Why 'GenZ' will stand up for justice more than anyone else

Demonstration against Finance Bill 2024 along Kimathi Street, Nairobi, on July 18, 2024. [Kanyiri Wahito, Standard]

The Tuesday protest by Generation Z (GenZ), demanding that the Finance Bill be brought down in its entirety, brings out the best of what children who have grown up in the culture of rights can be.

On the other hand, it highlights our failures as adults to be role models who teach by our way of life.

Interestingly, the GenZ that took to the streets two days ago largely came from the middle class. Credit to them, the girl-child was out there pitching for not only financial justice but also a fair society for young people.

We, adults, have stereotyped poor young people from informal settlements as the only ones who come out to protest because they are mobilised by politicians. The protest disapproved of this tired narrative. We have now a reality check.

The young protesters also deconstructed the fallaciously held one-story narrative that only Baba (Raila Odinga) can successfully call for protests. In turning this narrative on its head, the GenZ has sounded an alarm that the chapter on ethnic politics in Kenya has concluded. Wrong policies affect Kenyans regardless of their origin. What a humbling lesson for us adults who have shamelessly rewarded our tribemates at the expense of other Kenyans!

You see, digital natives, often referred to as GenZ, possess a technological proficiency that surpasses even that of millennials. Growing up in the age of the Internet of Things (IoT), they are adept at using technology not only for social interaction but also for advocating social justice. This activism is rooted in a historical context where international organisations like UNICEF have long promoted children's rights, an effort that has profoundly shaped GenZ.

GenZ individuals are sharper and more intuitive than they are often credited for. Their upbringing in a culture of rights has ingrained in them a keen ability to detect falsehoods. They have been conditioned to view dishonesty as an attempt to exploit, which makes them particularly sensitive to any form of deceit from those in power.

This generation’s attentiveness to political events is not just a reflection of their concern for the present but also their acute awareness of the future. They recognise that actions like government-sanctioned logging jeopardise their environmental inheritance.

Thanks to technological advancements, particularly the influence of social media, GenZ is more informed about global politics than any previous generation. They can compare their leaders with those around the world and critically evaluate their performance. In Kenya, this global awareness has led to a significant distrust in current political leadership. They see through the masks of adults who fail to embody the authenticity they respect and demand.

In Kenya, GenZ's disillusionment with leadership stems from their keen understanding of the difference between progressive governance and mere conmanship. They are acutely aware of the government's misplaced priorities.

When the government demands austerity from its citizens while simultaneously increasing taxes without providing commensurate services, GenZ sees through the facade. They recognise the hypocrisy in a government that spends billions on non-essential projects while making life increasingly difficult for their parents and themselves.

Education, a fundamental pillar for any society’s progress, has become prohibitively expensive. GenZ in Kenya are painfully aware of this reality. They see their parents struggling under the weight of escalating costs with little justification from the government. This stark contrast between their aspirations for a better future and the hurdles placed before them fuels their dissatisfaction and activism.

The Kenyan administration, particularly under Kenya Kwanza, needs to understand that the only currency GenZ respects is authenticity. Attempts to placate them with superficial dialogue or "danganya toto" (false promises) will ultimately prove futile. If top government leaders wish to earn the respect and cooperation of this generation, they must lead by example. They must become role models that embody the values they preach, showing a genuine commitment to the country's sustainable future.

GenZ is awakening to their role as active citizens. The government leadership has to introspect and repurpose its agenda. Let us face it. It is a shame that children have to take to the streets to correct us adults. 

-Dr Mokua is the Executive Director, Loyola Centre for Media and Communication