Kenya goes to the polls on August 8 in what will be the second general election since the promulgation of the current constitution in 2010.
Kenya goes to the polls on August 8 in what will be the second general election since the promulgation of the current constitution in 2010. The race, although still in its early stages, is clearly shaping up as a political duel between the incumbent, Jubilee’s candidate, Uhuru Kenyatta, versus the newly formed opposition coalition, National Super Alliance, whose flag bearer is yet to be confirmed. However, what is clear is that whichever political arrangement eventually forms the next government; it will obviously have rode to power on the backs of Kenya’s youths.
Therefore, to the youths, focus should be on taking advantage of their numerical strengths to ensure that at the end of the elections they occupy more positions of public influence in and outside government at both county and national levels. This can only be attained if youths participate in party politics as mediums for political and democratic engagement not only as supporters, but also as contenders. According a recent youth survey report, by the Aga Khan University, the median age of Kenyans is 19 years, with about 80% of the total population aged below 35 years. This sheer population provides them with a potential capability to sway the election in a way that suits their preferences.
The clarion call for youth’s engagement in political and governance process, at high-level decision-making forums, is not only specific to Kenya, but has also been escalated at the continental level. The African Union (AU), realising the doubled aged sword that the large population of youths portends for the continent, as either a demographic dividend or a demographic time bomb, decided in January 2017 during the heads of state and governments summit, to dedicate this year’s annual theme to harnessing the potential dividend of youths across the continent. In this regard, the AU through its institutional and normative frameworks embarked on a continuous process for young people to actively participate and engage in its high-level policy formulation and implementation programmes.
The key AU’s framework for engaging young people in governance, democratic, and political process has been the African Governance Architecture. The African Governance Architecture has in the recent past already rolled out a new strategy with a specific focus on how more young people can get involved with policy issues at high-levels of governance. The core objective is to ensure increased youths engagement within the AU’s organs and institutions. It’s envisioned that the increased participation of youths in governance structures at a high-levels will deepen and widen the democratic principles and values of good governance across AU’s member nation-states.
However, for the African Governance Architecture to attain its stated goals there is need for it to equally focus on the youths’ engagement at the sub-national and national levels. This should more so be focussed on youths’ participation within political parties’ more so with regard to seeking elective posts. This will in essence increase the scope for the youths to be part and parcel of policy formulation. The reason for narrowing the focus on increased engagement of young people to political parties at the national level is due to the centrality of political parties in enabling contenders’ access to public offices, either through appointments or elections, as a means of acquiring vintage leadership positions necessary for influencing and formulating policies.
It’s significant to note that, political parties, despite their myriad shortcomings, are core pillars of furthering democracy more so in multiparty political system. Therefore it’s through political parties that the youths can mostly and legitimately participate in high-level policy and decision making procedure. Through increased participation in political parties, which are the ultimate entities that form governments, youths are able to soar up their numbers and opinions in policy formulation. Thus if youths increase their participation in political parties, their stake on the high-level decision-making also rises. This in essence can correct the current scenario where decision-making process is mainly left at the hands of minority older political elites who essentially have minimal understanding of what are the concerns for the young people in most African countries.
The logic and urgency to increase the engagement and participation by the youths in the governance process is driven by the fact that in most countries, only 1.65% of parliamentarians are in the twenties, and just about 11.87% are in their thirties. This is against statistical reality that places the global population of young people below 15 years at 29%. In Africa the number of youths is even more with over 200 million people aged between 15 and 24 and accounting for 19% of total global population. The comparison between the age brackets versus number of representatives thus depicts a skewed pattern in favour of the older demographic given the global average age of parliamentarians is 53 years.
Therefore, according the statistics, as Kenya gears up for elections, there is increased need for youth to be at the core of policy and legislation processes instead as opposed to the periphery of governance frameworks. However, this call doesn’t entirely mean that Kenyan youths in the past have not played a significant role in democratic and governance process in the country. In fact the history of youth engagement in the political and democratisation process in Kenya is clearly detailed and well documented. The youths’ engagement can be traced back to the fight for independence, through the 1980s and early 1990s during the clamour for the restoration of multiparty political system, to the major political landmarks in Kenya’s history in 2000s, such as the 2007 defeat of KANU, as well as in the sustained efforts that eventually culminated in the successful constitutional review process and final promulgation of the new constitution in 2010.
