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Kenya : Speech by Benedict Wachira at the Launch of the National Campaign against Unemployment

D 6 mars 2015     H 05:43     A Social Democratic Party of Kenya     C 0 messages

Party Cadres, members and supporters,

According to the government statistics, Kenya has over 15 million unemployed people out of a population of about 44 million. These are people who are of working age, and out of school. The fact that this is government statistics means that the situation is probably worse.

This means that Kenya has one of the highest unemployment rates on the continent. This means that we actually have an unemployment crisis which is worsening by the day.

Each year, half a million students graduate from high school, with most pursuing courses that will prepare them for the “job market.” This is besides the over two hundred thousand pupils who miss places in high schools, and therefore acquire some vocational training, or go straight into the “job market.”

Everyone graduates from high school and post high school institutions with high hopes, with many hosting graduation parties to mark their achievements. They then immediately embark to looking for employment, from job searching websites, newspaper vacancy advertisements, and job searching mobile phone platforms.

In the beginning, you selectively apply for all the jobs that you are qualified for, and wait for the response.
Six months later, you learn not to expect even acknowledgement of receipt of your application, and if you are lucky, you may be invited for an interview or two.

You continue applying for jobs, and you now apply in all the available places, dropping your CVs with your city relatives, your local Member of Parliament and every other person that you consider well placed, and the wait continues.
One year later, some frustration begins to creep in. Those in the rural areas keep themselves busy by doing farm work, while those in the city idle in the jobless corners, or idle in the house watching movies and series all day. It is of course worse for those who live in the slums without access to electricity – not to mention radio or television.

This frustration extends to your parents, given that they have invested a lot in your education yet you are not finding any work opportunities. You are tortured by living with the pain they feel for you. You also know that they make all sorts efforts to get you a job but all in vein.

For those living with relatives in towns, tensions that threaten blood or friend relations begin to rise, and arguments, mostly on trivial issues become a common occurrence. Soon, there is a mutual feeling that you can’t both live under the same roof, but ni lazima utii, since it is much more difficult to search for a job from the villages of Mukurwe-ini.

In the process, you begin applying for jobs that you are either under-qualified for, overqualified for or not qualified for at all. For example, you have a diploma in Electrical Engineering, but you apply for a Veterinary assistant job. Or you have a degree in Mathematics, but you apply to be a watchman at a sugarcane farm. You basically apply for anything that comes your way.
Occasionally, you get those one-week jobs that keep you going.
The frustrations keep on rising, and unfortunately, some sink into alcoholism, depression and even some become suicidal.

Those who can acquire some capital start up some business venture, but as research done by Comrade Mwandawiro Mghanga[1] shows, these micro-small enterprises cannot even meet subsistence needs but have a very high mortality rate, which means that you will probably find yourself back to square one, sooner or later.
Those whose families can afford are taken back to school to further their studies. That is why we have so many Kenyans going back to study MBA degrees, not because they want to study it, but because they want to become more ‘Marketable.’

Others, in spite of the horror stories that we always hear, take the risk and apply for jobs in some of the Middle Eastern countries (and we cannot really blame them). Yet horror stories about Kenyan job seekers, particularly young women being subjected to slavery in the Middle East Countries such as South Arabia, are reported very often with the full knowledge of the Kenyan Government !

You remain dependent at an age when you should be having dependents. That is why many young people are still living with their parents, and the idea of becoming parents scares them.

Woe unto you if you ever get to suffer from those chronic illnesses.
Woe unto you if the person that you are depending upon is sacked, dies, or they just get tired of supporting you.
Woe unto you if you ever lost the few things that you own through burglary.
Woe unto you if you ever get wrongly arrested and you need that bail or bond…………

Of course, there are some exceptions, there are those who know people in the right places and get easily employed.
There are also those who are very lucky, and they apply for jobs and get them. There are others who are also lucky and they start businesses which succeed.

