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Generation Z should watch out for pitfalls as they protest

 A protester stands as a Kenyan police water canon sprays water at him during a demonstration against tax hikes on June 20, 2024. [AFP]

The Finance Bill 2024 has become a cause célèbre. It has captured the attention of the entire country. It has roped in groups that were hitherto considered indifferent to politics. 

Generation Z, a demographic cohort of those born between 1997 and 2012, have become the indignant face of public umbrage.

This, they say, is against perceived oppressive clauses contained in the Finance Bill. They have taken to the streets in demonstrations that are colourful both in terms of accoutrements of clothing and their irreverent language directed at authority figures.

Gen Zs, as they are popularly called, are redefining protests movements at several levels. For starters, they are a new flavour of the month, different from the usual vanilla ‘maandamano’ offerings associated with the political opposition. They are apolitical with no leanings towards any side of Kenya’s political divide.

Second, they are technology-driven. Gen Zs have eschewed mainstream media and tapped into tools at their disposal; smartphones and apps that have enabled them to mobilise huge numbers at the drop of a hat.

Not only have they been effective, they have also effectively excluded those outside their cohort and turned their protest into a movement driven by them and that cannot be stopped by pulling a plug.

Third, emphasis is strictly on peaceful demonstrations. Violent confrontation has been avoided in great measure due to their remarkable self-restraint. Gen Z activities have resonated with many Kenyans.

Parents, who would ordinarily be reticent about giving their approbation to what amounts to a youth-led insurrection, are giving it a thumbs up. Perhaps they are living vicariously through their children, finding avenues of expressing decades of frustration.

Societal bounds

The four-letter words and the irreverent regard for authority figures is how millennials and those before them would have wished to express themselves but were prevented by societal bounds of propriety.

Clearly, Gen Z are unfettered by such norms and conventions. But whilst we laud Gen Zs for their coming of age, there are a number of pitfalls that they must watch for. The first is that demonstrations have their limits.

There are other legitimate and more effective ways of prosecuting their agenda. Apropos of the Finance Bill 2024, the voice of Gen Zs was conspicuously absent when it came to public participation as set out in the Constitution.

Yet different interest groups like Kenya Association of Manufacturers, Kenya Bankers Association and Kenya Boda Riders Association were given audience during this phase of law-making. The expunging of offensive clauses from the Finance Bill is attributed to the contribution of these groups.

Second, a singularity of focus is needed. There must be an endgame when it comes to demonstrations. A natural corollary of protests without substance is their hijack by political figures.

Already, the Gen Zs have seen their agenda subverted from sticky points in the Finance Bill to doing away with it altogether and lately, to ‘Ruto must go’ choruses. There must be more to life than the rising costs of pizza bread and data bundles.

-Mr Khafafa is a public policy analyst

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