Remarks by the Rt Hon Raila A Odinga EGH at the launch of the CORD ACTION PLAN FOR YOUTH.
THANK YOU for inviting me to share my thoughts with you on the situation of young people in our country today, and what we in CORD and ODM are doing about it.
I know very well how hard young people are struggling to get out of poverty. About 800,000 youths leave school each year and begin looking for jobs.
I know how much each and every one of them would like to be economically independent, would like to find a decent job or start a business, and would like to be able to provide an economically secure future for a family of their own.
But today two million young Kenyans, whether educated or not, are without work or an income. And the current government is doing nothing about it. Its election pledge to create a million jobs a year has vanished without trace. Have any jobs at all been created in the past 12 months? We have not heard of them.
I was well aware of the problems of joblessness and poverty when I joined government in 2008, and that was the reason one of my first tasks was to initiate the Kazi Kwa Vijana programme. Then, in June 2011, I introduced subsidised unga for the less economically able.
At a time when a 2kg bag of Hostess unga was selling for 156 shillings, and Jogoo at about 130 shillings, I prevailed on the government to subsidise unga for the poor, something that had never been done before in Kenya – and under the project a 2kg bag retailed at the greatly reduced price of 52 shillings.
The next step would have been to introduce vouchers and special shops where the less economically able could buy basic commodities at cheaper prices. Kazi Kwa Vijana, known as KKV, addressed the fact that the poor and the unemployed, whether educated or not, ALL have families to take care of. Phase one, with its labour-intensive jobs, was rolled out to target those with less education – while I continued to plan phase two, targeting those with formal educational qualifications.
I took these steps because I believe a government exists to care for the nation’s people.
Unfortunately, our Kenya government includes too many people who care only for themselves. The subsidised unga and KKV programmes ran into problems due to lack of public accountability by the corrupt. They took advantage to amass money for themselves. At the same time, those controlling the Treasury saw an opportunity to create negative propaganda against ODM, fearing that our programmes, designed to assist the poor, would make ODM popular.
Those who controlled the Treasury found ways to kill these programmes. It seems that there are always people in government who think the poor are there simply to be exploited. We see this today in the prices of unga, milk, sugar, paraffin, electricity, books and mobile phones, which have all risen steeply under the current regime.
Nobody in government has the least idea how to stop this, or how to cushion the poor. Nor do they care. Of course, it doesn’t happen only in Kenya.
In the US, for example, similarly selfish people have been grimly fighting President Obama’s plan to introduce health insurance for the poor. Greed and self-interest are what drives such people. So what are we doing as Opposition? We have a plan but, before I lay it out, let me pose the Six-Billion-Shilling Question.
During the election campaigns last year, both CORD and Jubilee promised that, if they won the election in the first round, they would give out to the youth the six billion shillings that had been set aside for a potential second-round run-off. Today, a year later, Jubilee is not talking about this money. Instead, it is talking of a Bill to give contracts to the youth. It is talking of the Uwezo Fund etc. What happened to the six billion Kenya shillings?
In the Acts of the Apostles, we hear how the Apostles came across a poor, crippled beggar, and Peter told him: ”Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up and walk.”
CORD did not form the government. In ODM, we don’t have political power or much money. But we will give you ideas and expertise. That is what we can share with you. That, and concrete, supportive plans to help you progress. We promised to help young people acquire business skills, to give them seed money to start businesses and to help them attain loans. We shall be embarking on these programmes immediately after our party elections.
We shall organise seminars and youth camps, and bring successful businessmen and women and professional economists to speak on how to start businesses, about which ideas work and which don’t, about how to write business plans, how to raise start-up capital, and how to do book-keeping and manage accounts.
We are establishing teams to lobby banks to set up loans for youth-led Small and Medium Enterprises– boda boda operators, scratch-card vendors, fishmongers, second-hand-clothes dealers and so on.
They should all be able to access bank loans on easy terms. We are taking this up immediately after our party elections. We are setting up teams to help our young people in schools and colleges make good career choices. At present, there are leaders in this country who cannot tell you what their profession is or where they ever worked.
In CORD and ODM, we don’t have that problem.
We are a party of serious professionals and, as well as party members, we shall be bringing in other professionals to talk to our young boys and girls about their plans for the future. Expect to see me in your schools talking to your children and your brothers and sisters about what it takes to be an engineer. I am not just a politician. I am an engineer. Expect Mutula Kilonzo Junior, his sister Kethi Kilonzo, Otieno Kajwang and Ababu Namwamba in your schools and youth camps during the holidays to talk to your children about what it takes to be a lawyer.
I will bring Dr Agnes Zani over to speak to young people about what it takes for a woman to get a PhD, to be a sociologist and a lecturer. As a sociologist, Dr Zani is an expert on social and family issues, including crime and drug abuse. She will be coming over to discuss family issues with you.
Everyone wants to bring up good, successful families, but sometimes families fail and fall into hardship. This often sees youngsters missing school or getting pregnant, drifting into crime, going to jail and eventually creating further generations of homeless street families.
That is not the way forward for our nation, and we shall talk openly to young people about these issues. Our party and our coalition want to maintain a special relationship with young people. It will be fun, and I invite you to look forward to it. Just last week, I read the story…… and yes!
As any responsible leader should, I DO read the newspapers, so that I am well-acquainted with what people are going through. How can any leader worth his salt say that newspapers – the public record of the hopes and challenges of our nation – are only fit for wrapping meat?
Anyway, I read the story of a young boy, Martin Obila, who walked from Rarieda to Kakamega High School where he had been admitted. He could not raise the fees, so he went physically to explain himself and secure his place. I want to salute that young boy for his courage and determination.
I want to thank Kakamega High School principal Mr Oliver Minishi for admitting the boy, and I am asking education officials in Siaya County and the MP for Rarieda to take up the boy’s case, if they haven’t already, and pay his fees.
After we defeated Kanu in 2002, we fought hard for the Constituency Development Fund, and for free primary and secondary education. Now, why is any child undergoing what Obila has? And I know Obila is only representative of thousands of others with little hope.
We want to change that. I know some of you are feeling the fire I felt at your age. You are dying to move into politics, to take over, and to push this country forward. We shall support youth in that, too. We shall be creating camps to teach the youth the organisational skills they need in politics. I shall be there personally to take them through some lessons. So my word to everyone is, don’t give up. Life is not for quitters. CORD and ODM are not for quitters. CORD and ODM are made up of tough men and women who have made it against great odds.
Indeed, this whole COUNTRY has made it to where it is against great odds. And after all that hard work, do we want to see the old Kanu culture – handouts, delegations to State House and people’s homes, begging the government for jobs – to make a comeback?
It is already happening and, if we are not very careful, we shall soon be back to square one. We can’t allow that to happen. And there is an alternative. Stick with us, stay engaged and we shall change this country together. God bless you all.