But we must refuse, to allow the future of the huge majority of Kenyans to be dependent on who you know, or luck. Lives cannot be pegged on luck !
The state and the government of Kenya have the responsibility of ensuring employment for all. The government must ensure that every woman and man is living independently, decently and with dignity. Formal employment should be the default option, while self-employment should be by choice, not by forced circumstance.

In every electioneering period, leaders from the various rich people parties in Kenya run around with the promise of employment being on top of their agenda.

They think that the solution to unemployment is simplistic short term projects like Kazi kwa Vijana and the Youth Fund, where they go ahead and sink billions of Kenya shillings, and they then highlight one or two success stories, just like Casinos and gamblers in general tell people,,,, not telling them of the huge majority of those who lost their money in the gambling.
How does a whole government pride itself in reducing its people to paupers and scavengers ?

Incidentally, there are people who have been beaten by the system so much, that they have resigned to the situation or have forgotten that they are actually unemployed :
- If you are having an unpredictable job, of which you are not sure of whether it will be there the following day, then you are unemployed.
- If you are a hawker in the streets, and you are always running away from the authorities, you are unemployed.
- If you operate a small business that is unable to provide you with three good meals a day, decent clothes, housing, medical services and other basic needs, you are surely unemployed.
- If your response when you are asked what you do in life is “Nina-hustle tu,” then you are unemployed (……….or maybe a thief)

Comrade Feroze Manji told me the other day that what we refer to as informal sector in Kenya, is referred to as unemployment in Europe.
The unemployment question is fundamentally an ideological question. Unemployment is as a direct result of Capitalism, we must understand this.
That is why all the current rich peoples’ parties in this country have no idea on how to solve this problem. They have neither the will nor the ability to do so. Their ideological bankruptcy leads them to develop fire fighting “solutions” like Youth fund which only benefit the Banks that handle this money, and not the 15 Youths per group who are awarded ksh50, 000.

The coalition in government and the coalition in opposition both embrace neoliberalism as the driving idea for economic growth. They are all capitalists who embrace trickle-down economics that embody the idea that the rich should get richer, so that some few shillings may trickle down to the poor. The reality is that nothing really trickles down, the rich get richer, while the poor suffer more.

Immediately after the last elections, President Uhuru Kenyatta, in a predictable neoliberal fashion said that “...It is not the role of the government to create employment. The role of the government is to create conducive environment so that the private sector may create employment for the masses !” and this is precisely where the problem lies !

The position of SDP is that it is the government that should ensure the well-being of the people, and that includes ensuring that the citizens are in gainful employment. The argument that the government has no business engaging in business or economy, and therefore creating employment, is an argument of neoliberalism that is being implemented by the class of businesspersons based on primitive accumulation and bureaucratic capitalism controlling political and state power in Kenya today. We reject it. Otherwise what is the use of the government for the majority of us ?

Based on neoliberal ideology, the government (both the Executive and Legislature) thinks that the private sector is the Alpha and Omega of development….it is not !

There are three major weaknesses of private capital in this regard :
- It is the biggest beneficiary to high unemployment rates. The SDP manifesto, paraphrasing Karl Marx, states that capitalism thrives in places where unemployment rates are high, so as to keep salaries low,,,,,and also to keep the workers ‘disciplined.’ Unless there are militant trade unions, it becomes very difficult for workers to demand for better pay or better conditions, since for every one employee, there are hundreds others who are unemployed and qualified for the same job.

- Even if, in a hypothetical situation, private capital was on a suicidal mission, and it wanted to employ everyone, it still doesn’t have the capacity/enough resources to establish enough industries and jobs opportunities to deal with the unemployment question.

- Private capital is not loyal. For instance, if today, Rwanda was to ban all trade union activities and promise slave labour for international investors, then Kenyan capitalists would demand for similar conditions locally, failure to which it would quickly relocate to Rwanda, hence worsening the situation locally. It is important to note here that whereas private capital respects no boundaries, states always ensure that workers are stopped by those boundaries.

