Document Type



East African Institute


East Africa is a very youthful region. About 80% of the estimated 146 million East Africans (excluding South Sudan), are below the age of 35 years. The median age ranges between 16 and 19 years, with the lowest median ages of 16 years and 17years in Uganda and Tanzania respectively.

East Africa’s youth, defined as individuals between the ages of 14 and 35, are a socially and economically significant majority and will determine and shape the region’s future. With this 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.

Between 2014 and 2015 we interviewed 7,010 individuals aged 18–35 years, male and female drawn from rural and urban areas in Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. 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 important and surprising insights, and hence, offers reasons for optimism, deep concern and a fierce urgency for action.

The survey revealed a strong sense of esprit de corps and nationalism among East African youth. Rwandan and Kenyan youth were the most nationalistic, with 44% and 40% identifying first as Rwandese and Kenyans respectively. A strong esprit de corps was exhibited among Tanzanian youth, with 58% identifying as youth first. Rwandan youth at 25% exhibited the weakest esprit de corps. 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 traditional 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. Rwandan youth, at 5%, were the least interested in farming or agriculture as a full-time job.

The study revealed that while youth were concerned about unemployment, they were willing to be part of the solution through strong orientation to entrepreneurship; the desire and willingness to create and run their own business. The study also showed that the youth held positive values, and believed political participation was a critical civic duty. However, 40% of East African youth 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, Tanzania and Uganda believed it did not matter how one made money as long as one did not end up in jail. In contrast, 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 Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.

Overall, East African youth are positive and optimistic and, are confident that the future will bring more prosperity, with more more jobs, better access to health and education. However, with the exception of Rwanda, youth in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda believed their societies will be more corrupt and poorer in values and ethics, and that youth would 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 to inculcate an ethical orientation. 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.