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Why Kenya's youth feel left out today

By Allan Mungai | August 12th 2020
With the disillusionment with the political leadership growing, young people are now opting for alternative modes, such as protests and single-issue campaigns.

Dollarman Fatinato, 23, is a vocal advocate of youth reproductive health.

Yet in the four years that he has knocked on doors and camped outside boardrooms advocating for what he passionately defends as every youth's basic right, he says he has felt underrepresented and voiceless.

Fatinato pours out his frustration with the leaders he has been lobbying to take a second look at the country's reproductive health policies and the budget allocated the sector.

The only way out, he says, is to put more youth in positions that influence policy making.

"As young people, we need to push for policies that we want. If we are not in those governance and political spaces then the things that are prioritised for the youth will not be suitable," says Fatinato.

Leadership in Kenya is a contradiction and data from the 2019 National Housing and Population Census show just how disproportionate youth representation is in the country.

Underrepresented majority

From the data, young people below age 35 comprise 75.1 per cent of the population.

Ironically, by August 2017, the youth formed only 7.7 per cent of the representation in Parliament.

Another 2019 data from Mzalendo Trust indicates that the current Parliament has 27 MPs or 6.47 per cent under the age of 35, out of a total of 417 members.

Now Fatinato and his peers at Youth in Action (Y-ACT), an initiative of Amref Health Africa, and Kenya Young Parliamentarians Association (KYPA) are spearheading an initiative to change the status quo.

This week, Y-ACT and KYPA launched Kenya's Youth Rising, a study that highlights the capacity gaps and attitudes that prevent meaningful youth engagement in policy and law-making processes.

According to the results of the study conducted by Y-ACT, 43 per cent of the youth interviewed said they have been involved in some form of legislative or policy review process.

Of those who had participated in public hearings organised to receive views on Bills and other government business under consideration, only about 52 per cent were given the opportunity to present their views.

The primary form of engagement, accounting for 33 per cent, was participation in public hearings on Bills or budget processes, followed by posting of opinions on social media platforms (15 per cent).

Y-ACT says in most cases, copies of the Bills, policies or proposals under consideration were not made available to youth attending public hearings.

Beyond providing opportunities for public participation in the law making process, Y-ACT found that Parliament has not taken measures to ensure that young people and other special interest groups have the capacity and means to take advantage of the opportunities provided.

"As a result, their participation, in terms of submission of memoranda on Bills and submission of petitions to Parliament has remained significantly low," the report said.

With the disillusionment with the political leadership growing, young people are now opting for alternative modes, such as protests and single-issue campaigns.

The study also found that ICT has increased youth participation, though challenges persisted of unequal access, superficial nature of impact, and susceptibility to greater government control and policing.

Further, poor, uneducated youth, rural youth and young women were less engaged in formal and informal politics than other young people.

While Parliament, county assemblies and the executive at both the national and county levels continue to advertise opportunities for public participation through newspapers, less than 5 per cent of the youth have access to this media.

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