Growing up, I was often envious of my father’s generation. I wondered what it was like to have been alive at independence, when great opportunities were open for those fortunate enough to have an education. Then, employers hired people straight out of school, enticing them to not even bother to complete further education but to immediately join the workforce!
Fifty years after independence however, I am no longer envious of my father’s generation. For Kenyans of my generation who are fortunate enough to have an education, there has never been a better time to be alive! Before you dismiss me as a hopeless idealist, let me share with you five factors, each of which would be a significant catalyst for growth and opportunity but when put together provide unprecedented opportunities for my generation today. What are these factors you ask?
The first is devolution. Our new constitution created 47 counties, spreading a third of the national budget around the country. Each county represents a semi-autonomous budget center which will need schools, markets, road maintenance, housing, teachers, accountants and so on. While it’s easy to complain about the very real dangers of devolved corruption, devolution also opens up many opportunities for honest business and employment!
The second factor is regional integration. Although still a work in progress, the government’s determination to knock down trade barriers across East Africa means that instead of just 40 million, we will soon be a market of 132 million. Add South Sudan’s 8 million and Ethiopia’s staggering 93 million and we’re talking about a regional population of almost a quarter of a billion! Apart from the increased job opportunities the larger region represents, it also means that whatever goods or services your small business produces will have that many more potential buyers in the not too distant future!
Massive investment in infrastructure (roads, railroads, energy, and technology) is a third important factor. This will ultimately drive production costs lower and make it possible even for small businesses to get their goods and services to the larger market. A fourth factor is the recent mineral discoveries in our country, including oil, natural gas, iron, titanium and coal. These if managed well could truly propel our nation forward in the next decade. The fifth factor is what I call the education dividend. Free primary education following up on years of Kenyan’s passion for education have positioned our population to take advantage of our geographic position as the gateway to one of the fastest growing regions in the world.
So why am I so excited about these factors? Because they represent a generational opportunity!
Someone once said that the 21st century is Africa’s century, whether Africans participate in it or not. Look around you and you’ll notice the whole world is rushing here. From the Chinese, to the Turks to the Brazilians – they see the opportunity and want to take advantage of it.
We too owe it to our fellow citizens to engage the opportunities of our time. Many around us are limited by poverty, unemployment, disease and lack of education. As Africa’s middle class, it is our responsibility to create the jobs and provide the solutions that will raise our continent out of poverty!
My prayer is that my generation will not either miss out on or misappropriate Africa’s century!