I spent yesterday evening with members of the Rotaract Club of Nairobi Central. I was invited to be part of a 3-person panel discussing the new Constitution and how it relates to youth. The participants included a good mix of young Kenyan men and women – almost equal in number – most aged between 18-35.
The best part of the forum was its format, rather than a formal presentation of constitutional facts and clauses – it was an interactive, informal dialogue between the panelists and audience. The informality of the forum really allowed those present to say what they really thought about the new constitution and its implementation, no-holds-barred. The mood with regard to implementation as far as I could tell was one of cautious optimism, heavier on the caution than on the optimism.
Among some to the comments:
- Would the non discrimination clause would eliminate phrases like ‘over 10 years experience required’ or ‘applicants should be between 35 and 45’ in job advertisement as such clauses automatically discriminate against youth in employment?
- The issue of emerging middle class apathy was also raised i.e. How middle class youth especially professionals are detached from politics and don’t want anything to do with and want to get on with making money yet they are the ones to potentially influence change and professionalize leadership, no suggestions of how to interest them were made though.
- There was the issue of how will youth influence politics when the political elections in Kenya are dictated by how much money one has, the youth candidates can rarely compete because none have sonko-type money.
- Someone also made a comment about all the trees in the forest being changed but the monkeys remaining the same when it comes to addressing youth issues.
Those aged between 18 and 35 make up approximately 75% of Kenya’s population, unfortunately a large percentage of this population is unemployed and feel marginalised in terms of access to opportunities, representation and participation. So how does the new constitution cater for them?
Article 55 requires that the government undertake affirmative action measures to ensure the youth have access to relevant education, training and to
employment. It also requires that the state create and strengthen existing platforms for youth participation in political, social, economic spheres of life and legislate towards this end. However, as they say the devil is in the detail, and most of the people present wanted to know the exactly how the articles would be implemented and work in practice. Specifically articles on non-discrimination according to age (Article 27.4), affirmative action for youth with regards to the provision of education, training and employment (Article 55).
Also of interest was youth participation in the national assembly as envisioned by Article 97 (1) which requires that political parties to nominate 12 members to represent special interests including the youth. Representation of the youth in the Senate is provided for in Article 98, which requires that the Senate have two members, one man and one woman, representing the youth. Finally youth representation and participation in the county assemblies is provided for in Article 177 (c).
The constitution does not have specific language on how these provisions will be implemented, and leaves it up to parliament to enact the relevant legislation. The constitution does however provide an excellent broad framework and launch pad for youth participation and representation.
Bobby Mkangi, one of the panelists and a member of the Committee of Experts, pointed out that though the constitution caters for youth rights it is up to the Parliament to implement.
What this means is that the youth must remain vigilant during the implementation process to ensure that they are included in all aspects of society in the manner envisioned by the constitution. To quote Frederick Douglas: Power concedes nothing without demand.