Last week, it was announced that former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan,would be taking over from the current Head of the African Union as the negotiator between the two disputing presidential candidates in Kenya. Given the presence of uncontestable evidence of tally rigging, no-one, including the unfortunate electoral commissioner, actually knows who won the presidential race; the objective is to get some kind of government of national unity in place for a year or so until elections can be held again, presumably under international supervision.

One proposal is that Kenya should appoint a prime minister (currently the country only has an executive president). This would facilitate power sharing between opposing parties and, equally importantly, between ethnic groups. Many of Kenya’s political ills stem from the fact that in its democratic elections (as in Australia’s) the winning side gets all the ministerial posts and other perks of political victory. Indeed, no Kenyan questions that the electoral fight is over elite access to the ‘honey-pot’ of government rather than political philosophies or economic agendas. Sadly, the people who are actually engaged in rioting in the streets or running away from the violence are not the ones who are going to benefit from any deals made.

Behind Kenya’s electoral woes are the four key interlinked problems of population growth, unemployment, landlessness and poverty. Even governmental estimates accept that youth unemployment in Kenya may be as high as 40%. Ethnic groups are not fighting for the sake of fighting, they are at war over access to their daily bread, through actual jobs or through self-employment on the land or in the informal sector (known in Kenya as ‘jua kali’, work under the hot sun).

President Kibaki, who is an economist by training, has achieved a growth rate of 6% per year, but the wealth has not been shared nor even trickled down. Each year some 500,000 young people leave school and very few of them find jobs. Worse than that, because of a culture which respects age, (President Kibaki was born in 1931 and belongs to the generation that fought for independence culminating in 1963) their views are ignored as being unworthy of consideration.

In the 1980s, Kenya had the highest population growth rate in the world at 4% a year – it is still over 2%. Nairobi has a population of some four million, three million of whom live in the slums which occupy less than 5% of the land area of the capital. The slums are literally ‘hot beds’ of crime and HIV/AIDS, where shifts sleep in beds still warm from the previous occupants, paying high rents for tiny corrugated iron shacks without water, sanitation or electricity.

While a political settlement is vital to stop the rioting and looting in the streets and curb the violence of the security forces, what Kenya really needs is a government focused on the future of youth, not on the pig-trough of corrupt gains for the few. The priorities should be job creation: processing coffee and other agricultural products in the country and sorting out land tenure so that slum dwellers have some security and rural youths are not tempted, as they so tragically were in Rwanda, to go on killing sprees, simply to secure a patch of land to cultivate.