How Kenya is empowering youth to participate in government budgeting

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A young Kenyan woman shares her point of view with fellow youth and elders at a community meeting in rural Kenya. Credit; Emma Nzioka, World Bank. A young Kenyan woman shares her point of view with fellow youth and elders at a community meeting in rural Kenya. Credit; Emma Nzioka, World Bank.

The most radical change in decentralized governance in sub-Saharan Africa was enshrined in Kenya’s Constitution of 2010 with the creation of 47 local governments and fiscal transfers from Nairobi. The reforms have made government more responsive to people’s needs. It has led to renovations of existing facilities and more community-focused projects with Kenyan citizens as the main beneficiaries. However, these enhancements in participation, transparency and accountability have not yet changed engagement with the large, majority-youth population. 

Youth aged 18-35 comprise three-quarters of the population in Kenya and are a great potential source of social and economic energy for the country. Yet, much of this energy is untapped.  Older citizens hold de facto budgetary decision-making power. Culturally, the older generations’ views are prioritized due to the perception that they have more wisdom and experience than the youth. In urban settings, the younger population have greater access to information than their rural-based colleagues and may be more engaged in decision making processes. However, this largely depends on the modes of communication and engagement employed by the governments. 

Use of technology such as online media engagement attracts more participation by youth but youth  often mistrust and dismiss government processes based on their past experiences with the government, misinformation and general sentiments of their views getting overlooked. Youth priorities and needs may also not align with those of the broader majority of their communities. For instance, a health center may receive more popular support than a market center proposed by the youth. With insufficient civic education and access to funding, youth tend to feel like complete outsiders in their own democracy, which fuels sentiments of frustration, unfairness and exclusion. 

One of the challenges young people face in Kenya is the missing link between the aspirations they express and the way they can effectively materialize them.
Cynthia Nyongesa
UNICEF's Kenyan Youth Advocate

More transparency, better accountability and greater responsiveness to the youth demographic are elements young Kenyans yearn for.  The Kenyan government is beginning to respond to these demands. To encourage more civic engagement by younger citizens, the Kenyan government is taking measures through the World Bank’s Kenya Accountable Devolution Program (KADP) to  better incorporate public participatory budgeting into their budget decision-making process. 

A few local Kenyan governments have taken an unprecedented step to reach out to young people to ask what the challenges that youth face in getting involved in public affairs. 

Timothy Kiprono, Executive Director at a Kenyan Open Governance Institute, commends efforts made by officials to commit to Open Government Partnership and create open spaces for communities’ engagement, but notes remaining limitations in the existing participatory structure that impede young people’s voices in decision-making processes.

Over the past six months, the World Bank has been working with the Baringo and Elgeyo Marakwet county governments to implement and design a community-centered approach to engaging Kenyan youth. A series of workshops were held to solicit the opinions of young women and men about how youth can work with their local governments to assess community priorities and better allocate resources. The workshops were meant to open a dialogue as well as to provide both sides with a better understanding of one another, as well as provide the youth with the tools and resources necessary for them to engage their governments. 

The local county governments made sure to select a socio-economically diverse and gender-balanced group of 50 young people aged 18 to 35 years old representative of each county’s population. An intense two-day training provided an opportunity for the participants to efficiently co-design local and tangible solutions to encourage participation in public affairs with the local officials.

Based on these youth-led discussions, the following action items were recommended.

  • The counties could prioritize engagement and training by organizing youth-centered workshops to highlight how public participation is feasible at all levels, from the village to the county. The governments could provide training for youth on how to self-organize and turn their ideas into actionable proposals. 
  • Second, counties should make available information about current, existing youth participation opportunities. This could be achieved by advertising meetings – their agenda and actors - across social media and public forums, using language youth understand, and developing a youth-centered communication strategy for government policies and initiatives. 
  • Third, counties could grant youth more responsibility over budgets and policies by providing youth-led spaces for them to mobilize their peers and aggregate their preferences by directly allocating them budgets and advocate for and design policies with them.

Today, 20% of the world’s youth reside in Africa (i.e. 226 million aged 15-24), a number projected to almost double by 2030. Engaging this fast-growing demographic will only become more challenging if governments don’t establish stronger trust now. Participatory budgeting offers an inclusive opportunity to enhance youth’s interest in public engagement. It is good governance for countries to get their youth excited about civic participation to help invest in Africa’s future.  

“At the end of the day,” concludes Cynthia Nyongesa, “all young people want is a meaningful and engaging opportunity to thrive no matter where they are from.” 


Claire Davanne

Social Development Consultant, Social, Urban, Rural and Resilience Global Practice, The World Bank Group

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