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2022 offers the youth a golden chance to turn over a new leaf

LEONARD KHAFAFA
By Leonard Khafafa | October 20th 2021
Ballot boxes and other election materials at Moi Secondary school in Nakuru on March 2, 2021.[Kipsang Joseph,Standard]

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was President of the United States during the Great Depression. In response to the worst economic crisis in the history of the United States, he implemented his New Deal domestic agenda.

A fundamental part of this deal involved putting money in the pockets of impoverished Americans in a manner that did not impugn their dignity. To that end, he sanctioned State programmes that paid one group of men to dig up holes in the morning and another group to fill them up in the afternoon. Neither group was aware of what the other did, but they all derived immense satisfaction from earning what they believed to be just pay for an important national exercise. 

From time immemorial, human beings have been defined by the work they did. It is said the etymology of names like Smith and Tailor stemmed from the occupations of those who bore them. A great work ethic was an admirable and desirable character and was often touted as a sure pathway to success.

The same obtains today so that in virtually every culture across the globe, hard work is celebrated and, in most cases, rewarded commensurately. Therefore it flies in the face of popular convention for leading politicians in Kenya to attempt to suborn the youth with promises of free lunches if elected next year. A presidential candidate has promised to direct national funding to the bottom of the pyramid in a bottom-up economic model.

Presumptively, the youth will be the greatest beneficiaries of this model, never mind the fact they have been given short shrift in an administration the candidate is a part of. Another has proposed a welfare system where every unemployed youth will be given a monthly stipend of Sh6,000. He is a little economical with facts on where the money will come from given that the economy is on its knees as a result of gross mismanagement. 

Like Roosevelt’s America, Kenya is facing its worst economic crisis ever. The only difference being that whereas America’s was occasioned by intractable global events, Kenya’s has been precipitated by grand corruption and incompetent leadership. A surfeit of pie in the sky promises have not yielded the promised economic nirvana. Pledges to put the youth at the centre of action have proved illusory, their usefulness rarely extending beyond the ballot box, forgotten until the next election cycle when campaign promises come in fast and furious again.

Next year’s election presents the youth with an opportunity to break from the past. In the 2017 election, 46 per cent of registered voters were 18-29 years old. In next year’s, they will comprise more than half of the electoral register. This speaks to the fearsome power that they wield in their hands if only they realised it. It is possible to fill the top tiers of leadership from within their ranks if two things happened: They registered en masse and, secondly, came out to vote on election day. 

Which is why the apathy towards the current national registration exercises must be cause for concern for every right-thinking Kenyan. Understandably, the youth have been strung along for far too long by the political class so that despondency has become their default position. Yet it is within their hands to upset the current political order and to usher in one that truly reflects their hopes and aspirations. 

Perhaps the second step towards that end, after registration as voters, is to develop their own accounting metric by which they can gauge prospective candidates. This would help debunk the established political order’s embellished tales of success even when everything around them points to systemic failures. 

Third, the youth must shun the handout culture that keeps them dependent on the benevolence of politicians.

True dignity comes from sheer industry and not gratuitous tokens from political exploiters. For far too long the youth have been called the “leaders of tomorrow.” Tomorrow is now. Let the youth get to work. No more free lunches. 

-The writer is a public policy analyst

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