It is this ideological bankruptcy that led most African leaders, with their developmental states, to accept IMF/World Bank Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) which destroyed the few industries that some countries on the continent had immediately after the end of classical colonialism.
For example, immediately after independence, many industries were established in Kenya that were geared towards the development and employment needs of the country. There were textile industries in Nairobi, Thika, Nanyuki, Kisumu and Eldoret that not only produced clothes for local needs and for export using cotton produced by Kenyan farmers but also produced thousands of jobs both directly and indirectly. There were also numerous import substitution industries in Mombasa, Nairobi and other Kenyan towns that created jobs, expanded the towns and triggered related economic activities that created more jobs. Besides providing employment in the civil service, the government also established numerous parastatals related to agriculture, trade, tourism, etc. that provide many jobs to Kenyans. Extension services in education, health, agriculture, industrial training, literacy, forestry, water, etc. also provided employment for Kenyans. Cooperative societies related to coffee, tea, cotton, pyrethrum, milk, horticulture and meat production and marketing created thousands of jobs for Kenyans in the rural and urban areas. During this time that lasted up to the end of the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s, the problem of unemployment as we know it today was not there. Many Kenyans, including young persons, had a predictable immediate and present life.

All this was destroyed by neoliberalism that imposed the structural adjustment programs (SAPs) through the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. This was done with the connivance of the successive Kenyan governments led by corrupt, greedy and unpatriotic elites that are in government for the main purpose of stealing and protecting the stolen loot for themselves and their families.

SAPs demanded that the government abdicate its role of intervening in the economy on behalf of all citizens by not participating directly in ownership, production and distribution. This led to the privatisation of state parastatals that destroyed thousands of existing jobs. Privatisation which is tantamount to the robbery of the property of all Kenyans is still continuing under the present government. Tens of thousands of Kenyans have lost their jobs through retrenchments in the civil service that includes the destruction of extension services. Through economic liberalisation, the local industry that was developing has also been destroyed together with the jobs it contained, leading to the present economic situation of import dependency described by comrade Mwandawiro Mghanga as mtumbaism. The present ruling elite that is only concerned about using its position to enhance its business and money-minting interests continues to destroy cooperative societies and movements in the country and thus also increasing unemployment.

Through this state of affairs the government has ran away from its responsibility, by claiming that people go to school so that they can become employers, and not employees.

Ever since we were kids, we were told to study hard so that we could get good jobs …then after 16 years of working hard in school, the fellow comes and tells you to employ yourself ! Anybody who says that to you is a conman who should be in jail ! S/he should not be a highly paid employee of government !

If we, for arguments sake, accept this change of reasoning, and somehow we all employ ourselves, who would teach in the schools ? Who would treat in the hospitals ? Wouldn’t all nurses and doctors have their own separate and unworkable clinics where they are self-employed ? You’d have to separately pay at least 10 people so as to have a specialised medical operation for instance ! Or you’d have to take your kid to seven different teachers so as to get wholesome learning !

Whenever this government is challenged, it always responds not by offering solutions, but by returning the challenge back to you, is as if they didn’t know what they were doing when they were asking for votes.
We all know that SDP will one day form a Socialist government, which will establish a Socialist State, and eventually, the Socialist state would be replaced by communism.

As I said before, unemployment is essentially a problem created by capitalism, and a problem that sustains capitalism.

Unfortunately, when this ‘reserve army’ of unemployed workers reaches high numbers, social order is destroyed. Crimes rates reach an all-time high, violence in marriages increase, the number of homeless people increases and all these other ills that we are all familiar about happen. Conditions for the replacement of this capitalist system are thus created, and only an organised vanguard Socialist Party, can lead the masses to the alternative : Socialism.
Under capitalism (which is the current way that the economy in Kenya and across the world is run), the role of production is the maximisation of profit. Under Socialism, production is planned to meet the needs of the masses and the country.

