Can the Youth Drive Systemic Change Through This Election?

Posted by on 21st April 2017

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With the party primaries underway, the political tone in the country is just about to hit climax.  Party owners have promised free and fair nominations but we all know potential leaders are likely to lose to party favorites. The simple reason is our political parties are not institutionalized and party founders determine who gets nominated. It’s really business as usual for the political class that are making a killing through this nominations. For the rest of us however, and particularly the youth it can’t be a-business-as-usual nomination or elections for that matter.

Youth should realize there are bigger problems than missing out on the politicians tender to produce t-shirts and run campaign materials. Latest Kenya National Bureau Statistics (KNBS) paints a sad picture of Kenya’s realities. The persistent drought impacted negatively on agriculture so much that ASAL regions have had to rely on food aid. Never mind there are leaders in these regions who are seeking votes again, despite being unable to deal with a cyclic event. They have enough funds to hire youth to set up websites and run social media campaigns but were unable to employ this creativity in making their constituents food secure.

Unemployment is a challenge for every government in the world and sadly it’s usually the youth who are most affected. Kenya’s unemployment rate is reported to be the highest in East Africa. While for every 20 Tanzanians or Ugandans there’s 1 unemployed youth; in Kenya, one in every five youths of working age have no jobs. If you imagine the vices associated with lack of jobs then you will grasp the severity of the matter.

Kenya with its vibrant youth population is missing out on the demographic dividend. The result is an angry emotionally unstable youth who is only too willing to do anything including serve as conduits for violent politicians. The ongoing primaries have been marred by political violence and in all cases it’s staggering the number of youth involved directly or indirectly. The 2007/08 post-election violence reached such scales because of an energetic disillusioned and misguided youth.

Also considering how charged this year’s politics appears to be, there’s a need for this demographic to be sober more than any other time. While launching the Kenya Youth Manifesto, Nerima Wako, the co-founder of Siasa Place reminded the youth present at the launch that there was a need to change the narrative that the youth were only a chaos-churning, careless group and any other tag that makes the youth untrustworthy with political power. The launching of the youth manifesto was a statement that the youth wanted a revolution; an intelligent revolution.

Sadly, research by NCIC revealed that youth with college level education were more tribal than the high school drop outs. Is our education and training system preparing our youth to contribute to our nationhood and democracy? No wonder, youth have their priorities mixed up and consequently challenges like unemployment remain unattended.

Despite the launch of a manifesto by a coalition of youth groups in mid-April, youth are generally disengaged from political parties and can’t influence decisions at that level. A report by the Center for Multi-Party Democracy (CMD-Kenya) published in 2015 revealed how disengaged youth are from political parties. The report shows that despite the youth being the majority in the country “their representation in formal institutions of the state and government is minimal. Their participation in political parties is also minimal.” Youth need to be empowered to “play a greater role than just being used as voting machines”.

In 2011 in a parliamentary debate about political parties, Devolution CS, Mwangi Kiunjuri said “most political parties have many supporters but few members.” Youth argue online by their hundreds but are nowhere when parties are discussing key issues about the country that inform parliamentary work and indirectly their lives.

It was therefore exciting to see the youth in Busia make their case to the media having found their names missing in the list of those voting in the ODM nominations. That’s the kind of involvement that will guarantee the right candidate is nominated. However, the youth in these regional zones should be careful not to nominate politicians based on tribe but rather their policies or plan towards the youth.

The Youth manifesto is a good starting point as it consolidates their opinions and youth leaders can use it engage politicians using factual information. And while we’re talking about intelligent revolution there’s a need to also understand that leadership that gives attention to the youth does not necessarily mean a youthful candidate. Youth must therefore identify individuals with an actual plan to solve their problems and rally around such a candidate, otherwise youth marginalization is a song we shall continue singing for a very long time. What do you think?