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Why government should not take ongoing demonstrations for granted

 Anti-Finance Bill Gen Z demonstrators scamper for safety near Chieni Supermarket on June 25, 2024. [Mose Sammy, Standard]

In 2011, a hitherto little-known street vendor Mohammed Bouazizi set himself on fire after the government confiscated his wares. This act of self-immolation and abnegation would presage the resignation of the Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and set on course the Arab spring, eternally altering the trajectory of Arab political history.

The ongoing Gen-Z-initiated demonstrations should be a wake-up call to the Ruto government and the current band of status-quo politicians. What we are witnessing is the pent-up anger of a generation high on ideals that built great societies. How did we reach here?

We have a government that ascended to power on the back of huge campaign pledges. They promised to, among others, empower the peasants, to create employment for the youth, to improve the economy.

They swore to never use the police to settle political scores but in the last week, we have witnessed the police lobbying tear-gas canisters on peaceful demonstrators and mercilessly killing two young and unarmed citizens; citizens whose only goal was to oppose a finance bill that seeks to impose more taxes in an already saturated tax space.

The government has been dismissive of the recent happenings to the point of claiming that the demonstrations are sponsored by the civil society. Who needs to be sponsored to revolt against some of the autocratic policies of this government? The morass in the corridors of power is as palpable as it is disgraceful.

We have government officials who are suspected of fleecing foreigners of their money using shady deals and fake promises of tenders. We also have first-time cabinet secretaries, members of parliament and civil servants donning expensive suits and Richard Mille watches in a country where majority of people are struggling to put food on the table.

Money that should be allocated to youth programmes is used to renovate presidential residences and the rest put in kitties of unconstitutional offices such as that of the First Lady. The President has spent billions of shillings globe-trotting under the guise of foreign relations and has not returned with any substantial investment. He has only brought promissory notes. This ignominious state of affairs is what irks every Kenyan but is prominently underscored by Gen-Z.

In an era where tools of mobilisation are readily available, the government should be wary of the potential of the Gen-Z demonstrations. What began as a simple clamour for the rejection of the Finance Bill may soon morph into a nation-wide political movement that will hold politicians to account.

Their efforts might be cascaded to the counties and every unit of administration will have to declare where they truly stand in times of strife such as this. Every politician who is pro-status quo will find the crowds hostile in any social and political gathering.

What is truly enriching is that these young folks know no tribe, no religion, no affiliation whatsoever. They are like the young girl in Robert Fulghum’s story who didn’t conform to the categorisations of ‘Giants, Wizards and Dwarfs’ and was open to the possibility of being anything she wanted to be. The unconventional nature of these demonstrations and high-stake online exchanges point to the emergence of a new paradigm in our body polity.

In this dispensation, the only currency is that you are a Kenyan. This unity of purpose threatens to dislodge the villager mentality as espoused by the Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua and instead seek to resolve issues on the highest plane of national interest.

The Gen-Z, in the words of Nathaniel Hawthorne, want ‘a country where there is no shadow, no antiquity, no picturesque and gloomy wrong, nor anything but common-place prosperity’. Such sublime ideals. What a time to be alive!

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