Youth deserve slot for the Building Bridges Initiative to succeed

The stories we tell ourselves ultimately shape our collective sense of self and our future. In that respect, the stories we tell ourselves as a Kenyan people shape the way we perceive our nationality, our rich diversity and the potential we harbor for greatness.

In a sad twist of fate, however, we have allowed our overarching narrative to be bogged down by our faults, and these faults have shaped what it means to be a Kenyan.

The story that we have woven over the years is that of corruption, divisive politics often characterized by hate-speech, name-calling, destructive anger and violence. We have forgotten our resilience, faith and unity, especially during trying times and ignored the gains we have made as a people towards freedom and democracy.

Young people are the most vulnerable to the effects of this negative narrative, because of the malleability of their sense of identity. Our perceived focus on our faults has arguably created a feeling of frustration and hopelessness, which has in turn left many youth susceptible to the dark agenda of extremists and dangerous ideology-peddlers.

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Isn't this why many young people have often ended up as pawns for politicians, criminal elements and even religious extremists? Many criminal activities including terrorism are often carried out by young people who have been given nothing but unrealistic promises for their crimes.

Our differences

This therefore raises the question; what can we, as a society, do to protect our young people from the dangerous trap of criminal recruiters? As a start, perhaps we need to rewrite the Kenyan story. We need a story of hope in place of hopelessness, unity in our diversity and mutual empathy to our common problems.

We need to create a story that inspires a sense of belonging to this nation, regardless of age, tribe, religion or gender. We need to remind ourselves of our commonality more than our differences, our strengths more than our weaknesses and the richness of our cultural heritage.

We need a story that reminds us of the resilience that has gotten us this far, the sacrifice by those who have come before us, and the promise of a better future.

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President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition Leader took the pragmatic step to chart the course for this in their symbolic handshake by the steps of Harambee House on March 9, 2018. That handshake subsequently gave birth to the Building Bridges Initiative.

In my view, by promising to fight hard for inclusivity and to make sure that public institutions work to deliver to all Kenyans at the national and county level, the aforementioned initiative has offered the much-needed opportunity to unweave the negative aspects of our national narrative, and knit a beautiful story in its place; that despite the languages we speak, the regions we come from and the way we worship, we are one people united under one nation.

Little incentive

By including the youth in development initiatives from the county level all the way up to the national level, we are offering them a crucial chance to exercise their patriotism by building the nation. By putting a stop to the divisiveness with which we have previously conducted our elections, we will prevent the youth from being used in carrying out the dirty work of politicians.

If a young person has access to political and economic opportunities, is well educated and actively involved in building the community, he will have very little incentive to join any criminal organisation regardless of the promise therein. For this reasons, we should therefore support the Building Bridges Initiative and ensure that its efforts are supported.

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Second, we need to acknowledge that the war on terror is an ideological one. Terrorist recruiters take advantage of the natural need of young people to identify with a cause to plant dangerous ideas in their minds.

We therefore need to adopt a multi-sectoral approach in educating the youth so that they can easily identify destructive ideologies. Over and above, as a society, we should also be on the lookout for the signs of radical elements among us that are seeking to take advantage of young people.

All in all, we should show pride in our way of life, our diversity and our culture. As I have said before, we should begin by re-telling the Kenyan narrative.

I hope that one day, those of us who are still young will have the opportunity to sit with our grandkids by the fireplace and hand over our cherished heritage through stories of resilience, hard work and patriotism that defined us as Kenyans.

Mr Mokamba comments on social issues.

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Uhuru KenyattaOpposition LeaderBuilding BridgesRaila OdingaYouth