Youths are the key in elec­tion

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS - AZAD ESSA

Azad Essa is a jour­nal­ist at Al Jazeera. He is also co-found­ing editor of The Daily Vox

IT’S the po­lit­i­cal ri­valry be­tween two fam­i­lies that has de­fined post-colo­nial Kenya’s pol­i­tics. The Odinga and Keny­atta ri­valry is well into its sixth decade, but when Kenyans go to the polls early next week, it might just be the end of their spell over the na­tion.

Once again, the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion will be a tight con­test. Once again, 55-yearold Pres­i­dent Uhuru Keny­atta and op­po­si­tion leader Raila Odinga are the main pro­tag­o­nists in an elec­tion fea­tur­ing 18 ma­jor can­di­dates. And, once again, the spec­tre of vi­o­lence and trib­al­ism hangs over the process. But this time there is a ma­jor dif­fer­ence. About 80% of Kenyans are be­low the age of 30, Over­all, 42% are chil­dren un­der 15.

But in­stead of in­form­ing the agenda of the na­tion, they are mostly writ­ten out of lead­er­ship. They are poorly rep­re­sented in the gov­ern­ment and are with­out jobs and op­por­tu­nity. They are marginalised and forced to ac­cept deep-seated cor­rup­tion, and ir­rel­e­vant and in­ac­ces­si­ble ed­u­ca­tion. Theirs is a daily bat­tle for dig­nity in an econ­omy that is cor­rupt, and of­ten di­vided across tribal lines and po­lit­i­cal favour. Their pa­tience and favour with the po­lit­i­cal elite are run­ning thin.

Most young Kenyans have lit­tle trust in ei­ther of the main can­di­dates, know­ing that for the past 10 years they have been used, abused and dis­carded by the pa­ter­nal­ism of tribal pol­i­tics. And if early indi­ca­tions are any­thing to go by, young Kenyans are un­likely to ac­cept more of the same fol­low­ing the out­come of this elec­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to the UN, un­em­ploy­ment is at 39%, higher than Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tan­za­nia or Uganda. As it stands, 42% of its pop­u­la­tion live be­low the poverty line, an em­bar­rass­ing statis­tic for a coun­try touted as the big­gest econ­omy in East Africa.

When it comes to op­por­tu­nity, young Kenyans bat­tle to ac­cess qual­ity higher ed­u­ca­tion and then, even if they do, find it al­most im­pos­si­ble to find work. Last year, the World Bank said nearly one in ev­ery five youth in Kenya were un­em­ployed, the high­est in East Africa.

Thir­teen per­cent of those run­ning for of­fice are be­low 35. And all the fron­trun­ners have kept youth on the pe­riph­ery. Even if the youth were to come out in full force, we are look­ing at some 1.8 mil­lion vot­ers out of a 19 mil­lion po­ten­tial. It would in­flu­ence next week’s re­sult but not nec­es­sar­ily their fu­ture. And they know it. In fact, it doesn’t mat­ter who the youth vote for.

The story of Kenya’s fu­ture will eas­ily

Young Kenyans are run­ning out of pa­tience and un­likely to ac­cept more of the same after Au­gust 8 poll

start after the elec­tion.

Will the new gov­ern­ment look to in­fil­trate univer­sity stu­dents, us­ing decades-old prom­ises of wealth, prop­erty and pres­tige to ma­nip­u­late new stu­dent lead­er­ships into the party main­frame? Will young lead­ers be able to cre­ate new move­ments to take their dis­sent to the new gov­ern­ment, only in­ter­ested in syco­phan­tic yes-men to keep the ma­chine mov­ing? As we know from South African “youth leagues”, stu­dent lead­er­ship can be a lu­cra­tive plat­form for po­lit­i­cal ca­reers.

In the past, po­lit­i­cal par­ties bought votes, promised schol­ar­ships or asked young peo­ple to pro­voke havoc. Some are so fear­ful of a re­turn to vi­o­lence should there be a an­other dead­lock, that thou­sands of peo­ple have left Nairobi for their ru­ral homes to save them­selves the trauma. The poor de­liv­ery of the afore­men­tioned bribes presents hope that young Kenyans won’t fall into the same trap again.

It’s easy to for­get that Kenya has ma­jor un­re­solved is­sues that date from the colo­nial pe­riod.

Un­der the mask of “rad­i­cal­i­sa­tion” and “tribal pol­i­tics”, lie a spate of un­re­solved land and re­gional in­equal­i­ties that con­tinue to haunt the poor. Ac­cord­ing to Amnesty In­ter­na­tional, Kenya had the most ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings in Africa for 2016/17 pe­riod. Un­der the guise of counter-ter­ror­ism, Kenya has been qui­etly quelling dis­sent through en­forced dis­ap­pear­ances or ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings.

While most an­a­lysts and me­dia re­ports re­fer to the 1 000-plus peo­ple who died in the elec­tion vi­o­lence of 2007, hun­dreds of peo­ple, mostly the poor, are being killed each year un­der such state ma­chin­ery. When you are a key ally in fight­ing al-Shabaab, and sur­rounded by Bu­rundi, So­ma­lia and Uganda, it’s easy to es­cape se­ri­ous scru­tiny.

But dis­sent and anger in Kenya is de­cep­tively high. This is a coun­try with a short­age of doc­tors and med­i­cal fa­cil­i­ties. Like South Africa, it in­volves a col­laps­ing ru­ral econ­omy, in­clud­ing un­re­solved land is­sues, in­equal­ity and decades-old in­jus­tice.

Whereas half of Kenyan land was owned by Euro­pean colonis­ers by in­de­pen­dence, to­day most of the wealth and land is owned by the new po­lit­i­cal elites.

Young Kenyans are ask­ing tough ques­tions of the sta­tus quo. Like South Africa, farcical elec­tions that of­fer lit­tle al­ter­na­tives aren’t go­ing to work.

The bub­ble will burst.

MORE OF THE SAME? A sur­vivor, 11, stands amid the ruins of the Kenyan Assem­blies of God Pen­ta­costal Church where 18 peo­ple were burnt alive dur­ing eth­nic clashes after elec­tions in 2008.

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