Empowering Elgeyo Marakwet Youth: Linking Ethical Agribusiness and Democracy

Grace Nzou

Elgeyo Marakwet County is among the breadbasket counties of Kenya, contributing to the nation’s food security through large-scale maize and wheat cultivation. The county boasts an excellent climate conducive to year-round crop production, providing an economic opportunity to unemployed youth.  

Since 2018, Elgeyo Marakwet County has been a member of the Open Government Partnership, setting a model for public participation, open government, and transparency. This progress has been primarily driven by civil society organizations operating within the county. However, despite these advancements, the youth have been marginalized in the co-creation of democracy within the county. 

According to the 2019 Kenya National Bureau of Statistics census, the median age in Elgeyo Marakwet County stands at 19 years, which is even lower than the national median age of 22 years. The youth, aged 18-35, make up 57% – more than half – of the population. Although this demographic is larger than any other population segment, the young adults of Elgeyo Marakwet – like most youth in Kenya – do not participate in governance processes as much as other age groups, according to a 2022 survey conducted by Niusline. One key reason for this gap is a widespread lack of awareness of available democratic spaces to engage public officials. Where information is available, the youth do not know how to engage these duty bearers effectively.  

To address this representation gap, the Free Enterprise Democracy Network (FEDN) – created by CIPE to strengthen the collaboration of private sector leaders and free market advocates – supported a new project in Kenya, “Using Democratic Spaces to Promote Ethical Practices in Business.” This project was launched by two Kenyan organizations: the Niusline Media communications company, and the Real Empowerment for Sustainable Transformation (REST) Hub.  

At the intersection of ethical enterprises and good governance lies economic growth and increased citizen participation in democratic spaces. 

The project involved the training of 90 youth selected from three wards within Iten Municipality, focusing on their involvement in the budget-making process and ethical entrepreneurship. When entrepreneurs run clean enterprises, it increases their moral authority to demand accountability and good governance from duty bearers. At the intersection of ethical enterprises and good governance lies economic growth and increased citizen participation in democratic spaces. 

To facilitate effective participation in democratic spaces, strengthen advocacy for a business-friendly environment, and increase access to entrepreneurship opportunities, the project established the Country Youth Agribusiness Assembly (CYAA). Edwin Ronoh, CEO of REST HUB, explains, “The CYAA is a youth-led, youth-owned organization that aims to equip the next generation of agribusiness leaders with the essential skills, knowledge, and resources required to excel in a competitive and ever-evolving market. CYAA aims to bridge the empowerment gap and establish an agribusiness ecosystem that not only drives economic growth but also ensures active youth engagement in shaping the future through democratic means.” 

Through the Assembly, youth have honed their skills in ethical entrepreneurship, with many formalizing their enterprises through government registration and compliance with industry regulations. This formalization has opened doors to local and national business opportunities, granting registered enterprises access to funds and tenders reserved for youth entrepreneurs in Kenya. Furthermore, youth are now actively participating in tendering opportunities within schools, hospitals, and hotels. 

Ms. Domtillah Kimaiyo, a vegetable vendor in Tambach Stage Market, reflects on the impact: “Formalization has given me the confidence to seek business opportunities, thereby expanding my customer base.” 

As youth businesses begin to take root, the demand for a favorable business environment becomes increasingly evident. The Assembly serves as a platform for youth engagement in the county’s budget-making process. During the development of the Finance Bill 2023/24, youth made numerous submissions to the County Government, advocating for changes ranging from a reduction in annual market levies from USD 42 to USD 12 to the development of legislation to address emerging concerns related to drug abuse and betting. 

Ms. Kimaiyo reflects on her goals following CYAA’s training, stating, “My goal is to grow my vegetable vending business into a grocery shop and become a major agricultural produce supplier in the country. I now possess the skills to build an ethical and sustainable enterprise. I also recognize that active participation in democratic processes at the county and national levels is essential for the government to provide a conducive environment for my business to thrive. I am confident I will ultimately achieve my goal.” 

Published Date: November 17, 2023