On August 12 the world celebrated International Youth Day, whose theme was ‘Safe Spaces for Youth’. The goal was to promote dialogue to grapple with the challenges of creating youth-friendly spaces.
Youth-friendly spaces comprise everything that is critical to supporting wholesome flourishing of every young person. This includes a place they can call home, which provides sufficient and nutritious food as well as safety. It includes a decent school to nourish their minds. It also includes safe public spaces such as parks, streets, public transit. And, more importantly, it includes freedom to express oneself without fear.
But how have we done as country to provide safe spaces to support wholesome flourishing of Kenya’s youth?
A little over 10 years ago, Kenya erupted in an orgy of violence, plunder and death. The post-election violence of 2007 pushed Kenya to the precipice. There was no safe space for young and old, rich or poor. At least 1,200 were killed and about 600,000 were uprooted from places they once called home when people they once called neighbours and friends turned into blood-thirsty hounds.
Our divisive, polarising, zero-sum politics pushed us to the brink again in 2017. An election was nullified. The repeat poll was marred by very low turnout. Our confidence in democracy was frayed.
In his last term, as part of his legacy, President Uhuru Kenyatta is determined to slay Kenya’s two-headed ogre; greed and impunity, which has ravaged our moral, political and economic fabric for nearly six decades. So-called big names have been hauled to court. Buildings on public land and riparian buffers have come tumbling down. Nearly 5,000 bank accounts are under scrutiny.
But it is not enough to tear down buildings or drag suspects to court or freeze bank accounts or seize assets. Our youth have been raised in a society that venerates greed and impunity. For example, about half of our youth think corruption is profitable and they would do anything to make money. Moreover, high school students would do anything, including cheating, to pass exams.
Creating safe spaces for youth must begin with enlisting their hearts and minds in the war on greed, dishonesty and impunity. We must reinstate honour and integrity, honesty and respect for rule of law. A culture of greed and impunity will devour all safe spaces, infect and poison every condition necessary to support wholesome flourishing of our youth.
One of the foremost advocates of peaceful, safe spaces has fallen. We mourn the death of Kofi Annan, former UN secretary general. On February 28, 2008, Kofi Annan said, “Compromise was necessary for the survival of this country. But the job of national reconciliation and national reconstruction is not for the leaders alone.” With these words Annan helped pull Kenya from the brink of annihilation and a peace accord was signed. We owe him an eternal debt of gratitude.
The piercing moral clarity that was the hallmark of Annan’s charismatic and measured approach to global diplomacy will be sorely missed.
Alex O. Awiti is the director of the East Africa Institute at Aga Khan University