What’s worse than a politician? A person who believes in a politician! Various extensive studies seen by okagwe.com have shown that it is more probable for Jesus to actually come back and take his flock than for politicians to actually do what they say they will do! And before you think I am making up my own narratives, click here and here to hear for yourself. How politicians have managed to be so unbelievably believable while at the same time being believably unbelievable is still a matter being scrutinised by psychologists, but the rest of the population just gave up.
Obviously, being an election year, 2022 is going to be interesting for Kenyans. It will be especially interesting for the young people because 50, 60, 70 and 80 something year old youths will be trying to get into some positions, and their feeble bones will need the support of their fellow youngsters – under 35s. As you might have noticed, they have started to interest themselves in the affairs of youths, and they have began speaking as if on behalf of young people. Suddenly – and obviously not because elections are at hand – there has been a realisation that “the youth have been unrepresented by the current and previous regimes” and “a time has come for youth voices to be heard” [a crowd of young and old youths cheers hysterically].
Also read: https://okagwe.com/a-blog-post-from-a-youth-to-post-youth-people/
Upon hearing this, my eyes don’t open wider than they normally would because it is not surprising. Every time politicians need something from the public, they come bearing warm greetings and gifts. They sing our songs and we sing their songs. We engage in dance and party. They eat in our ramshackles and buy from our roadside kiosks. They wear gumboots and work spades to clean our streets. They notice the darkness in our houses and promise electricity. The see the dust in our vessels and promise us water. When our mothers say that school fees is becoming unbearable, they promise to reduce fees or abolish them altogether. They come to our churches and appease our preachers with large offerings of cash. Then, later, you see them in fundraisers mesmerising people with contributions. Of course they are putting it on facebook and twitter for you not to miss out! Those twits!
When they go, they do not look back – not until they need us to vote! And if they do turn back, they come bearing taxes and unreasonable policies. They sing their own songs and we sing our own. They dance in their high grounds and we languish in our slums. They demolish our ramshackles and kiosks in order to build malls that will be financed with the money that should have put electricity in our houses, put water in our taps and reduce tuition fees in our schools. They employ their relatives at our expense and ban social media when we complain.
I have been speaking to youths here in Malindi, and I have been asking them about their perceptions of politicians and whether or not they will vote next year and why? Of course, considering this is one of the Counties where the governor disappeared as soon as he was sworn in and the current president is being blamed for the economic slowdown, youths are not very enthusiastic about this whole 2022 buzz. Voter apathy amongst the youth here is omnipresent. They will note vote for a myriad of reasons: because voting is a mere formality – the deep state already chose a president, the elections will be stolen, they have never voted, they don’t believe in politicians anymore, nothing will change, it is not worth it, etc. I have been told that Politicians are con artists, charlatans, useless, incompetent, selfish, greedy and corrupt among other nasty titles – from the top most public servant to the bottom most.
There is a fraction who will vote. They will do so because they are above 18 years, it is their constitutional right to vote, they were given money to make it happen, they are tired of seeing the same old faces, they want a specific candidate to win, they believe that their vote will count, peer pressure and other reasons. Then, of course, how shall we not mention the flags? The “waiting to see” group! While I did not come across so many, they exist. What is interesting is that left alone, they are more likely not to vote.
David Ogilvy said, “people don’t think how they feel. They don’t say what they think and they don’t do what they say.” The somewhat logical reasons I am getting are just a front for what I think is a hopelessness that lies deep within. Youths do not have the conviction that they have the power to change the outcomes of the 2022 elections. They have been on the sidelines for far too long that they have become dispirited. They do not see themselves able to stand up against the infamous ‘deep state’ and the crooked ‘system’. Youths are not seen as people who can sit at the table and make a contribution to policy. Heck, youths can’t even be trusted to chair their own meetings! Couple these overarching challenges with the fact that there is a vast majority of youths who are not educated and employed, youths who struggle to pay rent and buy food and spare some change for a beer, then you have yourself a society that’s living on the edge. Moreover, less inclusive societies progress slower than inclusive ones.
To use an over-abused quote, the youth are the leaders of tomorrow. Now tomorrow has come, and youths must step up into the responsibility that awaits them. The youth vote must count in 2022, and of it to do so quantitatively and qualitatively, here are some of my submissions, especially directed to civil society organisations and other nonprofits in the civics space:
a. We must drop generalisations and embrace hard work . Youths are as different as they are similar. For example, a young lady in Mandera does not have the same needs and aspirations as another in Kitale. Youths in Nairobi’s Kibera will not necessarily share the same view as those in Nairobi’s Runda area. As Al Kags, like to say, no two villages are the same. They live in different contexts which have great influence on opinions they form of the same things, eg voting. I think that careful study and understanding of these contexts (however complex it may seem) will prove useful in changing how youths participate in governance.
b. Civic inspiration and motivation. I was tempted to say ‘civic education’, but I hesitated because it is difficult to educate uninspired people. Inspiration is a key component in behaviour change. How do we get young people to imagine a Kenya in which they are in control (as they should be)? What does this Kenya look like? What does it take to get there? Delving into such questions, I think, is important in the design of my next point, civic education.
c. Civic education. For the typical Millennial and Gen Z, civic education is boring. In fact, the government sucks. With all its negative attributes that include graft, lies, police brutality etc, government and politicians do not sit well in the minds of this generation. With this background, how then do we make participating in governance something the youth should interest themselves in? And if we manage to pass that, how do we make civic education not sound like a social studies class being taught by early man from East Africa’s savannah? How do we get them to know what what voting is, what it means, what it is not, why we vote, how to vote (what to do at the voting booth), how to evaluate a candidate etc. There is need to redesign how civic education is done, taking into consideration the shifting contexts.
d. Decentralise from urban areas. Kenya is more rural than it is urban. From the experience I have gotten living in Kilifi County from Nairobi, there is an entire bunch of twenty-something year olds that have no idea what goes on in cities. We are talking about guys who cannot read or write to save their lives. Many of them do not also have ID cards, and will certainly not be in possession of voters cards. Yet, there continues to be an over-saturation of information and activities in urban areas and a tendency to copy what works there and paste in rural settings.
These are people who are affected by government actions. People who have needs and priorities and opinions but who are unable to express them because they lack functional literacy and/or do not have IDs. I challenge organisations to spread out, or leave the city altogether because so much lies beyond them.
d. It is not “us” vs “them”, it is a collaboration between us and them. Young people will not takeover seats in parliament, and even if they succeeded in doing so, the present incumbents will not be sitting and waiting. The propensity for conversations around youths and governance to have an “us” vs “them” notion creates divisions, and this will hurt the outcomes of all the work that is being done to get youth to sit at the table.
At the organisation I work for, we shall be playing our role in re-inspiring young people to ‘vote wisely’ next year. Currently, we are undertaking a simple research in form of 3 questions that can be found and answered here, to establish whether young people across Kenya will vote and why. Please do share these 3 easy questions with your friends to play your part in lighting this fire.