Unlocking the Potential of Youth and Local Government: Recap story on Innovate Counties Project launched in three counties in Kenya

“The frustration generated in young people that have no hope in the future is a major source of insecurity in today’s world … it is essential that when Governments plan their economic activities, when the international community develops forms of cooperation, it is essential to put youth employment, youth skills [at] the centre of all priorities, [at] the centre of all projects.”

UN Secretary-General António Guterres

Three parallel dynamics – the youth bulge, ICT explosion and the devolution process – are set to change towns and cities in Kenya. The growing number of young urban citizens, coupled with increase in hand held devices is introducing new challenges and opportunities for both local governments and youth that have not been adequately addressed.

Un-Habitat has been addressing these converging trends through the development of a conceptual framework on improving local governance for youth using ICTs, articulated in its ‘ICT, Urban Governance and Youth’ paper. This framework has been developed through normative and programmatic work done in East Africa, and more specifically Kenya, which is home to a wide range of actors advancing different innovations, programs and ideas that encourage the use of ICT to enhance governance by and for youth.

However, current efforts appear to have been limited by a lack of coordination necessary to translate them into structured, result-oriented and scalable action. Thus UN-Habitat through the Youth Unit has delved into implementation of a bridge building project dubbed Innovate Counties Challenge Project that seeks to include local government partnerships  in enabling governance technology applications have tangible impact at the community level.

The Innovate Counties Challenge Project is being funded by the Making All voices Count (MAVC) programme which is a fund supported by four donors: DFID, USAID, Sida, and the Omidyar Network (ON) that provides grants to support innovation and technology that has the potential to support better governance. It is currently in implementation in Kisumu and Mombasa Counties. In Kisumu, UN-Habitat is collaborating with LakeHub, a technology and social innovation hub based in Kisumu, Kenya with the aim of decentralizing access to technology, growing entrepreneurship and social innovation. Whereas in Mombasa, UN-Habitat is collaborating with SwahiliBox, a technology open space in Mombasa, Kenya which focuses on socio-economic technology empowerment, inspiring and developing individuals and help them develop new and innovative ideas through networking, access to training and support and professional mentoring and coaching.

The project is to be executed in three phases: Problem identification, problem solution and development; and solution testing and institutionalizing. The project is currently in the first phase of problem identification. In this phase UN-Habitat sought the participation and contribution from a cross cutting representation of pertinent persons from academia, civil society, youth groups, private sector, media and the core partners of the project, the county representatives particularly in the Youth and ICT departments.

UN-Habitat brought these people together in a one day intense participatory workshop dubbed, the Challenge Workshop, to elucidate the specific governance challenges facing the counties. The challenge workshop was held on 8th February in Kisumu while it was held on 9th March in Mombasa where the project was formally introduced by UN-Habitat Chief of Youth and Livelihoods Unit, Douglas Ragan in Kisumu and Paul Wambua in Mombasa. The workshop formally opened by county representatives. Hon. Michael Onyango, Minister of Communications, Information and Technology and Hon. Jennipher Kere, Minister of Education, Youth, Culture and Social Services represented Kisumu County, whereas Nyevu Karisa, an officer from Department of Trade, Energy and Industrial Development represented Mombasa County.

Participants were then given a technical situational analysis and overview of governance challenges affecting the specific county to focus their thinking. In Kisumu this synopsis was given by Joshua Nyamori, a community participation and communication expert while in Mombasa, this was given by Masoud Ali of Camara Kenya. After which participants were grouped for a breakout brainstorming session to identify all the governance related challenges affecting the specific counties. After lunch, they regrouped and clustered the challenges in a plenary for purposes of establishing the overall challenge statements.

In Kisumu, workshop participants ranged from the county government, academia such as Maseno University, religious establishments, media such as Kenya Weekly, youth groups such as ICY Africa, private sector such KCB, technology organizations such as Sisi Hub, civil society such as Transparency International and other various organizations representing environment, energy, law, health, research and innovation, music and the arts, construction, law and advocacy, etc. In Mombasa, representation ranged from the county government, academia such as KEMU, technology organizations such as Coin Hub, youth groups such as Badilisha Youth Group, the private sector and NGOs.

In Mombasa County, the challenges were in the areas of transparency and accountability (specifically of county funds), transport issues of analog parking systems and poor infrastructure, poor service delivery (poor garbage collection), expensive internet, high unemployment among youth leading to social vices such as drug abuse (also highlighted in Kisumu County), etc. In Kisumu County, challenges ranged from insecurity, an unexploited 24 hour economy, lack of local investment, capacity building not market-driven and lack of reinforcement of policies on protection of natural resources, etc.

Both Challenge Workshops were successful in establishing the governance challenges ailing Kisumu and Mombasa Counties thanks to the active and passionate input of participants. These challenge statements will be used in the problem solution and development phase that will take place in April. In our next blog we introduce our third county and share outputs from the problem solution phase.

Prepared by:

Rhoda Omenya| Youth and Livelihoods Unit at UN-Habitat

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