Kenya, holds the dubious distinction of having the region’s highest unemployment rate, a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report says.
The report says 39.1 per cent of the Kenyan population of working age are unemployed compared to Tanzania’s 24 per cent, Ethiopia’s 21.6 per cent, Uganda’s 18.1 per cent and Rwanda’s 17.1 per cent.
The UN agency warns that soaring unemployment in the region, especially in Kenya, risks breeding runaway crime and violence.
“While Kenya has shown progress in promotion of human development — in improving access to education, health and sanitation, with more people rising out of extreme poverty — several groups remain disadvantaged,” the UN said.
Mass joblessness is a drag on the economy because it forces unemployed adults to depend on the small number of working relatives and stretches family resources, making it difficult for them to save or invest.
The high level of unemployment has also left Kenya with one of the highest dependency ratios in the world at 75.4 per cent arising from the large number of youths (children under 15 years) in every family.
Most importantly, the country’s income inequality level of 33.1 per cent, which is only second to Rwanda’s, means wealth is held by a few, making it the main driver of runaway unemployment.
Kenya’s unemployment crisis has also been blamed on sluggish growth of formal sector jobs even as the country continues to produce thousands of university graduates every year.
As a result, the country’s economy is missing out on the labour dividend it should be reaping from the bulge in its youthful population in terms of foregone productivity, innovation and consumer market growth.
The report shows Kenya’s labour market has deteriorated from 2011 when unemployment touched a low of 24.1 per cent, with 75.9 per cent of the population aged 25 years and above having been found to have had jobs.
The UN now says the number of job holders has dropped to 60.9 per cent.
This state of affairs has the potential to slow down the efforts to eradicate extreme poverty and improve peoples’ welfare as part of the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs).