Youths are the key in election
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.