Kenya must find a way of reaping benefits from youth bulge

A psycho-social counsellor offers guidance and counselling to the youth. [Photo:Andrew Kilonzi]
A psycho-social counsellor offers guidance and counselling to the youth. [Photo:Andrew Kilonzi]

Kenya stands to reap benefits of her youth bulge if the right policies are developed and resources are invested to support reproductive health initiatives.

According to demographers and development experts, idle youths have become soft targets for extremists bent on radicalizing this segment of the population.

Experts say the youth have been taken advantage of because right policies and investments to tap into the potential of the huge and rising segment of the population are missing.

A lot is yet to be done by the national and county governments to harness the potential of the youth bulge in order to accelerate the socio-economic development of the country instead of criminalizing the youth.

“Positive reproductive health initiatives both by the national and county governments will offer the country an opportunity to develop,” says Dr Jeanne Patrick. She adds: “The huge population of young people is an asset as it presents a window of opportunity for the country to develop in future if their potential is addressed and that way they are not a liability.”

The giant Tigers of South Asian countries were at par with Kenya at independence. Their economies grew after the huge youth population potential was put into better use.

The countries seized what demographers refer to as demographic dividend and the demographic window of opportunity to develop presented by the youthful population. Today, the giant tigers are ahead of Kenya in terms of economic development.

Demographic window is a period when the proportion of the country’s population aged 15 years falls below 30 percent of the total population while at the same time the proportion of those aged 65 years and above is still below 15 percent of the total population.

“This will happen if the population is well managed to match available resources for investments and the fertility rate is brought down to two children per woman,” says George Kichamu, a senior officer with the National Council for Population and Development (NCPD).

Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand are offered as successful case studies of how the nations have advanced policies that Kenya can borrow from on how best to manage her population.

According to Ben Jarabi, a demographer, a major factor that helped the Asian tigers to transform their economies was the huge working age population mainly occasioned by a large number of youth.

“There exists a window of opportunity to make economic advances and attain similar levels of development,” says Jarabi. “However, we have to first borrow from them and put relevant polices in place to harness the potential of available labour and the huge youthful population.”

Kichamu calls for concerted efforts to scale up investments in both the economic and social sectors with a view of creating better opportunities for those in the working ages and consequently high quality of life for all citizens.

The constitution defines youth as those who have attained the age of 18 years but have not attained 35 years.
Those aged 18-34 years constitute about 30 per cent of Kenya’s total population while those of ages zero to34 years constitute 78 percent.

Youth face a myriad of challenges ranging from unemployment, under employment, HIV and AIDS as well as sexually transmitted diseases, drug and substance abuse, poverty, crime and deviant behaviour.

They are also exploited, lack opportunities to explore and develop their talents and have low representation at decision making levels.

“For youth to make meaningful contribution to development, the problems facing them need to be addressed comprehensively. Promotion of sexual education and comprehensive knowledge of HIV and AIDs issues need to be addressed,” explains Patrick.

“It has been proven that educated girls give birth to fewer children. Unwanted pregnancies and abortion do not take place if contraceptive commodities are availed.”


The report recommends the national and county governments take bold steps similar to that of the Asian tigers for the country to reap the benefits of the demographic dividend window using the DemDiv model that was developed by Futures Group.

“However, they turn around their economies by slowing down the population growth rate, investing in health, education and skills young people and creating income opportunities for those in the labour force while upholding the principles of good governance,” says Kichamu.

He stresses: “The resultant effect of this was a substantial reduction in the dependency ratios, an increase in incomes and savings, high levels of investment in capital stock and a high quality of life for the citizens.”

According to Kichamu, efforts to gain from the huge youthful populations and reap the benefits of the demographic window can be attained if both the national and county governments carried out drastic measures to manage the runaway population.

Indonesia has had an annual income of $4,180 per person and women in that country give birth to an average of two children.

This contrasts greatly with Kenya that has an annual income of $1,640 per person and an average of five children 2014, according to that year’s Kenya Demographic Health Survey (KDHS).


According to Kichamu, the window of opportunity for the country opens in 2038 when the youthful population is expected to hit the 20 million mark which is 30 percent of that population.

This period is expected to last 40 years and it presents an opportunity for a country to achieve a much faster economic growth, driven by the large number of persons in the working ages.

Proportion of those in the working ages will be 66 percent of the total population of 66,627,474 million at the time and the dependency ratio of the same population will be 52 percent.

Kenya’s population was enumerated at 38.6 million during in the 2009 census. It is estimated at 45 million in 2016 since it grows at the rate of a million per year.

From the census results, the dependency ratio as recorded at 87 dependents for every 100 people in working ages of 15-64 years.

“Resources that would have gone into economic development are spent on meeting basic social needs that have been on the increase like health, housing, education water and sanitation,” says Simon Mwangi from the Youth Directorate. “These are to meet demands of a fast rising population that does not match population growth and development.”

According to the Population Policy for National Development the rapid growth in the population size is a constraint to national development.

To counter this, the policy proposes a reduction in fertility levels from five children per woman in 2009 to two children per woman in 2050 when the population is expected to be 59 million in 2030 and 75 million is 2050 with the population of those of age below 15 years decreasing to 33 and 25 percent respectively.

“Accelerated economic growth that may result from a decline in a country’s mortality and fertility rates and the subsequent change in the age structure of the population is a plus for a country,” says Francis Kundu, Assistant Director of Population at NCPD.

According to Kundu, with fewer births each year, a county’s young dependant population grows smaller in relation to the working age population.

“With the fewer people to support, a country has a window of opportunity for rapid economic growth if the right social and economic policies are developed and investments made,” Kundu notes.

The DemDiv model states for the country to reap the benefits of the demographic dividend by 2050, investments per capita has to rise to about $2,000 from the current figure of about $200, ensure a woman gives birth to two children from the current four, if the dependency ration is to be brought down.

Kenya’s population has been growing in recent years with an estimated one million people annually because of high birth and low death rates.

Its population remains youthful because the population of children below 15 years is far greater than 35 percent of the total population.

According to Simon Mwangi, youth unemployment is a global phenomenon that hampers the full utilization of available human resource potential.

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