• Kenyan youths are a forgotten lot with no access to the deciding table, no jobs, no start-up capital and more and more, a diminishing sense of hope.
• For far too long we keep agonising of not having space at the table without looking inward.
A year after the overthrow of Tunisian President Ben Ali in February 2012, the then US Secretary of State addressed a conference dubbed Youth Rising: Aspirations and Expectations.
According to Hillary Clinton, it was the young people of Tunisia who had led the revolution and who had "struck the first blows of freedom and opportunity” in the region. She went further, “More than this, it was the failure of the Arab regimes to offer young people a better vision for the future.”
“The interests and needs of young people have been marginalised for far too long…The World ignores youth at its peril.”
The succeeding event of the Tunisian revolution was the Arab Spring. The Arab Spring was a series of anti-government protests, uprisings, and armed rebellions that spread across much of the Islamic world in the early 2010s; the common enemy being oppressive regimes and low standards of living.
Another stark difference of these uprisings was that they did not necessarily have a leader. There was no Che Guevara, nor Marcus Garvey or a Thomas Sankara to offer the people a central sense of inspiration. What was there was a palpable sense of anger, which had grown to a desperation that bound the youth in common unity.
That and social media offered a platform for organising, rallying and celebrating victory against injustice. What started as ‘usual online noise’ grew into unstoppable whirlwinds whose effects were also felt in Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain as uprisings, sustained riots, civil wars or insurgencies.
Now listen here youth, this is not a story of war. Far from it, it is a tale of numbers, strategy and victory.
THE NUMBERS: BLESSING OR CURSE?
The African Union youth charter, defines youth as “every person between the age (15-35)”, a definition that Kenya has slightly tweaked and adopted 18-35 age gap.
So, what are our numbers like? As we await the fully analysed 2019 census report, the National Council for Population and Development projects the population of Kenya to be 50.3 million with 17.8 million being 15-34 years of age by 2020 and 63.9 million with 22.3 million aged 15-34 years by 2030. This is according to Policy Brief No. 56 of June 2017. Did they just say 17.8million youth?
This is where the real power rests folks. Compounding these numbers is this phenomenon called youth bulge. Let me use the UN’s World Youth Report definition to make my case.
“As the relative number of children decreases, populations experience growth in youth as a share of the total population, resulting in what is known as a youth bulge”.
Ideally, this kind of a scenario should present itself as a gift for most economies because as dependants decrease, the productive and working-class increases.
In Kenya, however, that “productive working class” is either non-existent or dissipating by the day through job loss. The converse of the ideal is, therefore, the case.
Kenyan youths are a forgotten lot with no access to the deciding table, no jobs, no start-up capital and more and more, a diminishing sense of hope. Our numbers are nothing but a divine curse, but must it stay so?
When Sun Tzu covers the topic waging war in The Art of War, he makes a case against protracted warfare and notes the following. “So long as victory can be attained, stupid haste is preferable to clever dilatoriness.”
“Thus, though we have heard of stupid haste in war, cleverness has never been seen associated with long delays.”
To paraphrase one of his summary thoughts on waging war, Sun Tzu notes there is no instance of an army having benefitted from prolonged warfare.
To the army that is youth, we have been engaged in a protracted war and unless we change tact, victory shall remain evasive. For far too long, we have fought divided, fought with the wrong weaponry and fought without what Tzu calls, a commander.
A commander not to mean one made of flesh and bone but rather the virtues of wisdom, sincerity, benevolence, courage and strictness. Since time immemorial, the youth have fought using sporadic protests, deflated uprisings and unsustained riots; only morphing from the previous offline method to the now prevalent Online fetes of rage.
Whereas that has been our traditional weapon, we still remain divided and our commander nonexistent as we all indulge with insincerity, weak courage and an almost lack of strictness and high virtue.
But I am not discouraged, you shouldn’t be either; the youth are those guys! They rise quickly to a cause that has a vision. So how about we start by dipping our feet right in the kitchen. Can we, the army of youth, use our numbers, form a political party, build and centre it on ideology and for once give unto ourselves a platform that will give us space at the table?
For far too long we keep agonising of not having space at the table without looking inward. Looking inward is moving from agonising to organising around our numbers with vision, virtue, unity and courage of conviction. In doing so, we open ourselves to new tact and approach to this protracted war, one that will not bring forth victory without a change in strategy.
Guys, everything is political and has always been. Politics dictates what you can do and say, and what options you have in living your life. That be as it may, does it not bother you as youth as to the low participation levels in politics?
And don’t get me wrong. Yes, you have and do participate in elections and that’s cool. It is a vital element, but that only makes us participants in a process. The aim here is to get us to the driving seat. Can the youth not coalesce around ideology, resource mobilise using their numbers and form a formidable youth party that will establish a government based on solid and progressive principles?
I believe we can, I believe a victory is possible. Victory looks like a table where all are gathered, happy and catered for —inclusivity. A society where justice and fairness reign supreme — equity. A place where wastage of energy, efforts, money or time in producing the desired result will be the exception rather than the norm — efficiency.
Above all else, victory is that abiding spirit that will see us do all these things for our environmental, political and socio-economic well being not just for ourselves, but for all future generations — sustainability.
Youth, let us act now and remember Sun Tzu’s wise words: “Cleverness has never been seen associated with long delays”.
Tujipe Mwamko Mpya.
Chabala is the Partnerships director at My Leader Kenya