The number of Kenyans out of work has doubled over a decade of infrastructure-fuelled economic growth and faster adoption of technology that has left East Africa’s largest economy with the highest unemployment rate in the region.
World Bank data shows 5.7 percent of Kenya’s labour force was out of work in 2021, up from 2.8 percent when the Jubilee administration took over in 2013.
In the same period, unemployment as a portion of the labour force fell from 2.9 percent in 2013 to 2.6 percent in Tanzania while the rate went up in Ethiopia from 2.3 percent to 3.7 percent.
In Uganda unemployment rose from 1.9 percent to 2.9 percent while in Rwanda the rate rose from 1.2 percent to 1.6 percent.
The Kenyan economy has grown by an average of 5.0 percent but this growth has come from capital-intensive infrastructure projects which have not trickled down to the average citizen.
Analysts say the country’s private sector has also rapidly taken up technology that saw massive job cuts, especially in the services like insurance and banking.
Kenya’s unemployed is almost twice the 2.7 percent East African average, with Rwanda having the lowest rate of unemployment at 1.6 percent.
Tanzania, which had a higher rate of unemployment than Kenya in 2013, has lowered its rate below second-placed Ethiopia and third-placed Uganda in the region.
“One of the reasons is the greater adoption of technology which led to a rise in unemployment. Remember banks and fintech shedding jobs?” Prof XN Iraki, an economist at the University of Nairobi, said.
“Secondly, there has been less than expected economic growth, we never reached the magical 10 percent envisaged in Vision 2030. The growth has also been driven by large capital projects which are not labour-intensive.”
The incoming government has the difficult task of kick-starting an economy deeply troubled by high inflation and a lack of jobs.
The Kenya Kwanza administration faces the uphill task of delivering poll promises on jobs, cost of living, economic reforms, infrastructure and housing amid a public sector job freeze and a slump in the private sector due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The situation is worsened by the more than one million young people who graduate from colleges and universities annually in an economic setting that is plagued by reduced hiring on the back of sluggish corporate earnings.