It has been exactly one year since Mzalendo Trust launched two reports on the inclusion and participation of youth and women in the 11th and 12th Parliaments. A look back at the 12 months since sharing the findings, the challenges and recommendations highlighted for these two special interest groups still ring true.
One of the challenges concerned linkages, challenges and opportunities to effective discharge by Youth MPs of the constitutional mandate. This, in particular, came to the fore during the release of the 2018 scorecard mid last year where young legislators recorded a dismal performance compared to older, seasoned members. It is against this backdrop that Mzalendo Trust in partnership with the Kenya Young Parliamentarians Association (KYPA) and the support of the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD) conceptualized the youth assembly that brings together young leaders from various political parties across the country to deliberate youth-related matters and develop policy and legislative solutions.
As at now, three virtual meetings and one physical meeting have been held with participants drawn from 30 political outfits. The deliberations have proven what has been common knowledge for a while, that the youth are not lacking in ideas to drive development in their wards, constituencies, counties or country at large, but instead are lacking in opportunities to implement them. The denial of opportunities for young people, who make up 75% of the population as per the last census, is highly systemic and change can be achieved largely by having reforms in instruments of governance such as political parties key to their election to the national assembly and county assemblies.
Mr Enock Onkoba, the youth leader at the Kenya National Congress Party for instance is one who gives a tale of a young person who has unsuccessfully endured numerous challenges to gain an opportunity to serve his constituents. From being robbed off his ticket party even after garnering majority votes in the party primaries to intimidation tactics by opponents from the same party, Onkoba has had to jump so many hurdles to have a fair chance at securing a seat at the county assembly. He, however, remains unshaken and lauds the youth assembly initiative by Mzalendo and KYPA that aims to build the capacity of youth leaders who seek to serve at different levels. Drawing from a past similar experience, he notes the relevance and importance of such initiatives that led to five youth leaders being elected as members of the county assembly back home in the 2017 general election.
With the help of other young parliamentarians such as Nominated Senator Isaac Mwaura and Murang’a Women Representative Hon. Sabina Chege, the participating young leaders have gained a deeper understanding of the workings of the institution of Parliament and the mandate of a lawmaker. It is such knowledge that will empower them to articulate the role of an MP to their constituents while aligning their manifestos with the same with the hope to deliver once elected into office.
It is our hope that the increased participation of young people in politics will come a long way in combating voter apathy among the electorate aged between 18 and 35 years old. As it has been witnessed in the recent American elections, young people have the ability to turn around an election. The more youth front themselves as potential candidates, the more their peers are likely to take part in the election and choose members that understand and have the capacity to represent their interests. To truly and effectively solve the issue of inclusion and diversity, the conversation on policy changes has to not only be centred around special interest groups but it has to be driven by them.
Even as we hope to localize the historic election of American Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris we should remember there is power in levelling the playing field at the political party level, consistent civic education and mobilization of voters the grassroots level. This should be harnessed in the coming months as we hope to attain better governance come 2022 and in the future.