There is a peculiar observation that I have made and I wish to share it with you. If you take a quick look at the composition of our government, you will notice more men than women, hardly any youths and let’s not even get started with persons living with disabilities! Yet, there are more women than men in Kenya and 75% of the population is under the age of 35. Now let’s leave women for another day’s discussion and focus on youth.
The government has more than enough times pronounced its concern for the youth. Meetings, rallies and press conferences hardly end without passionate statements like “The youth are future of this country, we must invest in them! We must give them jobs! We must empower them! Etc, etc.” And to be fair, I think leaders usually have the best intentions at heart – for themselves and for the people. I think they know the right thing to do. But how come they don’t actually do it still bemuses me. I however have suspicions that it has something to do with the famous “system” – you know, the “system” that has always been rigged.
To put action to their words, the GOK established some institutions that are meant to represent the youth in governance and decision making no less than empower them in ways that include capacity building, access to credit facilities to start or grow businesses etc. These institutions include the Youth Council, the National Youth Service, the Youth Enterprise Development Fund, Uwezo fund, Kenya Youth Employment & Opportunities Project and the Women Enterprise Fund. At the cabinet level, the State Department for Youth Affairs is domiciled in the Ministry of ICT, Innovation and Youth Affairs. Kenya also has a youth policy known as the Kenya Youth Development Policy (2019).
This is promising. It sounds like if there is anything anyone would ever accuse the government of as far as the youth are concerned, misrepresentation is not among them. But if you study these organisations, you realise that 90% of their boards and senior management teams are people waaay past than 35. I was shocked to see that in the State Department for Youth Affairs, the Secretary Administration (Mr Bernard Mugambi) is a former Deputy Provincial Commissioner (PC). In case you are not aware, PC’s are vintage people who existed before the new constitution. In the case of Women Enterprise Fund, there are more men than women in the senior management staff.
How is it that youth organisations are led by middle-aged people? Where are the youth? Why aren’t they the ones occupying these positions? What’s inhibiting them? Or better still, it would be nice to understand the rationale behind the government’s choices. Don’t they have confidence in the youth? If so, how do the youth build the confidence and trust of the government? In a tweet thread that I did, I likened the situation to a head teacher appointing a fellow teacher to be a class monitor, instead of one of the pupils. How would they (the pupils) say that they have been represented in the schools administration?
From how I see it, the issue is largely perception. Youths do not trust politicians, hence the government, so they participate less in governance. Government on the other hand, with its middle-aged to old people, perceive the youth to be inexperienced or easily swayed or overly ambitious. These, coupled with other challenges render the chain incomplete.
In order for both parties to benefit off each other, there is need for their perception of each pother to change. It changes when youth to come alive to the processes of government and when the government is responsive to the needs of the youth. I also think that just like the Africa Rising narrative, youths must not lounge in the “youth are the future” narrative. They must begin to act like they are, today. Because while it is true that they are the future, the future does not begin then, it begins now.