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Kenyan Youth Speak Out

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This is what gives us sleepless nights

By JAMES KAHONGEH

Being young is not just about having fun and everything else that comes with it, it also comes with a number of demands, among them, excelling in academics, getting a decent job thereafter, followed by a family.

It is a critical stage where bad decisions and wrong choices could potentially wreck one’s life, and society’s high expectations only increase the pressure.

But this is just a fraction of the factors that worry Kenyan youth – majority of them are most concerned about unemployment after graduation; the ever-rising cost of living is also a substantial concern to most of them, and a big number are wary about being in the wrong career and getting into a relationship with the wrong person.

But it is divisive politics, poor leadership and negative ethnicity in the country that worries them most.

myNetwork had a chat with five young people who open up about their major concerns.

BETH WANGARI, 20

beth Works for a property valuation company in Nairobi.

“I am at a point where I have to choose to either pursue a career that I will enjoy, or study a course that my parents think is best for me – it is a demotivating situation for a young person to find herself in.”

“I wanted to study accounts after finishing high school last year, but my parents wanted me to study electrical engineering instead, which I am not keen on. As a result of this disagreement, I was unable to join the college in September this year when my colleagues were being admitted. I, therefore, had to suspend my plan of joining college until my family and I come to an agreement. I don’t want to study something I am not passionate about, and I don’t want to disappoint them either.

Besides having a career I enjoy, my wish is to be in a happy and functional family unit. It scares me when I imagine being married to someone who will later neglect me and our children. I probably feel this way because my siblings and I grew up without a father figure. I am also anxious about dating someone I am not sure I will end up settling down with.

After my studies, I want to start up my own business, possibly in property valuation and be my own boss. When businesses fold due to a harsh business environment, it distresses me and I fear that my dream of building a successful business may not materialise.”

BRIAN MULINDI, 20

brian

Third-year engineering student at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology

“My biggest fear as a student and as a young person is failing to graduate after completing my university studies.”

Completing my studies is one thing, graduating is a different matter altogether. I have seen fellow students complete their academic work but fail to graduate due to missing marks or inability to clear school fees. You also risk having your studies discontinued if you take too many supplementary exams. When students strike, many are suspended and others expelled from the university. I cannot help being anxious because this could befall anyone, including me.

I am also wary of poor grades. Lecturers contribute greatly to a student’s poor performance. The quality of teaching and the quality of exam questions in most cases are inconsistent; in some cases, a lecturer turns up only twice or thrice in a semester to teach a unit that is supposed to be taught for an entire semester. Also, the lecturer might dislike you for some reason, and if this is so, you will not perform well in that unit. The rumour about lecturers not marking scripts might also be true, otherwise, how would you explain students who hardly attend lectures to post better grades than the ones that faithfully attend classes? I feel that even as you read and do everything you are supposed to do as a student, your academic fate lies in the lecturer’s hands.

I should also talk about the loan we get from the Higher Education Loans Board. There is no guarantee that you will get it, yet missing out on it is a huge blow because many students entirely rely on the loan to pay school fees and for their upkeep in school. And the money never arrives in good time, and in most cases, you receive less the amount you apply for.

Socially, you are always under pressure to match your friends’ perceived success. As a young person, it is demoralising when your peers seem to have better stuff, such as smartphones and clothes when you can’t afford to even pay school fees on time – some students have gotten into prostitution and even started selling drugs to afford a flashy lifestyle. While I know that it may not be possible to have everything my friends have, I fear to be unable to keep up with the standards set by those in my social circle.

NOEL LAURRATE, 20

noel

Third-year student of linguistics, media and communication in Moi University

“An unplanned pregnancy out of wedlock is what worries me the most. I imagine that it is expensive to bring up a baby without proper support.”

