It was one of those mundane conferences I have become accustomed to attending; the speakers raved on about the importance of empowerment and because I have heard the talking points so many times, I was hoping for something new, a new angle to present to the news audience, otherwise I foresaw my story going along the lines of “…added their voice to call for more avenues to empower the youth”

As I start to zone out and contemplate which assignment needs my attention while I buy time till Break Tea time, a young lady takes a seat next to me. She smelt like a few hundred thousand shillings and looked like she had come with a purpose. She pulled out her Mac Book and I start to think, right there is an empowered woman. About 15 minutes into her sitting, she taps me and asks “But what does empowerment mean?”

I am taken aback by her question, almost with this stare of – are you kidding me right now? She too looks taken aback by my reaction and to downplay my shock, I mumble, “Well, empowerment is…” And for a whole minute I draw a blank and can’t believe I can’t define a word like empowerment. To mask my embarrassment, I ask Uncle Google and for a few minutes I think I have saved face. At the tea break we laugh it off as one of those off days and we are back to more empowerment being thrown around

So I return and as predicted, write the story along the same lines, but was reeling from not being able to define a word that has defined policy and governance in this country. If you go by a day and don’t hear the words “Women Empowerment”, or sentences like “we need to empower the youth to adequately cater for challenges of the future,” You are living in a different country. I took time and Identified 25 people at random that were youthful and sought to find out if we know or even understand what the heck empowerment is;

And it seems I was stalling a “Well…empowerment is…..”(draws blank).

The other answer revolved around someone giving the other the power to be better …

I was ashamed and shocked that we the generation, champions of empowerment, can’t even define or understand the essence of empowerment. How then do we hope the less literate and more who are in need of support in economic and social areas to dig themselves out of poverty will understand the concept of empowerment? I will of course not venture into the women, child and social empowerment; too large a conversation for this small blog. But I will venture in a report by Ministry of Gender, to show you the impact of not grasping empowerment or to be more specific to youth empowerment.

In a report released on May 24, 2017, Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development says Government has failed to recover Shillings 54.3 billion that was disbursed to the various youth groups under the Youth Livelihood Program-YLP. The money is part of the Shillings 64.4 billion disbursed to 8,963 youth groups across the country since the inception of the program. If you remember the government’s rave about The Youth Livelihood Fund, its purpose was to …wait for it… “Empower” the youth to ensure the poor and unemployed youth in all districts could start up sustainable income generating projects.

Of course this report makes government’s attempt at empowering the youth laughable to say the least.  More than 80% of money given to the youth to make more money has just gone down the drain! Woe unto us! Cry the beloved youth of this country!

But I can’t say I am surprised at the utter squander of funds by the youth. Did anyone explain to them in depth what these funds were for? Did anyone skill these almost 9000 youths in money generating skills? Was there a financial literacy class before funds were handed to these groups? As much as I would like to say your guess is as good as mine, the plain truth is no one did.

Empowering, as my mother explains in simple terms is teaching people to fish and not catching the fish for them. It’s also making sure that they know that they have options like smoking and salting the fish so that it doesn’t go bad and can be kept for longer. We need to revert to the basics; teach people empowerment in the simplest terms. Shred the concept so that even that guy who stopped in P7 understands your messages, instead of throwing the word around in the hope that it will miraculously give people  skills, resources, authority, opportunity and motivation that will contribute to their competence.