By GERALD LEPARIYO
Since independence the youth of Kenya have been branded as ‘the future leaders’ but as we approach the August 2017 General Election their interests seem to have been ignored once again.
While it is clear that the youth need to be equipped with important ingredients that builds effective leaders through meaningful skill development, identification of common issues, challenges, opportunities and values, little has been done to attain this.
Such initiatives will be able to provide a dynamic leadership pool of young people, a valuable resource to different sectors of our beloved country’s economy.
However, even with the creation of a ministry to cater for youth affairs namely the Ministry of Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs headed by Sicily Kanini Kariuki, there is nothing major the government can show for youth empowerment in leadership and governance.
Youth leaders active in a leadership capacity in their community are not only seen as role models but also demonstrates mentoring, role modeling, and leadership to other aspiring leaders across the country.
The youth can be a creative force, a dynamic source of innovations, and they have undoubtedly, throughout history, participated, contributed, and even catalyzed important changes in political systems, power-sharing dynamics and economic opportunities.
However, youth also face poverty, barriers to education, multiple forms of discrimination and limited employment prospects and opportunities.
Youth need to be empowered to participate in governance and leadership
According to United Nations data, in the area of political participation, in a third of countries, eligibility for national parliament starts at 25 years old or older.
About 1.65 percent of parliamentarians around the world are in their 20s and 11.87 percent are in their 30s, the average age of parliamentarians globally is 53 (50 years old for women parliamentarians) and yet young people between the ages of 15 and 25 constitute a fifth of the world’s population.
Even as we approach the August 2017 General Election, no political party, in its management and leadership, has been keen to identify youth as a key constituent to be involved in decision-making.
Statistics show that Kenya’s unemployment rate stands at 40 per cent. Sadly, seven out of every 10 people who are jobless are youth, who also constitute 60 per cent of Kenya’s population.
Youth are said to constitute about 67 per cent of the voters in Kenya. This is a huge pool to tap because they could tilt the vote.
Unfortunately, active participation of youth in the coming General Election look remote as they have been marginalised, excluded from decision-making in the country’s body-politick and governance generally.
Currently youths are merely used as political pawns, who do bidding of wealthy and corrupt politicians who dish handouts to them to disrupt their opponents’ political rallies.
A casual glance at the secretariat of the main political parties will reveal an almost total exclusion of youth, especially at the top. The trend with political parties has been to form youth wings that are parallel to, but not integrated into, the mainstream party.
Marginalization of youth by political parties
According to Godwin Murunga and Shadrak Wasong’o (2007), this trend was inherited by the post-colonial government from the colonial administration: ‘youth wings existed in both sides of the divide and were basically charged with carrying out instructions from above’.
These youth wings are most visible during the general elections and are mainly used by politicians for intimidating rivals, but also serve as votes for purchase.
The usual narrative has been that during campaigns periods in Kenya youth are reduced to pawns, mostly being used to unleash politically instigated violence in support of those who bankroll them. This narrative needs to change.
Since the Arab uprising many youth in the Arab world have remained politically active through “political movements” instead of engaging with political parties.
Young men and women are traditionally active politically in universities (when allowed) but very often disillusioned with political leadership and political institutions and excluded from policy development.
As a result, according to the UN, political activism of youth is not organized according to formal groupings. Opportunities for youth to engage in governance and participate in political and decision-making processes depend largely on the political, socio-economic, and cultural contexts where social norms in many parts of the world result in multiple forms of discrimination against the young.
However, the global body argues that both formal and informal engagement can be understood as political participation, and both are beneficial for a vivid and resilient democracy and should be supported.
Youth, Governance and political leadership
There is strong evidence that the participation of young people in formal, institutional political processes is relatively low when compared to older citizens across the globe.
This challenges the representativeness of the political system and leads to the disenfranchisement of young people.
In 2011, the UNDP Democratic Governance Thematic Trust Fund (DGTTF) issued a call for proposals from UNDP Country Offices in support of innovative and catalytic projects on youth to inform public policy-making, training youth as effective leaders, extending access to justice, opening space for youth empowerment and democratic governance.
Youth empowerment and democratic governance
In a number of project countries, youth exclusion was strongly evident, often crossing with other forms of marginalization linked to gender, location, culture and/or community.
Across the projects, activities include strengthening youth advocacy groups, providing quality research to interact with public authorities, and fostering the creation of national youth councils and plans were outlined.
Several projects place a strong emphasis on social media and information technology as some of the avenues to propel the youth into governance and leadership.
Innovative strategies range from social partnerships for service delivery to provincial youth parliaments to a digital game on youth and local governance.
As Kenya heads to the August 2017 General Election my appeal to the youth is that they should not accept to be used as political pawns this time round, but participate in the elections as key stakeholders with set goals as their participation is a fundamental democratic right.
It should be an end in itself to remove existing barriers to youth political participation.
GERALD LEPARIYO is the IIchamus community youth leader and a political commentator
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