The Real Tyranny of Numbers: Africa’s Youth Bulge


Much fanfare has been attributed to the recently ongoing electoral process in Kenya. Top on the list of catch phrases that has bounced off the lips of many has been the phrase, “…the tyranny of numbers”. The phrase itself made popular by one political scientist a Mutahi Ngunyi who was quoted in an interview he had done with one of the TV stations in Kenya. The phrase was in context. It referred to the supposedly overwhelming voter registration numbers in the Jubilee coalition’s stronghold which following a high voter turnout would insure a sweet victory for one Uhuru Kenyatta the Jubilee presidential flag bearer.Nangoma-youth-group1

The victory was not unanimous in most people’s eyes. Furthermore the whole process is now the subject of an election petition of which at the time of writing this is receiving considerable press. However there is a tyranny that is on the horizon. -One of numbers. In the 2017 election will surely be the subject of many political scientists’ analytical efforts. This is the youth bulge which has finally come to bear on the political economy of this country.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics reports in 2011 that the no. of employed citizens in Kenya is 2,127,600. This represents 5% of the population. In the 2009 census the 15-24 age group has approximately 7,944,646 who have already turned 18 by the time of this posting. In the next 5 years approximately 12,979,501 will have turned 18 in 2018. The jobs required to bring this age group in to society in a gainful way are not available at present. Clearly a lot of work has to be done. These youth are tyrannical in their numbers and come 2018 will form the principal voting bloc in the country. Here are the challenges affecting them:

  1. Gainful Employment: The productive sectors in Kenya are hard pressed at creating gainful jobs for these youths
  2. Inflation: Supply side inflation from Crude oil supplies which impact Electricity prices through the thermal generation capacity installed in the grid as well as weak food distribution networks make life difficult for everyone impacting their incomes

The costs bearing on regular incomes in the urban environments in Kenya are areas where gains can be made. Our electricity generation mix is tilted towards thermal generation exposing us to Supply price increases. Weak distribution networks which are cartel controlled as well as inefficient create price distortions in the food market which impact on regular incomes across the board.

These two areas are ripe for reform. And the immediate gains will no doubt impact on regular incomes in a positive way. Before thinking of more long term intervention mechanisms reform in the energy sector and the agricultural sector will go a long way in assisting to popularize the current leadership amongst the youth in 2018. Full stomachs cannot revolt!

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