I will not be going to the ballot this August. I haven’t made this decision lightly, or out of ignorance. I am, in fact, a graduate of International Relations, and like every other student of comparative politics, I am intimately aware of just how politics affects our day-to-day lives. I also come from Kilifi County, one of the poorest counties in the country. Needless to overstate, I yearn for development like most Kenyans.
Mine is a deliberate, conscious decision not to participate in an electoral process that legitimises political power for a class that pretends to serve the populace while enriching themselves and their clients on our backs.
I live in a country with a 39.1 per cent unemployment rate, according to the 2017 Human Development Index. For me, this is not just statistics discussed by bureaucrats in boardrooms or pundits on television.
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It is manifest in my never-ending march from one internship to another since graduating two years ago, not to mention similar merry-go-rounds experienced by most of my former classmates. And we are the lucky ones. Many are those to whom even the internship doors have been closed since they graduated.
Housing is an even bigger thorn on my side. Rent is notoriously high in Nairobi. Every month is a painful struggle, forcing those of us with families in the city to unashamedly prolong our stay in our parents’ houses. Electricity? Gone are the days one could pay Sh500 monthly for electricity. In April, Sh500 got me 18 units of electricity, barely a week’s worth.
Then there is food. I don’t even need to comment on the rising price of essentials. Every family in this country is well acquainted with the food situation, unless you are in that class that only visits supermarkets to ‘inspect’ maize flour stocks and score some political points.
Meanwhile, I still owe HELB thousands of shillings, which naturally I can’t pay without a job, so I just accrue penalties instead. Now I hear I owe thousands to the Chinese too (why not, it’s only money, right?). Of course, the taxman is oblivious to my struggles, so he religiously slashes 15 per cent off my internship stipend every month, while fining me for not filing tax returns for the money he already took! Ah, the wonders of capitalism.
Now I am supposed to participate in the election of my saviour, so that for the next five years I can pretend am not alone in my struggles.
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Options on the table? A ruling party which presides over all the above, and an opposition with no demonstrable difference - ideologically, practically or otherwise.
Both propose increased Government spending, both are mum on the debt and tax implications of said spending, both have placed ethnic identity at the centre of their campaigns, yet each believes they are fundamentally different than the other. Ironies, contradictions, absurdities don’t register here.
This is, after all, a country where as a politician you lie to your electorate and then you poll them.
What you learn is the lie, obviously, except now it has become the truth because it’s coming straight form Wanjiku’s mouth, has been legitimized by pollsters and sanitised by the media. The same media that started an election countdown clock 300 days to the election!
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I am angry and frustrated, and no one is talking about housing, electricity, taxes, employment, or a whole host of other issues of interest to me. Instead, all I hear is Al Ghurair this, the opposition that, the government here, and the people there.
We may have come a long way since independence, with a new constitution and a new railway, but knowing that yesterday was worse does nothing to assuage my pain today. So I am left with only one choice; apathy.
To go to the ballots would be to legitimise an extremely flawed and disingenuous system. A country where the ruling class touches fire and feels cold is a country too far gone for normal politics.
A country where impunity, corruption, hypocrisy have become so normalised as to become wholesomely accepted and expected cannot be changed at the ballot box.
So today I want you, the politician, to know that I exist, part of the 45 million Kenyans, eligible to vote, but beyond your reach.
I refuse to be part of your calculus, your tribal arithmetic, your ride to political power.
And when you lose, or win with a slim margin, or fail to meet the threshold, I want you to know it’s not because others voted for your opponent, but because others didn’t vote at all.
To my fellow youth, the future may be ours, but we must secure it today. We must shock the system back into rhythm.
Apathy is how we will be felt and heard by those who continuously take our existence for granted. Indeed, presence at the ballot is not the only way to effect the change we want to see. Absence is just as powerful.
Mr. Wainaina is a graduate of International Relations. [email protected]