Juggling childcare and studies is not easy; I have seen how much friends who have given birth while still in school struggle to take care of their babies and perform well in class. I also know several people that have been deserted or isolated by their friends and classmates after getting pregnant. You can easily develop depression when friends suddenly start treating you like a stranger. It is not a position I would want to find myself in. I also live in fear of being attacked by criminals. At the beginning of this semester, three friends and I were mugged within the school premises. The three of us lost mobile phones and one a laptop as well. Still, in this semester, a first-year student was raped in her hostel room. There is a nerve-chilling story of a female student who was raped and murdered in our university just months before I joined – with this at the back of my mind, I never venture out when it dark for fear of assault. The rate of crime in our university is high, and if one cannot be safe within intuitions such as universities, what about out there? Cases of students’ houses off campus being broken into and their property was stolen are common. Whenever you leave for class or to visit a friend, you are constantly worried that your house will be broken into. That out of the way, there is an annoying belief in our society that as a young person, especially as a woman, you cannot be successful solely from your hard work. If you buy yourself a cool phone, elegant shoes or an expensive handbag, people immediately assume that a man must have bought it for you, or that you earned the money using unorthodox means. Occasionally, I’m discouraged from buying things that I can afford for fear of having nasty things said about me.

While it is true some female university students are in relationships with older men for financial gain, I have girlfriends who are able to afford expensive phones and clothes and to hang out in expensive joints because they work hard in their honest hustles.

JACKSON MWANGI, 20

jackson

Second-year media student at Zetech University

“I dread tarmacking after graduating; it disturbs me to see people who have graduated struggle to find a worthy job three years down the line.”

It is a fact that some get jobs because their relatives or family friends have influence in those organisations. You are therefore at a disadvantage if you don’t know anyone that can push you in.

When jobs are offered by way of favouritism and nepotism, and when you have to bribe your way into a job or an internship opportunity, you are scared about what life after school holds for you. I have seen friends neglect their studies and ruin their lives by abusing drugs and alcohol because after all, impressive grades are not enough to earn you a job.

As an only child, my parents have invested heavily in my education and have high expectations on me to succeed academically, professionally and socially. It is a burden I carry every day, knowing that I must succeed, not only for myself but my parents too. I feel that not succeeding would amount to failing them.

Another factor that I worry about is careless driving on our roads and disregard for traffic rules. Thousands of people, including young people with great potential die every year due to accidents that could have been avoidable. I feel powerless to do anything about it because I have no choice but to use these very same roads.

I grew up in church and was brought up to be self-respecting and polite – I fear to veer off this path and perhaps being influenced to abuse alcohol and drugs, which are common in our higher institutions of learning.

As a young person, it also scares me when I see the police beat up university students during strikes. It also scares me to see the animosity amongst Kenyans just because they come from certain tribes or don’t support the same political parties. Why should we loot or vandalise other people’s property just because of this? I fear that our country is descending into anarchy.

JOY OBURA, 22

joyo

Third Year student of finance and accounting at Strathmore University.

“It is unfair when someone discriminates against you because of the mother tongue you speak; no one chooses to be born into a certain tribe,” says Joy, a credit control officer at Safaricom Investments, a real estate firm.

“My responsibility involves collecting debt on behalf of my employer. Every month, I have targets, which I must meet. My pay is commission-based, so failure to meet my target means low income that month.

I wish to work for this company after graduating, but the possibility of being retained and having better working terms depends on how impressive my performance will be when my contract expires next year.

This puts me under constant pressure, and fear of underperformance often haunts me.

The high cost of living is almost unbearable for someone without a solid source of income. I have to observe a certain dress code at work, and as a result, I am required to buy certain types of clothes and shoes.

This further strains my little income. Many times, I am forced to shelve my plan to buy something I want because the price of the commodity has gone up. I am also apprehensive of an increase in rent, food, tuition fee and other necessities.

Fears aside, I am deeply saddened by the divisive politics in our country. I have lost friends from certain communities because other friends from my community refuse to accommodate them.

Recently, a friend had to move out of the estate in which she had lived for a long time for fear of being attacked during last week’s election. Another friend lost his job because he supported a certain political party.

It is ironical that university students, who are supposed to be more exposed and have a broader perspective about life, refuse to see past the veil of their tribes.

University politics are badly infiltrated by this tribalism, and who you closely associate with depends on where they come from.

Instead of being proud of my tribe, I feel unsafe everywhere I go because of possible discrimination and even physical harm.

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