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Youth Not a Panacea for Kenya’s Political Problems

By Matunda Nyanchama

Toronto, Ontario

September 23, 2001

The Kanu-NDP marriage consummation has yet to happen. Once it comes into being, the union is expected it wield substantial sway in the political process, starting with the constitutional reforms that are underway and stretching, the architects hope, into the future. Of great interest in the general and Presidential elections planned for 2002.

With this positioning has come the call for the “passing of the torch” to younger generation leaders. Proponents rightly argue that it is time for fresh thinking. They then contend, wrongly, that this can only happen with new generation leadership. Such youthful leadership, proponents believe, will be in tune with modern ways of solving problems.

Fronting this battle for younger leadership are Kanu-NDP “Young Turks” like Otieno Kajwang, Raila Odinga, Uhuru Kenyatta, William Ruto, and Joshua Ojode, among others. From indications, they have President Moi’s “ear” and hope to capitalize on the power of incumbency to ascend to power.

Kenyans, throughout the world, are yearning for new leadership that will be in tune with national interests. This leadership would wage a war against corruption, restore law and order, ensure accountability, nurture democratic ideals and invest in a social agenda that would enhance the welfare of fellow Kenyans. Such leadership would create an environment conducive for economic development through encouragement of investment and job creation. The leadership would invest in the infrastructure to allow efficient delivery of goods and services to Kenyans, giving the latter the worth of their tax money.

Where this leadership comes from, few Kenyans will care less. We know too well that age is no panacea to Kenyan ills such as corruption, nepotism, torture and persecution. Indeed, among the most corrupt Kenyans are young people, many of who have never known a different socio-political environment from the one that exists today in our country. In the larger scheme of things, Kenyan youth is as culpable as their fathers for the country’s problems. Their failure to use their numbers to rally for political change is a case in point. Were the youth determined to bring change in the country, they would have raised sufficient pressure on the system to cause transfer of power to more accountable leadership. Yet this has not happened, their majority notwithstanding!

There is more.

The largest corruption scandal in Kenya was the brainchild of Kamlesh Pattni, a young man in his early 30s. This scandal, whose end we have yet to see, has the most widespread tentacles, some reaching into the highest echelons of government. And it touches more people than many Kenyans have cared to understand, including others that were “saints” in Kenyans’ eyes. Kenyans recall too well the late Oginga Odinga Jaramogi’s admission to accepting two million shillings from Pattni. He would later claim he did not know of Pattni’s involvement in Goldenberg!

Jaramogi’s son Raila Odinga, now Minister for Energy, with Otieno Kajwang’ as his lawyer, would later institute a private prosecution case against Vice-President George Saitoti for involvement in Goldenberg. It is only that politics knows no irony that both Odinga and Saitoti find themselves in the same cabinet. And Goldenberg still remains unresolved to citizens’ satisfaction.

If the elections of 1992 have any lesson to offer it is that younger generation leaders are equally culpable in the problems we face as a country. At the time, there was open clamour for change with Kenyans looking forward to a new era, one free of the obfuscation, persecution and torture of the one-party state. We know what happened. Kenyans’ wishes for change were frustrated by, among others, young people in the name of Youth for Kanu 1992. This movement of power-hungry interests, awash with money siphoned from national coffers, locked in Kanu victory, which ensured continuing exploitation of Kenyans by a small corrupt clique.

Almost ten years have passed since that crucial time in 1992. In due course, Kenyans have learnt the hard way as they face a myriad of daily hardships: crime, lack of medicines, corruption in all spheres of government, rundown roads, a declining education system, a disenchanted population that wishes it lived elsewhere other than Kenyan, name it! Kenyans are only too aware of the exodus of qualified personnel, and negative economic growth as major investors relocate to safer havens conducive for business. The regime watches as the country faces the worst health crisis in the name of AIDS and its continued spread. This is the regime whose life has been sustained partly by the Kanu-NDP “Young Turks”.

The young generation gunning for political power must address, among other things, the following:

  • Credible arguments why power should transition to them; youth alone will not be the license to win power. This group needs to be cognizant of their past roles in the Kenyan political arena and how that relates to their current political standing. Kenyans know too well where the lot has been. The lack of a consistent stand on issues that worry Kenyans is of major concern. How they can be believed this time around is a matter the lot must address.
  • Offer an effective political transition programme. The current political atmosphere is too poisoned for realistic democratic participation of Kenyans in the change of guard. Presently, the Kanu-NDP duo govern with, perhaps, less than 50% national support. Yet they exercise 100% of the power. A sound political transition programme is necessary to usher in a new order of mass political participation and as wide involvement as possible nationally. The Kanu-NDP Young Turks need to offer their solutions here.
  • A programme to put the country back to recovery. The recovery programme must encompass national politics, economics, education, agriculture, health, foreign affairs, and energy. The search for political power, for power’s own sake, is likely to be counter-productive. Kenyans wish to see a realistic action plan bereft of ineptitude seen in the current government.
  • Demonstrate the advantages they present over other political leadership alternatives. Youth alone offers no winning card.
  • Show, by word and deed, that they are not stalking horses for the perpetuation of the oligarchy from which they derive support. The “Young Turks” must clearly distinguish themselves from their main sponsors: President Arap Moi and his “Kitchen Cabinet”. They must convince Kenyans that, once in power, they will be their own “men”. History is replete with “victims” of Moi’s “use and dump” perfected machinery. The latest casualty: Bwana Dawa, Mark Arap Too, aka Mr Fixit! In the more recent past we had the high-flying former head of Civil Service, Richard Leakey, among others.

Our country faces major challenges, which, taken together, make it a very complex maze to navigate. Key among these are peaceful transition to new democratic order with constitutional reforms as the basis, and transfer of political power from an oligarchy that has exploited their positions for personal enrichment, corruption and political persecution.

The change of guard must happen in our country, something we all Kenyans must work for. The leadership to spearhead this change must be judged for its ability to bring the change. Kenyans must reject the rhetoric that youth alone is the key to a better political future and sweet talk whose really intention is the installation of a puppet regime that will perpetuate the interests of those responsible for our current mess.

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