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Kenyan Youth Must Engage in Change for the Right Reasons

Matunda Nyanchama

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

June 1, 2009

United States Ambassador Michael E Ranneberger is calling on, especially on the Kenyan youth, to play their rightful role in the Kenyan political process. Political hopefuls like Jimmy Kibaki and Tony Gachoka seem to be following suit. They realize the power and potential of the youth.

This is a NOT a new idea. The call seems to recur from time to time. Former President Daniel Arap Moi, in the sunset of his presidency in 2001, asked for the youth to come out and lead! The youth have the energy, he said; they are less encumbered with the politics of “old”, he added; they are more likely to see the world in a “new light”!

Then I responded that Youth Are Not A Panacea for Kenya’s problems! It was true then; it is true today! There are many, many youth that are corrupt. Indeed, if youth haven’t been brought up in a tradition of democratic values, they will simply perpetuate the political script they have been dealt. Alongside the campaign to get youth to participate, we should also urge that they help build a democratic dispensation.

The 2007 elections saw a number of young MPs elected to parliament. Watch the performance of these “Young Turks” in the present parliament. They seem to be following the old, tried, tested and won out script! A script that has been tried tested and failed; a script that is central to the current mess in the country.

We need a new script; and yes, the youth must be the larger component of this script. This is because the youth have greater stakes in the future of the nation than the aged and soon-to-die off generation in power. The youth have to pay greater attention to today’s politics for those are the seedlings of the crops they will harvest in their prime!

Necessarily that script must be based on democratic principles, including justice, equity, and respect for diversity. The script must be based on the common good and a shared common destiny, where each Kenyan plays his/her rightful role in the realization of a prosperous nation.

It will be a great help for the future if most youth internalized values that would realize a prosperous Kenya that many of us dream of; a dream that will NOT be realized through current leadership and their policies.

Calling on youth participation in national affairs also recognizes that they haven’t asserted themselves as they should. Were the youth to assert themselves effectively, they would bring a sea change to the current environment. It is estimated that more than 60% of Kenyan voters are below the age of thirty. They have the numbers that no one can ignore. It is no wonder that some politicians become uneasy at the mention of youth.

I  posit that youth participation in the political process is lacking, in part, because of our African culture and that seeks deference to elders and authority. This is NOT good for democracy! Deference to elders is fine where those elders hold values amenable to the common good; it is good when the elders work towards a better common destiny.

In traditional society where reverence worked, those elders were selfless; they dedicated themselves to the survival of the societies they lived in! They nurtured youth with the hope that the latter would ensure the society thrived into the future. It was a vastly different world then compared to today. How may of our elders (specifically those in power) are committed to the collective good of our nation to the extent the elders of yore were?

The shameless exploitation of our culture remains real today! In the old days elders never stole from their communities as today’s leaders do! Seers never corrupted their flock as religious leaders do today! Today’s elders must understand that they cannot have their cake and eat it too! They can’t seek reverence when they neither hold nor practice values that serve the common good! They do not deserve it.

It hurts to society to defer to elders in environments where these elders are central to corruption, driven by unfettered greedy ambitions! It is retrogressive to defer to these elders when they perpetuate ethnic discrimination and dream ethnic cleansing and mayhem. It is self-defeating to defer to elders when their vision of the nation is based on narrow sectarian interests rather than the national common good!

It is better to have a young man with a grand, achievable vision for Kenya than an elder who perpetuates tribalism, takes and gives bribes, causes ethnic clashes, facilitates corruption scandals and more! Conversely, I had rather have an elder with democratic values, works for the common good and is committed to a prosperous Kenya.

In traditional society, deferring to elders was also fine as experience correlated with age! The older you were the more knowledgeable you were likely to be. Elders’ experiences served societies well, especially in the hunter-gatherer days; and in less sophisticated societies where knowledge was a preserve of a few. In those days the youth had to be deferential to elders so to learn in order to serve society well.

It was a different world then from what we have today where knowledge is not a preserve of those that have lived long on this earth; one needs take a stroll to the library (of course we have the Internet!) a couple of times, and make good use of time studying! And one’s knowledge expanse could leapfrog and dwarf that of elders that may be engaged in narrow, micro-focused ethnic chauvinism, corruption, and looting!

And that is where, in my view, the youth MUST assert themselves: that the elders should NOT and MUST NOT dismiss them in the name of tradition. Indeed, that they have a right to be heard in the same weight as everyone else!

Often, elders are heard extolling the young to work hard for “they are leaders of tomorrow”! The underlying message is that there is no leadership vacancy today; it will come tomorrow.

As a country we need to nurture a culture that asks for and inculcates leadership today. Kids in schools need to lead in circumstances in which they find themselves; they need to work hard in their studies, games, and all, including leadership for they need this experience over time in order to lead at a higher level.

The mantra should be: work hard and lead today! And no, don’t wait for leadership to be handed to you. Work for it! Seek it! And take it, democratically of course.

There is more! It is estimated that Kenyans under 30 years of age constitute close to 65% of the voters roll! Now there it is: one needs these numbers to make real change happen, i.e. if the numbers are harnessed properly.

Talking of youth is also necessary to give them the confidence that they can make the necessary difference for a better future. Often, as has been seen, youth follow, get used and get dumped for selfish gain. In the process they would have learnt and internalized the retrogressive practices that are the cause of our problems. They merely become a conduit for past failed practices.

Empowering youth would enable them to critically examine what they engage in and question those things not in line with values of democracy, justice, fairness, etc. US president Barack Obama knew this and with resonance (mainly) youth responded that “yes we can”!

There is more! When youth energy is harnessed for common good, it can move mountains! American upheavals, that rocked the social order in many ways, was largely advanced by the youth, many that rejected the old order! Through protest (e.g. against the Vietnam War, racial discrimination, etc.), music (rock and roll), clothing, and many other ways, they were able to create a “new order”! The US president Barack Obama makes that point: being a beneficiary of an order driven largely by youthful energy of leaders like Martin Luther King Jr.

Kenyan youth should internalize the message that: they have bigger stakes in the nation’s future. And for that future to be different, they MUST get engaged in the process! They MUST help seek ways of building a democratic society and reject the tried, tested and failed ways of corruption, nepotism, ethnic discrimination, corruption. They must vote for interest here which is: a just .society of fairness, equity, accountability, and true democratic governance.

Matunda Nyanchama is an Information Security professional working in Canada. Read more of his opinion at

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