Mr. Otieno, an elderly man in Nyatike village in Migori county, is leaning on his shovel, with a sack on his back carrying his tools and his work clothes. He is wearing a hat that reveals his wrinkles, a testimony of the struggles he has faced. Otieno is one of the miners of gold in this village. He is a bit slumped and sickly but he has to do this to feed his family. I met Otieno during a secondary school geography field visit to the gold mines of Migori county. We engaged with him a lot during that visit, as he introduced us to the adult men mining, as some women prepared and served meals.
One curious classmate asked why there were no young people in sight, despite the attractive returns from gold. Otieno responded: “I blame myself and other parents of this era who have allowed their children to look down on menial jobs; we who have allowed the young men to seek shortcuts in life. We are guilty for rewarding their laziness”. He narrated about his son who had been to the university, educated through the mining sweat. Upon completion, the son despised mining work as too dirty, and was idling at home.
Years have passed, but this case continues to bother me. How come our training detaches youth from local problems, rather than equipping them with the skills to invent solutions?
Fast forward, traveling to Kericho in September 2018. The long drive reminds me of the Migori tour. Deep in the Rift Valley, lies a gold mine of a different nature – Kericho. From the far look, a really peaceful, chilly and lush green landscape filled with fresh aroma from the tea plantations. We drove deeper and deeper into Kericho, and arrived at the place I was to stay for three days, immersing myself into the realities of rural youth.
During this stay, I was privileged to savour the value of Kipchabai’s gold. I saw a hospitable people oblivious of their financial plight: the gold of kindness, of tender care. I enjoyed beautiful weather that yielded the bountiful harvest that has given Rift Valley, her fame – the food basket. I witnessed the presence of government and global investors in the various tea factories.
My mind flashed back to the goldmines of Migori. There I had learnt, that gold is mined dirty, full of impurities. But these are smelted away, to reveal the real beauty of gold. And in Kipchabai, the beauty of youth remained concealed, despite the beautiful weather, the abundance of food and the numerous opportunities.
A walk through the village leads to the appreciation of hardworking men and women, either picking tea or coffee, or tending to animals with the pastoralist’s attention. However, the contribution of youth is visibly absent. My attention was drawn to the majority of youth who just spent most of their time whiling away at the numerous betting centres. They wasted even the little they had, in search of quick, easier wealth – the microwave mentality.
Consistent with this way of life, the young men of Kipchabai would rather not marry. They cite economic instability, but their agency is far inadequate to shake them off their comfort zones. The gold of Kipchabai, the youth, lingers in impurity, thirsting for the smelting hand. Perhaps from the far distant land, to stir the energies of youth onto the farms, and unleash the true beauty of Kericho.
Walter Odondi is Assistant Program Officer at Zizi Afrique Foundation. For feedback, email email@example.com