Under Capitalism, technology replaces workers (and that is why many workers are opposed to technology, since the bosses use new technology to reduce employment and make work more boring.) Under Socialism, technology means more family/education/recreation time for workers.
An SDP government would, in the medium term, build the economy with a very strong State sector, and also through some cooperative and some private sector.
The state would make serious production investments in agriculture, heavy industry and light industry, with a priority of meeting the needs of the masses.

For example, clothes are a basic need. Most of the clothes that we wear are either second hand clothes from Europe, or brand new clothes from Europe and Asia. This means that it is the European and the Asian farmers and industrial workers that benefit from the clothes that we wear.
If all Kenyans wore clothes that were made in Kenya, the cotton farmers would benefit, the researchers in cotton development would find work, the scientists in fertilizer manufacturing would find work, transporters of harvested cotton, yarn, cloth and clothes would find work, many workers would be employed in the ginning, spinning, weaving, and cloth making industries as they used to. The seller at Mr. Price and Gikomba would still be in employment, selling the final product. Engineers would be involved in manufacture of the machinery and building of these industries. Mechanics would be employed in maintenance. All these industries would employ accountants and many other supporting workers. These workers will need to eat, meaning that more farmers will be engaged in food production, and cooks will be employed in preparing the food. The workers who indulge over the weekends will have money to spend, meaning that they will drink more hence initiating more industry. The bankers too will benefit…etc etc
This is just one example of how dressing the people (in just cotton, not even wool & silk) would ignite the economy.

Another example is the state ensuring proper housing of the workers. The economic expansion that would be created by this is unimaginable. Right from the cement and stone quarries, to the iron mines and glass industry, to the construction workers, to the transporters and so on and so forth, including the administration and maintenance of the houses.

Under an SDP government, the dismantling of the neo-colonial nature of the state would begin, by ensuring total independence of the country in all aspects from security to trade. Before flowers are exported to Europe, Kenya must be self-sufficient in food. Why should we be importing all military clothes, vehicles and weapons, 50 years after independence ? We must know that outsiders will never develop our continent for us ! This means we have to develop and implement policies of nurturing and protecting local agriculture, industry, trade and culture.

Neo-liberalism would be rolled back immediately, by nationalising and deliberately socialising what was earlier privatised or earned from the gains of privatisation. This would translate to more job opportunities to the Kenyan masses.

With scientific economic planning for agricultural and industrial production with an intention of meeting local needs in a massively underdevelopment country like ours means that we would have to import extra labour to get to the level of development that a Socialist State envisions.

Only a Socialist led government can ultimately solve the unemployment problem in this country. This will happen when the Socialist Party captures state power. Until then, we need to campaign to ensure that the government creates more decent, secure and well paid jobs. We need to campaign with the trade unions to stop retrenchment. In the private sector, we need to demand that the government takes over companies that are reducing employment. We need to demand that the government creates more jobs, for teachers, nurses, textile workers etc.

If the mass of people were provide with their basic needs, then unemployment would be reduced as production would be for need and not for the profit of the few.

In the meantime, we ask all Kenyans, employed or unemployed, in college or graduated, educated or not, to visit the SDP website (www.sdpkenya.org)and the SDP Facebook page, and sign the petition to the Government, demanding for a detailed plan of how they are planning to solve the unemployment question. We also ask all Kenyan of goodwill to join SDP, and support the Party as it mobilises everyone else in this campaign, and in the struggle for Socialism.

Viva SDP Viva !

Benedict WACHIRA
Secretary General
Social Democratic Party of Kenya

01 February 2015

[1] Read Mghanga, Mwandawiro, “Baseline Research on Trade in Kenya” (Southern and East African Trade Information and Negotiation Institute (SEATINI KENYA), Nairobi, 2009. (39 pages)