Inclusion of youth in politics, key in securing Kenya a stable political future
By MICHAEL CHERAMBOS
Not only are they a large segment of Kenya’s population with 75% of the 47.6 million being below the age of 35 as per the 2019 Census Data, the youth in Kenya are a representation of among the country’s most abundant asset when it comes to shaping and forging the country’s political future. Reason being that leadership is always successive to the next generation. Further to this, experts have indicated that the country is experiencing a ‘youth bulge’ with the youth population recording an over 20 per cent of the country’s population where 29 per cent of the youth population are between 18-34 years as per the data. However, youth inclusion in Kenya’s political scene is wanting with many youths less inclined to understanding the politics of the day, yet, are considered and will be among those that will step into the shoes of the country’s future leaders.
In one way or the other, it is proving critical that Kenya becomes more intentional in engaging the youth in the political scene as it will not only shape politics but also have a huge bearing on tackling challenges of unemployment, police harassment of youth, access to facilities and services including education and health, access capital among other issues and interests considered as opportunities for growth by the youth. Through representation of the youth and understanding of the youth by leaders, the country can comfortably pass the mantle of leadership to the next generation. Otherwise, a gap created out of youth exclusion in politics is likely to spell doom for any country and Kenya is no exception. Through inclusion any country has guarantee of ensuring a country progresses in adopting skillful and knowledgeable leaders who will serve the interests of the next generation thus ensuring a peaceful continuity.
However, how can this be attained and has Kenya done enough in ensuring youth inclusion in Kenya’s political space? Do Kenya’s political class understand the interests of the youth and what sort of influence are political leaders invoking on youth? Do the youth trust the country’s political systems to serve them in their interests as far as opportunities are concerned?
Arguably, various efforts have been undertaken to involve the youth in politics including being at the table of decision making. A policy approach was one of the considerations but this has so far not attained the much-desired success with implementation proving to be a daunting task. For instance, the Kenya Youth Policy was approved in 2006 with five key principles that drove the policy including a respect of cultural belief systems and ethical value; equity and accessibility; gender inclusiveness; good governance and mainstreaming youth issues. Later on, the Kenya Youth Development Policy was approved under President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2019 with a focus on mainstreaming issues affecting the youth with youth exclusion pointed out as one of the areas that need to be addressed. These policies are useful in enactment of laws that facilitate the smooth running of youth affairs but implementation only depends on the good will of leaders who understand the challenges and interests of the youth and the urgency at hand. However, this has majorly been a slow process which to the youth appears as a lack of interest by leaders to engage in their affairs with the consequence replicated on disinterest in matters touching on politics.
Intent of leaders in empowering the youth is a key driver for youth engagement as it is a display of leaders who are concerned in offering solutions on challenges the youth are grappling with including unemployment, issues of substance abuse, access to capital for business opportunities and even access to healthcare. Attention on such issues gives the youth a platform to voice their issues in seeking solutions as well as developing an interest in their political ideologies which they see as a benefit to them. This may be among the most effective ways to gain attention and participation of youth in politics. But so far, many youths consider themselves excluded in politics by virtue of their needs are not being addressed.
Other channels have come from initiatives by non-Governmental organizations where youth are engaged on responsible politics through peaceful elections and shunning violence instigated by their counterparts or by their leaders. With politics always being named as one of the divisive elements among the youth, such organizations engage in awareness campaigns to sensitize the youth on the importance understanding the politics of the day and being aware of one’s political environment to better make sensible decisions.
The influence of leaders upon the youth is also a key factor of youth participation in politics as a negative influence on youth may tend to deter youths from being actively involved in politics. A positive influence from political leaders to youth is likely to provide platforms for youth to influence decisions, air their grievances and also offer solutions that resonate well with them. With energy and enthusiasm, this would be a good platform for nurturing leaders who further represent the youth in the legislative platforms and through elective representations, nomination, political parties and other relevant political bodies.
Being the future of leadership, the youth must never sit back and watch as politics play out. They must show intentionality in understanding the politics of the day. Fortunately, the current youth of the 21st century comprising of millennials and Generation Z are well equipped and zealous in airing their views on social media, a disruptive platform that reshaped politics and has well-proven to generate a huge political following for leaders who skillfully articulate their views to sell to their audiences. This can also be strategically channeled to increase engagement of youth in political forums as has been the case on the various platforms either actively through podcasts on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter among others.
Again, the increased number of eligible voters since 2017 to the current 19, 678,885 as at June 2021 is a confirmation of the increase in young voters with the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, IEBC recording 149,600 new voters with young people who were not eligible to vote being included in the registry. This again portends a good opportunity for electoral bodies and other political institutions to engage the youth in responsible voting process and being aware of their rights as well as responsibility in ensuring harmonious political environment rid of violence.