Kenya is about to be thrust into the belly of electioneering. The first phase of this voting period will be the BBI referendum. One year later, the 2022 elections will arrive with a bang. Once this electioneering period shifts into high gear, it will be important for Kenyans to conduct themselves with wisdom, unity and maturity.
Let’s face it friends, your enemy is not the person who will vote differently from you. Rather, your enemy is poverty, unemployment, tribalism and such national challenges.
They are the enemies we must fight, not one another. Unfortunately, elections in Kenya have a sad history of diminishing these social challenges and magnifying enmity between fellow Kenyans. This time, we must remain focused on issues, not personalities. We must cast votes that fight poverty, not exploit the poor.
Poverty strips away dignity and reduces one to mere existence bereft of hope. Unfortunately, this poverty-filled existence has become the reality of too many Kenyans.
The World Bank’s latest Kenya Economic Update revealed that the Covid-19 pandemic has added 1.9 million Kenyans to the ranks of the poor.
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This pandemic stripped away livelihoods and landed knockout blows on employment. Consequently, almost 1 in 3 household-run businesses have crumbled.
Indeed, Kenya is now at an economic and social crossroads. One wrong turn and we will slip deeper into more pain and turmoil. If we are not careful, we will become a graveyard of shattered dreams that will simply never be realised.
It is therefore incumbent on all of us to begin turning this country.
Every Kenyan citizen must realise that the totality of our individual choices is what ultimately determines the direction our country takes. Nowhere will those choices be more critical than the ballot booth during the BBI referendum and 2022 general election.
As regards the referendum and since we are where we are now, we need to factually take another look at proposals that will help us fight poverty and foster national unity.
One such proposal is the Ward Development Fund. It will channel millions into the 1,450 Wards that are scattered across Kenya. These millions will create golden opportunities to power livelihoods for young people in each of these Wards.
Think of Lindi Ward in Kibra Constituency. The millions that this Ward will receive annually can act as seed funding for collective entrepreneurship ventures in the Lindi. Maybe a mini-bakery will be set up to provide bread for the dozens of shops in the area? Or maybe the funds will be invested into a welding centre where dozens of youth will be employed to fabricate metal products.
Because Wards are located at the grassroots level, the Ward Development Fund will reach more people and potentially have a greater impact in creating employment and fostering development projects.
However, can the Members of County Assembly be trusted to manage this Fund with integrity and professionalism?
Yes, but only if vigilant citizens at the Ward level keep them in check. Remember the words of Wangari Maathai, ‘It’s the little things citizens do. That’s what will make the difference.’
As revealed in the 2019 Kenya population and housing census, 75 percent of Kenya’s population (35.7 million) is aged below 35 years.
This youth bulge will explode either into rampant unemployment or into widespread innovation. The National Youth Commission that BBI proposes will ‘advance the participation of youth in public and private life and mainstream youth perspectives in planning and decision making.’
Simply put, the National Youth Commission will ensure the youth voice influences all major decisions. Is railway line being built from point A to B? The youth will have to add their voice to that decision. Is a given factory being constructed in County Y? The youth voice will influence the direction that the factory follows.
Fairly, these are some of the gains that the BBI proposals will unlock. We need to envision them, not rubbish them. If we disagree with them as some churches and mosques have done, we should simply vote no and continue with the business of nation building.
As we reflect on the looming votes, let us reflect briefly on the life of the departed football star Diego Maradona.
He grew from a Buenos Aires slum to become one of the most gifted and consequential football players. Our votes must end up empowering our youth to follow a similar trajectory that transforms their misfortunes into stepping stones. Think green act green!
-The writer is founder Green Africa Foundation.