken as mere numbers that can just be memorised and documented in decorative reports. But the truth is that they reflect the lived realities of millions of young people. There is a trail of pain and despair that the numbers don’t expressly tell.

It’s for that reason I wanted to tell the stories* behind these statistics:

There is a 27-year-old man who still pilfers coins from his mother’s purse because he can’t find a job.

There is a young journalist with a byline on a prolific national daily who is overworked and is paid a bitsy US$35 a month. Despite the fame that comes with writing for a newspaper, he is crumbling. But he knows he doesn’t have options. So he tarries.

There is a student who quit pursuing her career to go volunteer with an NGO because she simply couldn’t get a place in industry. She is basically a dropout and she doesn’t have any hope of getting employed, even by that NGO. Her classmate in the same plight ‘chose’ to become a housewife.

There is a graduate who could not secure a job after interning and volunteering for a big government agency. So he resigned to becoming a gateman, an opportunity he almost lost because he has a degree. He fears old classmates and friends bumping into him because being a gateman is a big ‘letdown’. He resents having gone to university.

There is a graduate who secured a vacancy at a top corporate. She didn’t mind the low pay because she received exposure and networked. She left after several months with a colourful CV and important networks that would write recommendations for her. She’s been applying for jobs. She has lost count of the regretful rejection emails she has received. She has now taken up a side hustle that she thinks is not befitting her stature.

There is a young actor who was turned down for 2 years. She started applying for all manner of jobs, cleaning, banking, teaching despite her degree in performing arts. She hides every time visitors come to see her, and her mum because she knows she should not be staying under her roof at this age.

There is a university graduate who has a First Class Honours degree in a ‘marketable’ course who became homeless because he could not find a job. His story broke the internet. A lot of young Kenyans can relate to his pain. And it’s a pity that stories like these get reduced to numbers and are qualified or dismissed on the basis of these numbers.

*These stories are fictional but reflect the real lives of young Africans

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Youth unemployment: Stories behind the stats

by Bonface Sagini Reading time: 2 min