Youth must rise up and lead

Members of Pangani Muslim Youth./FILE
Members of Pangani Muslim Youth./FILE

They are demanding opportunity. They are civically engaged and know they can bring about change. They believe the future will be more prosperous, with more jobs, better healthcare and education

The median age in Kenya is just 19 years. Those aged below 35 comprise about 80 per cent of the population. The youth — those aged between 18 and 35 years — also happen to be the most educated of any generation this country. But does the so-called dominant minority get it?

The dominant minority here refers to those aged above 35. This is because they comprise just 20 per cent of the population but dominate politics, government, civil society and business. In my view, the dominance by the minority is tenuous. The shear demographic force of the youth of this country is unprecedented.

Think about this: 40 per cent of those aged below 35 identify as Kenyans first. Moreover, they have a strong esprit de corps because 35 per cent of Kenyan youth identify as such. About 12 per cent identify by their faith first. This is unprecedented. These young people are by and large citizens of the world, hyper-connected active global citizens, unencumbered by nationality or tribe.

If you are aged above 35 and raising children you are probably saying this will pass, they do not know what they are doing. Soon, you might add, the hard reality will settle and they will be whipped back into line, staggered by the burdens people like you, grown ups, have to bear. You may be wrong and here is why.

The times have changed, and irreversibly so. The structure of the new economy — the one that is occasioned by the Africa rising saga — is installing a new and relatively young Kenyan middle class. It is restive, demanding and different. Unlike their forebears, they are not semi-illiterate and rural. They are not overawed by the wealth and privilege of the dominant minority.

Moreover, this generation is not standing and waiting for crumbs to fall from the table of the presently dominant minority.

They are demanding opportunity. The youth feel they deserve better. They are civically engaged and 70 per cent believe it is important to vote and have the power to bring about change. Furthermore, Kenyan youth believe the future will be more prosperous, with more jobs, better access to health and education.

They are not naïve about employment because circa 55 per cent are unemployed. Government does not create jobs and they get it! A majority of Kenyan youth, circa 50 per cent, would like to start their own business, do their own thing. What they asking for is skills, access to capital and opportunity to start a business.

The political and economic implications of a predominantly youthful population are unambiguous. The 2017 election must be about delivering the future that befits the emerging dominant majority. The next election must be about expanding the opportunity space for the youth.

We cannot rest until every child in this country is firmly on the ladder of opportunity. And it is time Kenyan youth, the dominant majority, flexed their political power. They are not pawns but queens and kings in this game.

Dr Awiti is the director of the East African Institute at the Aga Khan University.

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