Celebrating East African Writing!
I am in the bracket that is categorized as youth, and face the problems that many of our youth face. Kenyan youth are faced with a myriad of problems the most common being unemployment, which is at the backdrop of a highly educated population and arguably the best human resource on the continent. We all felt the destructive potential of our fellow youth at the height of the post election violence and I am sure that none of us, regardless of who thought they won, would like to see this country taken down that road again. The youth in Kenya is what I would like to refer to as a strange paradox of political, social and economic hegemony, whereby the few who do not belong in the youth age bracket completely dominate the group that comprises the largest voting block in the country, the youth.
The youth in many countries are a force to reckon with in many respects other than as a vast electorate. They are a driving force in their economies, with their innovations, and creativity leading to global brand names such as Yahoo, Google, Facebook, YouTube, WAYN, Netscape, among other multimillion/billion dollar enterprises that have graced the 21st century. These youth have come up to break stereotypical barricades that have for centuries cordoned off any thoughts and/or actions outside the established ways of their older generation. They have created new possibilities for themselves, and a new vision for posterity. They have fought with and wrestled power from the old boys’ networks that have for decades manipulated, and hence divided the world along ideologies that serve no one in particular. These youth that I am talking about, are American, they are Japanese, they are Dutch, they are English, they are Indian, and Thai, and Malaysian, but they are neither African, nor Kenyan. And if they are there in Kenya or Africa, somebody show me please! That is something to write home about.
The natural place where the youth can and should establish platforms through which they can check the government are the institutions of higher learning, as was the case in the 1980’s and which saw the rise of reformers; the likes of James Orengo, Gitobu Imanyara and Paul Muite. However, this has not been the case in Kenya and the larger Africa for several decades now. According to some of leading African Scholars in the book, Intellectuals and African Development – Pretension and Resistance in African Politics, the university setting has lost its place in democracies, as the birth grounds for future leaders. These very important institutions were infiltrated across the continent by their respective governments and slowly but surely, were corrupted and made inept, inactive, and an extension of the political parties that be. The essence of their being deteriorated and eventually died when individual and tribal interests took centre stage; and the evidence of this is in the disarray that this kind of ideology has led to on the continent and recently in Kenya. The end result have been institutions that are sitting ducks, unable to raise intellectual concepts, and too disillusioned by tribalism to promote raison d’être in the face of misinterpretations of concepts, ideas, and what should be self-evident facts.
More than the failure of lecturers, students and student leaders to offer new ideas; they have failed to proffer enlightenment to the less educated public, and they have fallen short of showing greater tolerance of others in society. Five months ago, I concluded my undergrad education at Egerton University. I would have loved to promise that upon graduation, most if not all of us would join likeminded people in spearheading political sensitization as part of our civic duty. But sadly, this would only be wishful thinking. It is widely believed that the University students represent the crème de la crème of society. However, having gone though the system and had a closer look, I believe that we as a country and continent have a cause for concern. In a place where one would expect pluralistic interactions, liberal thinking, informed decision making, and deepened levels of tolerance, you will find tribal stereotyping, improvident decision making, and low degrees of tolerance, especially during student elections. Given that student union candidates are usually fronted by their respective tribal groups in campus, and funded by the incumbent politicians, their aides, and/or other interest groups, the systemic failures of our national politics are evident in student elections and disturbingly so.
Other ills that have become entrenched in University elections include vote rigging and voter buying with alcohol serving as the medium of exchange. When I recall how fellow students used to run around campus chanting the name of one candidate, and the same people would also all day, every day, for the duration of the campaigns, run up and down, chanting the names of opposing candidates, just to be paid with cupfuls of highly diluted illicit brew; future leaders indeed – pun intended – comes to mind. When I take into account the coalitions and negotiations of positions that were done based on tribe, it pains me that this is the best way we have chosen to use our cultural heritage – as a bargaining chip. And as it has been the case in many similar situations, student leaders who eventually ventured into national politics have proven to be just as corrupt, divisive and useless as the preceding leaders, youth or not. The same way that they ran their politics and got elected in campus is the same way they get elected by the larger community, who unlike their University counterparts, usually lack the “higher education perception and insight.” That is why, in the 45 years of our independence, change has no come to Kenya.
I have grown tired of almost all the politicians in the 10th parliament. Most of them are reckless in their speeches and that makes me afraid, given what transpired earlier on in the year, because of similar thoughtlessness. I have grown tired of them because they earn more than most CEO’s in the country yet they do less work and refuse to pay taxes. I am tired because they always attend political rallies, yet become unavailable when the real issues that are affecting the electorate are being discussed. I am tired because they sit in numerous committees whose recommendations have never been implemented yet the allowance of an MP per sitting is usually more that the minimum wage in the country (including taxes.) I am tired of them because they talk too much, say very little and do even less. I am tired because they mostly discuss politics, never agree on the issues and always agree on additional perks. But more importantly, I am tired of waiting for the one, the Obama who is actually Kenyan, the true leader that will lift this country out of this quagmire. Most that we have voted for have turned out to be Mugabe’s in Obama’s skin. That is why I reckon that it is about time we created true leaders from amongst ourselves. Leaders who we can monitor as they grow, and elect them/or not based on their history.
It is the hope that this is actually possible that made me attend the Jipange generation concert this weekend. I wanted to see what the agenda for the meeting will be. I wanted to analyze what the majority of the attendees will be doing. I wanted to see whether this is only superficial or whether it is the chance of lifetime that will make Kibaki, Raila and their cronies – McCain (looser), and make me, my young cousin and my fellow youth, Obama. I wanted to establish whether a Youth Agenda that will lead to a Youth Movement will be laid out and I wanted to be part of the team that will carry it out and see it through. But even as I headed to Uhuru Park, I did not for a minute assume that voting the youth into office is the Panacea. God knows that many youth are just as corrupt as our political leaders and that their poverty is even a greater incentive for grander corruption. I will not pretend for a second that the youth will be better leaders because I understand that most lack the experience, and judgment that is required for leadership. And I will not presume that the work is done once the Youth Agenda is set and a Youth Movement initiated. The work will be far from done, since that will only be the beginning.
For us to do this right, we will need to apply to ourselves what the CFA Institute calls the “more strict” law. We will need to create better vetting procedures for those vying to represent us; though even requesting a CV from contestants is better than what is currently there. We will need to hold ourselves to greater ideals than most would expect of us, so that those who most identify with, and who are seen to identify with these ideals become our agents of change. We will need to demand more from ourselves than others normally would. We will need the courage to address our turbulent history without fear or favour, and the resolve to make things right once again. We will have to create only coalitions of ideas, and not tribes or vested interests. We will need all these and much, much, more for this country to be meaningful to future generations. The good book says something to the effect that, “the sins of the father shall afflict the son.” We need to address and make right the sins of our fathers so that their curses will not be passed to the next generation.
And as we used to say in AIESEC, “It’s up to you” but in this case, us, for no one can do this alone. Even Obama needed a movement inspired by a message of hope to win the US elections.
© Marvin Tumbo
This writer runs a movement at http://marvintumbo.wordpress.com