However, in most cases, the role of youths in these processes has mostly been that of pawns on either side of the political chess board. This has alienated issues of concern for the youth to the side-lines of policy action. The disenfranchisement is not helped by the dominance of ethnic cleavages that characterise Kenya’s politics. In most cases, the Kenyan political leaders and government officials whenever called to account for cases of corruption and bad governance have tended to invoke the wild card of ethnicity as a cover up. In the process they tend to incite ethnic communities, mostly youths, against each other. This by default or design subverts the need for a unified approach by young people to redress common cases of corruption, and bad governance, as the youths play into the hands of violators of the rule of law thus retreating into ethnic cocoons.
The other major challenge that limits youths’ participation in the political process is with regard to the scarcity of political funding. This ranges from the mandatory registration fees required by candidates vying for various elective posts, participation in party operations, to the actual bankrolling of political campaigns. The higher the level of political office that a candidate is gurning for, the larger the financial budget that is needed to sustain the political campaigns. There are instances where political parties have increased registration fees during electoral cycles to cash in on demands by various candidates gunning for elective posts. This is despite the fact that majority young people are unable to afford the budget that comes with mounting political campaigns.
The situation is not helped by the fact that political party youth leagues, where they do exists, continue to be viewed as mere appendages of political parties with no adequate representation of youths at the top echelons of the parent political parties’ organs and institutions. The youth leagues in essence perpetuates the notion of young people as outliers in the political party arrangements, who are merely used as fodder for political machinations in the struggle for state control by the established political elites. This further diminishes the capacity of young people to fully participate and engage in the formulation and projection of policies manly focussing on youths.
The lame-duck nature of youth leagues within existing political parties’ arrangement is further compounded by the seasonal nature of most Kenyan political parties that spring up during election periods. This hampers the ability of political parties to nurture young leaders along ideological basis as opposed to inclination along divisive ethnic politics that has traditionally defined Kenya’s geo-political landscape.
With regard to these hurdles that hinders the engagement of youths in political and governance process, it’s imperative that both the youths, political parties, as well as other stakeholders, find a way to channel the energy, and ingenuity of the youths into meaningful commitments capable of bearing dividends for social, economic, and political transformation of the country. This can mostly be done by nurturing an environment that encourages the large population of youths to get involved in party politics by running for elective positions at the sub-county, county, and national level of governance.
This should be in addition to engaging more youths in the formulation and projection of political parties’ manifestoes and strategies to reflect the realities and aspirations of young people. However, the failure to provide an inclusive approach for participation within party politics and governance stages is likely to be a harbinger for political instability as feelings of marginalisation increases amongst young people.
Nevertheless, in as much as political parties needs to be more open to the youths, the youths too should equally be more proactive. The youths can achieve this by organising themselves at the grassroots level and forming interest groups, such as community based organisation and civil society groups, that would strengthen their bargaining power in the mainstream Kenya’s political system at both the county and national level. This is likely to see youths claim ownership, and participate in high-levels policy decision-making and governance processes at both the national and regional level.
Significantly, the AU’s strategy for increasing the youths’ participation at high level decision-making process, within the framework of African Governance Architecture and its other normative and institutional schemes, should be geared mostly towards the strengthening of youths’ participation in democratic, governance, and election process at the sub-national and national levels, instead of overly focussing on youths engagement at the continental level. It’s only through increasing the level of youths’ participation at the sub-national and national levels that positive repercussions can be felt at the continental level.
It’s therefore within this backdrop that the Kenyan youths ought to view the upcoming elections not only as an opportunity to influence the direction of governance and policy formulation at the national level, but also to engage and participate in high-level decision making process at the continental level and beyond. This can only be successfully achieved if the youths move from the fringes of political parties, as mere supporters, and into the inner sanctums of political parties’ decision-making institutions and organs that are capable of influencing policy formulation and discourse.