The Silent Struggle: Understanding and Addressing the Challenges Facing Kenya’s Boy Child

In Kenya today, we stand on a precipice, overlooking a potential future filled with disenfranchised men—those without hope, without drive, and seemingly, with nothing to lose. This isn’t a mere possibility; it’s a looming reality unless we act decisively, and with compassion. Central to the challenges confronting young men in our nation is the pervasive issue of gambling addiction, which has emerged not merely as a diversion but as a dangerous pivot around which many young lives are tilting towards violence, apathy, and hopelessness.

The allure of gambling in Kenya is palpable, particularly among the young men. Statistics from GeoPoll in 2019 indicated that a staggering 83.9% of young Kenyans engage in gambling, the highest rate in sub-Saharan Africa. Many see gambling as a shortcut to financial stability in an economy where opportunities are scarce. However, this shortcut often leads down a path of financial ruin, trapping our youth in a cycle of poverty and desperation.

Closely tied to the despair born from gambling losses is the rise in substance abuse. According to NACADA, alcohol and drug use among Kenyan youth is alarmingly high, with significant percentages turning to these substances as an escape from their daily struggles. This trend not only devastates individual lives but also undermines the social fabric of our communities. We need robust interventions—both preventive and rehabilitative—to steer our young men away from substance dependency and towards healthier, more productive ways of coping. But we lack such systems as a whole; spaces where young men can engage, dream, work, pursue and attempt safely; our community halls and social spaces have become a thing of the past. Sports centres and soccer pitches are now turned into high-rise residential and commercial spaces – forgetting the danger of denying our young men spaces where they can learn, grow and develop positively. Soon enough, the penalty and cost will be too high to bear.

Further complicating the landscape are the distorted perceptions of sex and masculinity, often exacerbated by unchecked access to pornography, lack of physical activities and lots of ‘free time’ spent indoors and alone. These perceptions contribute to risky sexual behaviours and a warped understanding of relationships.

All a young man desires and requires is a viable economic opportunity that offers him purpose and utility in society.

With a youth unemployment rate that dwarfs global averages, the sense of idleness and futility among our young men is palpable. Addressing this requires a concerted effort to enhance vocational training and entrepreneurship opportunities that are in tune with the realities of our economy. Fostering a spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship, we can transform this idle potential into a vibrant force for economic development.

The challenges are daunting, but they are not insurmountable. With a committed, multifaceted approach that includes tightening regulations around gambling, expanding access to mental health and substance abuse services, overhauling sex education, and creating meaningful economic opportunities, we can shift the trajectory for Kenya’s boy child from despair to hope. This is more than an investment in individual lives; it’s a commitment to the future stability and prosperity of our nation.

We must not allow our young men to fall into a chasm of despair. It is our responsibility—as leaders, educators, parents, and community members—to provide a ladder of opportunity and a safety net of support. Together, we can ensure that the future for the boy child in Kenya is not one of peril, but one of promise.

Historically, every society that has failed has had one thing in common, a disproportionate number of young men who are disillusioned, angry and full of despair with no viable options available for them – they become a dangerous and powerful force used in civil unrest, religious extremism, political instability and violence. As a country and continent, we must be careful to ensure we don’t find ourselves in that dangerous hole; with a population of majority youth and strong, angry, broke and disillusioned boys we risk irrevocable destruction and breakdown of social structures.

Our future is directly dependent on how and where we engage our boys; their future opportunities and their development.