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Data doesn’t back media claim that Kenya has East Africa’s highest youth unemployment rate of 38.9%

As the country counts the jobs cost of Covid lockdowns, a pan-African media house tried to work out how many young people are affected.

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  • Unemployment in Kenya, already a concern, has been made worse by Covid restrictions. Media house Africanews tried to work out its effect on young people.

  • It said Kenya had the highest rate of “youth joblessness” in East Africa, backed up by census data that put the country’s youth unemployment rate at 38.9%.

  • But the 38.9% is based on a faulty calculation. And Kenya’s youth unemployment rate is not the highest in East Africa, according to the World Bank’s database. Depending on which set of data is used, the country with the highest rate is either Rwanda or South Sudan.

In early November 2021, Kenya’s judiciary said its website had been overwhelmed when more than 60,000 people applied for just 560 jobs.

Unemployment, made worse by the effect of Covid restrictions, is a concern in the country. President Uhuru Kenyatta’s government is trying to tackle the problem with, for example, billion-shilling projects targeting young people. 

In September, multilingual satellite and digital broadcaster Africanews said Kenya was aiming to “fully reopen in December”. Kenyatta’s administration has already eased some restrictions.

Africanews tried to work out how young Kenyans have been affected. “Data from the World Bank says Kenya has the highest rate of youth joblessness in East Africa, a claim backed up by the Kenya 2019 census data that put youth unemployment rate at 38.9%,” it said.

Is this the case? We checked the two claims in the statement.


Kenya’s 2019 census data put youth unemployment at 38.9%.



Africanews told Africa Check that the statistics came from the World Bank and an article published in Kenya’s Business Daily on 24 February 2020. 

The article, Business Daily’s lead story for that day, is headlined: “Census: 39pc of Kenya youth are unemployed.” It says the figure is based on new data from the 2019 census, the country’s most recent. The publication gave the youth as those aged between 18 and 34, in line with national law.

In March 2020 we checked the statistic and rated it as incorrect.

Has the youth unemployment estimate been recalculated since then? No, officials at the Kenya National Statistics Bureau, which carried out the census, told Africa Check.  

Based on 2019 census data, “the 38.9% figure is not correct,” Vivianne Moraa, a manager with the statistics bureau, told Africa Check. 

The most recent official data on youth unemployment is the bureau’s 2015/16 basic labour force report, released in March 2018. This gave the rate as 11.4%.

The most recent quarterly labour force survey, made public September 2021, does not have an unemployment rate for the 18 to 34 age group. But it notes that “the age groups 20-24 and 25-29 continued to record the highest proportion of the unemployed at 16.3% and 9.1%, respectively”. Unemployment was at 6.1% among people aged 30 to 34, and 6.8% for those aged 15 to 19.

We are awaiting annual youth unemployment figures from the data agency.

In the 2019 census, the statistics agency gave Kenya’s population as 47.6 million that year. There were 13.77 million people aged 18 to 34, of whom 8.4 million were employed and 1.65 million unemployed. 

For its 2020 article, Business Daily worked out that the 8.4 million employed people made up 61.1% of this age group, meaning that the rest – 38.9% – were unemployed.   

But this approach was inaccurate, statisticians said.

Employed, unemployed – and economically inactive 

The labour force should be the focus when estimating the unemployment rate, Robert Nderitu, director of production statistics at the statistics bureau, told Africa Check.

The labour force includes both the employed and the unemployed, but excludes the economically inactive, he told Africa Check.

“A significant number of the population [of interest] were outside the labour force,” Nderitu said, adding that this was the error made in the claim.

People outside the labour force are not working for reasons other than an unsuccessful search for employment and should have been excluded from the calculation, he said. These include children, the incapacitated and those who had given up on looking for a job.

Moraa told Africa Check that the bureau counted the unemployed according to International Labour Organisation (ILO) guidelines.

Unemployment, she said, was defined as “people who do not have a job, have actively looked for work in the past four weeks, and are currently available for work”.

In addition to this “strict” definition of unemployment, people who had looked for jobs in the short reference period but were not “currently available” are also included in the labour force.

Economists have previously told Africa Check that these differences in definition can make it tricky to explain unemployment to the public. And accurately measuring unemployment can be a challenge because in “in [the] African context, people don’t just stay idle”.

The census’s number of unemployed people aged 18 to 34 – 1.65 million – works out to 12%, which is closer to both the quarterly labour force survey estimate and the figure of 12.85% for 2019 that the World Bank supplied to us.   

The claim that youth unemployment in Kenya is 38.9%, repeated by Africanews, is still incorrect.


“Data from the World Bank says Kenya has the highest rate of youth joblessness in East Africa.”



We asked the World Bank for its most recent estimates of “youth joblessness” in the six member states that make up the East African Community. These are Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.

Bank spokesperson Vera Rosauer was uncertain about the definition of “youth joblessness”. But the Africanews story also referred to youth unemployment in its story. 

In its data, the bank cites the ILO’s definition of unemployed workers as “those who are currently not working but are willing and able to work for pay, currently available to work, and have actively searched for work”.

The ILO defines the unemployment rate as “the number of unemployed in an age group divided by the labour force for that group”. The labour force is made up of people of working age and includes both the employed and unemployed.

Defining ‘youth’, and other problems with comparisons 

The ILO cautions that countries “vary somewhat in their operational definitions” of youth. It defines the youth as people aged 15 to 24 years. In Kenya, the constitution defines the youth as “those who have attained the age of 18 years, but have not yet attained the age of 35”.

These differences “have implications for comparability”, the ILO says. Timing is also a factor. 

“Cross-country comparisons are not easy given the different points in time that national surveys are conducted,” the World Bank’s Rosauer told Africa Check. “For this reason, we would discourage cross-country comparisons.” 

She said that if a comparison had to be made, it would be better to use the World Development Indicators (WDI), the bank’s database. This has two sets of data, one modelled using ILO estimates and the other drawn from national estimates. 

“Given the difficulties stemming from different surveys conducted at different times, the ILO relies on models to project labour statistics from national survey data. This is also reported in the WDI,” Rosauer said.

Youth unemployment in East Africa 


ILO modelling estimate for 2019

National estimate (year of most recent data)



12.85%* (2019)



15.56% (2017)



3.9% (2014)



20.48% (2019)



2.9% (2014)

South Sudan


18.5% (2008**)

*As shared with Africa Check by the World Bank. **South Sudan became independent on 9 July 2011 and joined the East African Community in April 2016

Source: World Development Indicators

National estimates indicate that Rwanda had the highest youth unemployment rate. The ILO’s estimates, on the other hand, are the highest for South Sudan. None of the estimates give Kenya the region’s highest rate.

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