East African Institute
East Africa is a very youthful region. About 80% of the population in the region is below the age of 35 years. The median age ranges between 16 and 19 years, with the lowest median ages of 16 and 17 in Uganda and Tanzania respectively.
East Africa’s youth, defined as individuals between the ages of 14 and 35, are a critical majority and will determine and shape the region’s future. With that in mind, the East African Institute of the Aga Khan University commissioned a survey to understand the values, attitudes, concerns and aspirations of this critical segment of the population in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania.
We interviewed 7,010 individuals aged 18–35 years, male and female drawn from rural and urban areas. In addition 56 focus group discussions, comprising 6-8 participants were also held to provide nuance and context to the responses obtained through the questionnaires. The survey reveals a number of important and sometimes surprising insights, and offers reasons both for optimism, deep concern and the need for urgent action.
There is a strong sense of both esprit de corps and nationalism among East African youth. Rwandan and Kenyan youth were the most nationalistic, with 44% and 40% respectively identifying first as Rwandese and Kenyans respectively. A strong esprit de corps was exhibited in Tanzanian with 58% identifying as youth first. 34% of Ugandan youth identified as youth first. East African youth held strong values around faith, work and family. The youth are entrepreneurial, with the majority (50-65%) aspiring to start their own business, rather than pursue careers in law, teaching, medicine or engineering. Although agriculture is one of the leading sectors in the economies of East Africa – accounting for 23-32% of GDP and providing livelihood for over 70% of the population – only 5-20% of the youth were interested in farming as an occupation or a full-time job.
The study reveals that while youth are suffering from and concerned about unemployment, they are willing to be part of the solution by creating jobs through entrepreneurship. The study also reveals that while the youth hold positive values, and believe political participation is a critical civic duty.
However, between 40% of would only vote a candidate for political office if they received a bribe. With the exception of Rwanda, there is a veritable crisis of integrity among East African youth. For example, over 50-58% of the youth in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania believed it did not matter how one made money as long as one did not end up in jail. Only 21% of Rwandan youth held the same view. Similarly, only 10% of Rwandan youth said they would take or give a bribe, compared to 35-44 % in the other three countries.
Overall, East African youth are positive and optimistic about the future and are confident that it will be more prosperous, offering more jobs and better access to health and education. However, with the exception of Rwanda, youth in Kenya, Uganda believed their societies will be more corrupt and poorer in values and ethics, and that youth will engage in substance abuse.
While the findings may seem contradictory – hopeful and depressing – there is an opportunity to focus on developing and channeling the strongly held positive values of faith, family, hard work and entrepreneurship. The strongly held values and the spirit of enterprise, along with impressive GDP growth must be leveraged to address the challenge of unemployment, especially among university-educated youth.
But what will it take to deliver opportunity and shared prosperity for the youth?
East Africa Institute
(2016). Kenya Youth Survey Executive Summary. East Africa Institute, 1-4.
Available at: http://ecommons.aku.edu/eastafrica_eai/17