The latest research into the aspirations and frustrations of Kenya’s booming young demographic reveals challenges that many African countries face if they are to maximise the potential of their young people.

Kenya is the biggest and most advanced economy in east and central Africa. Already with a population of 48 million people , like a lot of developing countries Kenya is experiencing a significant youth bulge, with more than 1 in 5 Kenyans aged between 15 and 24 years old. The British Council’s recent research, in partnership with DIFD, into Kenya’s ‘Next Generation Youth Voices’, uses a survey of 4,000 young Kenyans as well as in depth interviews to explore the main challenges facing the emerging youth population. It presents recommendations on how to address these issues and capitalise on the opportunity that such a young population provides. 

Overview of Kenya’s Youth: Hopes and Fears 

Kenya is on the cusp of one of the largest demographic shifts in history, with the working age population (16 – 65) estimated to grow to 73% by the year 2050. This is part of a wider trend. Within three generations, 41% of the world’s young people will be African. A significant percentage of those will be in Kenya. This youth bulge is being caused by an increase in life expectancy, along with reduced fertility rates. Combined with social and economic growth this could yield a demographic dividend to the country. Yet successfully capitalising on this potential demographic dividend will be dependent on bridging the gap between the opportunities presented by the growing numbers of - increasingly globalised, ambitious, and dissatisfied – young people and the employment challenges they face. 

41% of the world’s young people will be African

91% of the respondents to the Next Generation research said they loved their country and agreed that Kenya had made progress in recent decades. Indeed, the research found that most young people see their nationality as their strongest source of identity. This is a positive foundation, in a country dogged by ethnic divisions, on which to build and harness national pride, personal ambition, and professional skills to benefit the economic future of the nation. Despite this, however, 38% would be willing to move abroad for work, preferably to the US. This is partially due to pull factors presented via increased global connectivity through social media and the internet. Meanwhile, crime, corruption, violence and unemployment are push factors that are spurring some young peoples’ desire to relocate abroad. The research suggest that these factors are a key cause for concern, with the majority believing that they will get worse in the future, negatively impacting Kenyan young people. 

The problems start with the education system. School attendance and perceptions of the education system have improved over the past couple years. While there is a general feeling that Kenya’s education system can’t match western standards, most young people believe the standard of education is better than that received by their parents’ generation and is improving. This is despite lingering concerns about corruption related to education funds and safety worries in schools. 

Yet a fundamental part of the challenge seems to be the disconnect between the education system and the skills required for employment, with 62% of the young people surveyed saying the education they received did not match the skills required for their jobs. Upskilling the current population should be a central policy priority. If the education system is not preparing the upcoming generations to succeed in the workplace, this chance to empower the eager young generation to transform Kenya into a leading nation could instead turn into a failed opportunity that will be a drain on the country’s resources and could lead to potential crisis.