Social scientists and policymakers alike have shown that youth empowerment programmes can act as a catalyst for social inclusion and consequently help reduce youth violence.
However, data from research done by the Centre for Human Rights Policy Studies and the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation show that the top-down conceptualisation and implementation of the Kenya Youth Empowerment and Opportunities Project failed to capture youths at 'most risk' of joining crime.
Youth enrolled in KYEOP have expressed their disappointment with the planning process, which did not include their views. But in interviews held by CHRIPS, chiefs tasked with implementing the project had opposing views.
They said the issues affecting the youth were adequately addressed in the design despite their exclusion from the planning phase. Such sentiments reveal initial exclusion of youth in designing programmes that are assertively promoted as solutions to social exclusion of youth.
This top-down planning reflects a disconnect with the programme's communication channels, which study participants described as not tailored to how young people consume information. Most learnt of the programme through links shared on WhatsApp and Facebook, they however questioned their legitimacy due to the rise of fake news on social media.
Enrolment to the programme was also communicated through the chief's camp. This failed to take into account the fear and animosity that most have towards the government and its institutions.
Youth from Kondele and Kawangware said the chief's camp was not a place they just walk into unless they have pressing matters. Furthermore, the programme's aim to capture youths from crime and violence becomes unattainable as they are already profiled as 'bad guys' and are likely to keep away from the office, which is a symbol of governmental authority.
Female participants, especially those with children, lamented being too held up with house chores to get time to constantly visit the chiefs' camps.
The age requirement of 18-29 and the ID card requirement further exclude certain youths from applying. Firstly, many youths, especially from informal settlements, often experience numerous challenges when applying for IDs as they lack the required supporting documents. Additionally, communities such as the Kenyan Somali youths are constantly discriminated against in the ID acquisition process.
This exclusion trickles down to the actualisation stages. First, the monthly stipend of Sh6,000, considering the economic situation, is hardly adequate. Most youths explained the need to travel to the training centres or to their mastercrafts, which costs them more than the stipend.
Moreover, the stipend was seen as too small in comparison to what youths already in crime 'earn', thus ultimately failing to capture them from violence and crime as envisioned.
As an added benefit the youth qualified for a business grant, which was however only geared towards supporting already established enterprises. Most KYEOP beneficiaries were happy with the soft and hard skills gained, were excited to put them into practice but ended up disappointed with the grant's specificity.
This then begs the question why train them on starting a business and not support them to overcome the next big hurdle of starting one, capital?
In summation, the study exposed the exclusion of youths in the planning and actualisation of the programme. The study's analysis further affirms that for proper inclusion, the involved youth need to experience an environment of safety, closeness and appreciation while they engage in activities that are meaningful to their individual growth and helps them experience and exercise power.
Above all, better understanding of the youth as a diverse group is needed to avoid sieving certain young people from enjoying full benefits of social inclusion and youth programmes such as KYEOP.
This article was first published in The Star (Kenya).