We should not be casual about job losses due to the plastic bag ban

Claudia Jematia
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Earlier in the year, we heard the  story of one John Kariuki, the Kenyatta University Graduate who ended up homeless and pushing carts in Downtown Nairobi. As it turned out that John, who had been languishing in poverty for four years studied at Starehe Boys Center and scored an A-. Clearly this was a brilliant guy who just got disillusioned by the lack of opportunities in Kenya.

Just last week on our Whatsapp Group, someone forwarded a photo of a young lady, Claudia Jematia, standing on the streets of Nairobi with a placard written, ‘Kindly give me a job’. The qualifications listed on her placard were astounding to say the least. She has two Masters Degrees in Cyber Security and Advanced Security. I mean this lady is brilliant and quite an achiever! And yet despite her qualifications, she finds herself taking such drastic measures in order to secure herself a job.

There are so many such stories in our country today of very qualified young people who just can’t get jobs. In May this year the UN’s Human Development Index named Kenya as having the highest unemployment rate in the East African region, Kenya registers an alarming 39.1% rate. Ethiopia on the other hand has a 21.6% unemployment rate. This is why it is surprising when both the Government and the media gloss over the potential job losses that will result from the ban of plastic bags. I have to say these are damning statistics for a country with such glorious ambitions to achieve by the year 2030. Also, the social repercussions of having so many young, qualified people being jobless, and so many young families unable to meet their basic needs are far-reaching for a society’s whose poverty gap is continuously widening. As it is often said, youth unemployment in the country is a ticking time bomb if not addressed.

The fact that ban on plastics is a necessary one is irrefutable. However, it is disturbing to see the casual manner in which the conversation on the loss of jobs is being handled. The Government is busy debating which numbers are correct as opposed to thinking that in this day and age even one job loss for Kenya is one too many! Why are we not thinking critically on the impact of making rash decisions such as these to real lives, real people and as opposed to trading accusations over numbers?

One might argue that the alternatives industry will provide these and even more jobs. Okay, fine let us think about the practicality of this for a second. Firstly, are these guaranteed jobs? Is the government saying it has a job placement programme ready to transition those who lose their jobs on Monday into the sisal industry? Secondly, do the sectors providing alternatives right now have the capacity to absorb the thousands who will be rendered jobless? Because, remember basic needs are immediate they do not wait for the Government to put its house in order. A sick relative needs medicine now, school fees need to be paid next week. Thirdly, we have only talked about the formal jobs which are easy to count and conveniently argue over the right statistics. What about the informal jobs? How many will close down their small businesses? How many will have the luxury to wait until the alternative packaging is in good supply and doesn’t cost a lot more than they are used to?

As a country we deserve, need better planning and foresight into decisions that directly affect our lives.

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