Article 10 forms the bedrock for inclusion and with youth categorized as one of the marginalized groups under Article 100, their interests should be bindingly incorporated in all governance affairs. As of 2019, youth (those below 35 years) make up about 75% of the Kenyan population. Despite the demographic superiority, it is interesting to note that youth participation in the political and governance process has remained incommensurably low, with majority of the young people viewing politics as a venture that requires extreme wealth and political patronage. This has therefore led to the creation of a ‘marginalized majority’: leading to discontentment, out-of-touch policies and wastage of crucial resources.
It has been said time and time again that the youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow. But how true is this? Our Parliament (both National Assembly and Senate) has a total of 417 members. Out of this, Youth MPs, both elected and nominated, constitute a paltry 6.5% of the entire membership of Parliament. To further emphasize on this lamentable disproportionate youth representation, in the 11th Parliament (2013-2017), only 4 members were nominated to represent youth interests in the National Assembly. This number dropped to one only in the 12th Parliament (2017-2022). The situation is replicated in the Senate, with an initial number of six youth among the nominated which dropped to four in 2017.
Various challenges have been highlighted that face active youth participation in politics which, among others, include political parties’ preference for seasoned male politicians; the undeniable role of money, power and influence; apathy among the youth in participating in political processes. The high cost of politics has been brought out as one of the most prominent that requires immediate intervention.
For young women aspirants and leaders, the situation is even worse. They face the intersectionality predicament: being both youth and women. They are therefore left out in several nominative positions and face even greater hurdles than their male counterparts. This is due to challenges such as suppressed awareness, limited mentorship, inadequate support from political parties and cultural and patriarchal attitude.
Globally, only 16% of Parliaments have a caucus that focuses on young MPs. Kenya is proudly one of them. In partnership with the Kenya Young Parliamentarians Association (KYPA), Mzalendo Trust has been implementing a Virtual Youth Assembly initiative that draws its participants from political parties and allows for debating of youth-centric issues in a mock Parliament. Recommendations arising therefrom are then forwarded to Parliamentary Committee Chairs and Youth MPs. This promotes public participation of youth and inter-party youth dialogue in the governance process and strives to encourage proactive and performing members of Parliament to continue championing and advocating for public interest and youth issues.
So, what more can be done? Political parties should apply internal rules to promote the nomination of youth MPs, particularly women, by alternating the nomination list for women Senators between youth and non-youth women. This will cater for the inclusion of young women into political processes. Further, they should sustain full transparency in the nomination processes, including publicizing the criteria and the call for applications.
For the youth, deliberate effort should be made to shun the tokenism that has been seen in recent times. Additionally, there should be push for quality representation as opposed to focusing on quantity. Good legislative proposals that will meaningfully improve the lives of the youth will only come from those who understand their roles. There should also be proactive engagement and participation in political processes, including registration as members of political parties for effective and meaningful participation in nomination processes. The low representation should jolt the youth to the realities on the ground and push to ensure that they get representation from themselves and for themselves.
In conclusion, it is to put a twist on the quote. ‘The youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow……if we procrastinate.’ Why tomorrow? Why not now? For you, the youth reading this, the time is now. It is you who can understand what your fellow youth are going through, and it is you who can advocate for change in Parliament. The time is now. Do not wait for others to take up your spaces when you are perfectly capable and beyond qualified. Happy International Youth Day.