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Key findings
  • More than seven in 10 young Kenyans (74%) have secondary or post-secondary education, far outshining previous generations.
  • But youth (aged 18-35) are also more likely than their elders to be unemployed: 41% say they are not employed and are looking for jobs, compared to 14%-31% among older cohorts.
  • Management of the economy, corruption, and unemployment top the list of the most important problems that Kenyan youth want their government to address, followed by crime/security, health, and education.
  • While two-thirds (66%) of young Kenyans say the government is doing a good job of addressing educational needs, fewer than one in four offer positive assessments of its performance on managing the economy (19%), fighting corruption (23%), and creating jobs (16%).
  • Like their elders, most youth say the country is going in “the wrong direction” (71%) and offer negative assessments of the nation’s economy (83%). They are somewhat less gloomy than older respondents regarding their personal living conditions (though 51% say they are bad) and more optimistic that things will improve over the coming year (47%).
  • Despite their dissatisfaction with the country’s direction and the government’s performance, young citizens are less likely than their elders to engage in political and civic activities such as voting, attending community meetings, joining with others to raise an issue, and contacting elected officials. On all of these indicators, youth engagement has declined significantly over the past decade.

Africa boasts the world’s most youthful population; 70% of people in the sub-Saharan region have yet to reach their 30th birthdays (United Nations, 2022). Kenya, one of the region’s leading economies, has a median age of 19 years, and about 80% of the country’s population is below age 35 (World Bank, 2021; Government of Kenya, 2020).

Kenya’s youth represent enormous potential as well as the enormous challenges of preparing millions of young citizens and integrating them into the country’s economic, social, and political life. The Global Youth Development Index ranks Kenya as a “low youth development” country, 139th out of 181 countries (Commonwealth, 2021). Youth unemployment is almost four times the national rate, despite strategies in Kenya Vision 2030 and successive five-year plans with goals for youth employment and annual targets for job creation (Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, 2019; Government of Kenya, 2023). Earlier this year, President William Ruto announced that the government’s “comprehensive intentional plan on how to sort out unemployment” will prioritise digital jobs (e.g. e-commerce and online services) as well as agricultural consolidation, industrial growth, and a housing programme to generate jobs for the youth (Wanza, 2023).

On the political front, advocates say Kenyan youth have had little representation in public policy and decision-making spaces because of a lack of political awareness and education, financial barriers, and disillusionment with the political system (Motsamai & Noor, 2022; Carter Center, 2018).

The Afrobarometer Round 9 survey (2021) offers some insights into the situation of Kenya’s youth. Findings show that young people are more educated than their elders but are also more likely to be unemployed. The economy, corruption, and unemployment are topmost on the minds of young Kenyans, who think their government is doing a poor job on all three issues. Most think the country is headed in “the wrong direction,” though youth are somewhat more optimistic than older citizens that things will improve in the near future.

Despite their dissatisfaction, young citizens are less likely than their elders to engage in political processes. In fact, youth engagement has declined significantly over the past decade.

Anne Okello

Anne is the assistant project manager for East Africa

Daniel Iberi

Communications coordinator for East Africa