Youth must know polls determine their future

A section of Rift Valley youths address a press conference in Nairobi on Sunday, July 18 2021, to condemn violent attacks, intimidations and threats by politicians, especially during elections. [David Njaaga, Standard]

A worrying trend is taking shape in Kenya where young people are not able to understand that their plight is directly linked to governance, which they can influence through the ballot.

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) failed to hit the numbers in the last two mass voter registration exercises targeting new voters due to youth apathy.

Leaders take a lion's share of this poor state of affairs. Politicians have rallied young people behind them during intense election campaigns that characterise with mouth-watering promises that are never implemented once they get to office.

Things are not any different in this year’s campaigns in the wake of a burgeoning youthful population with no jobs and faced with dwindling economic fortunes. No candidate has come up with a radical agenda that gets to the root cause of the problems that confront the youth, enough to inspire them.

Instead, things have reached a point of desperation to an extent that a huge number of young people do not think that the election matters anymore. They no longer believe that the elections will change their lives in any significant way.

For that reason, voter apathy being witnessed is a protest vote by the youth. They have become conscious that there is a growing sense of betrayal by politicians who use them in doing all manner of things, including hiring them as goons, and later abandoning them once in power.

Initiatives started by the Government to help young people have faced turbulent times, losing focus at some point due to a lack of serious commitment. Former President Mwai Kibaki's regime started the Youth Enterprise Development Fund, which was a smart idea to create rotating cash to support young entrepreneurs.

The fund has over the years been dogged with corruption and has lacked consistent leadership. The Government has also failed to integrate the fund into other components that help businesses to thrive such as providing a market. Government is the biggest consumer in every country.

Uhuru Kenyatta's administration initiated the new procurement rule that requires the Government to buy 30 per cent of its needs from youth registered businesses. But the Government did not create other supportive structures such as financing and timely payment. As a result, young people procure businesses using their registered companies but peddle them to those with deep pockets for a very small benefit.

That said, youth need to realize that elections matter and have consequences. Young people must find a balance between protesting the candidates and pushing them to be accountable.

It is a harsh fact that even without their participation, someone will eventually be elected to office. They will eventually fight those elected and they must weigh in on who they want to fight.

Young people need to learn that shifting policies are the work of governance, and so they must step in to lead, govern and elect leaders who will create more opportunities for prosperity. They need to mobilize and organize themselves as a critical constituency to engage in the electoral process and to hold politicians accountable.

The writer is a Public Policy Analyst. [email protected]

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