Focus is now rapidly shifting towards the young people, as the country gears up for the referendum expected to set up the pace for 2022 election campaigns. However, very little is being said on how to elevate them into leadership positions.
A recent research on youth representation by the Inter-Parliamentary Union gives worrying statistics. Although the median age of Kenya is only 19 years, a paltry three per cent of MPs are under the age of 30 years. It is only 27 percent that are under 40 years and with 80 percent of the country’s population being below 35 percent, this becomes a matter of grave concern.
Despite their huge success in other areas such as innovation, young people rank poorly in running for public office, out of immense obstacles that come with age limits as well as ethically biased political mobilisation that we have adopted as a country.
Political parties do not attach much capital to young people due to their inexperience, preferring seasoned politicians who are also economically endowed to finance expensive political campaigns. But if youth are old enough to vote, they are old enough to vie. Moreover, young people cannot sit and watch things go wrong, everything is determined by leadership.
Young people must turn from being passive spectators in politics to decision-makers. In his address during the recent launch of The Youth Congress Leagues, former Chief Justice Dr. Willy Mutunga aptly captured it when he said that a new and better Kenya will be achieved only if youth contest and win political power.
The World Bank has also observed that young MPs are best poised to understand the perspectives of younger generations; put their voice into the democratic process with fresh energy as well as technological savvy for more effective and efficient development outcomes. Young MPs are more likely to relate to, and therefore advocate for, legislation to promote vital issues such as human capital investments and creation of jobs creation.
They are better placed to embrace technology to create opportunities and change, bringing fresh perspectives and innovations to policy discussions and invigorating democracy. With the large youth populations, Kenya should pursue institutional reforms such as lowering the eligibility age; designing new recruitment strategies; establishing youth quotas and empowering party youth wings.
Youth should not rely on affirmative action; they should fight for positions – run for office. It is true that youth participation in political parties in Kenya is very low, which could be aggravated by apathy and lack of internal party democracy. Youth are relegated to insignificant low cadre positions such as youth leagues with limited resources and authority to meaningfully influence political parties, its decisions and ascend to leadership.
The trend has always been to form youth wings that are not fully integrated in the mainstream party and are only visible during electioneering period to intimidate rivals. The enactment of the Political Parties Act has not saved the day. The law provides for funding of the political parties by the government, which was meant to help them embrace internal democracy that would in turn shape leadership, which would open opportunities for youth to take up leadership positions in various party ranks.
This would also cure the problem of control of the parties by individuals contributing significant resources to run them. Truth be told, one area we have fared poorly as a nation is leadership and one wonders where we got it wrong. The issue of bad governance and its associated problems of political instability, social malaise, corruption, lack of accountability and transparency, and disrespect for the rule of law still persists.
Today, we can see the future for Kenya on the horizon, but tough choices have to be made in order to arrive at that destination. Youth have to step up, provide leadership, push and work towards that future. Young people must not be weighed down by the old ways; they must create a new path. The country is waiting for passionate and visionary youth leaders.