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Of protesting youth, a lost generation

By Kethi D Kilonzo | Feb 16th 2014 | 3 min read

By Kethi D Kilonzo
[email protected]

“The crisis of capitalism has created a global Lost Generation, cut off from many of the opportunities and material possibilities of the previous generation,” — Zach Zill, in International Socialist Review.

The revolution in Tunisia was sparked by a 26-year-old poor street vendor. He set himself on fire in a desperate act of protest. By the time it was done, the government had fallen. The youth are leading the way in a growing wave of social upheaval around the globe. These new movements have emerged as a direct consequence of the global economic downturn which has darkened the futures of many millions of young people. Youth unemployment is a major international crisis. It is a ticking time bomb. Everywhere.

Today, the Lost Generation struggles, from Cairo, to Ukraine, to Thailand, to Santiago to New York. In the process, they have revived the tradition of mass revolutionary politics. In a short period unassailable dictators have fallen — in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Ukraine and Thailand.

In country after country, the movements created by these youth have burst through the restraints of the existing orders.

The crisis facing youth today is deep and broad. It cuts across national borders. It affects every young person except those from the most privileged backgrounds. Mass youth unemployment is a global phenomenon.

For those who can find work, the jobs are unstable and badly paying. Most jobless youth face extreme poverty, as do many who have work. For millions, joblessness at a young age will lead to a lifetime of lower wages.

While the details differ from one country to the other, the unifying factor is the failure of society to harness the energy, intelligence and enthusiasm of the next generation. The world is aging. And the older generations are eating the future of the youth.

In Kenya, the government freeze on employment in the public sector is affecting young people from working and middle class families. Before that freeze, unemployment in Kenya stood at 40 per cent. This percentage is rising with every school drop-out, Form Four leaver and undergraduate who cannot find employment. It will rise further if the Government effects its threat to retrench workers. The youth are likely to be most affected by any retrenchment as they are the most recent recruits.

Such a crisis can only radicalise the youth and fuel protest. It leads to desperation. Any reasonable youth faced with a choice of a low paying job in Mombasa or military training would pick the low paying law-abiding job. The youth we are now losing to Al Shabaab do not have this choice to make. They are locked out of the economy. They are outside looking in. 

The problem Kenya is facing in Mombasa is not a religious one. It is not unique. It is global. The youth joining Al Shabaab share and face the same challenges like those in Mungiki, Hittistes in Tunisia and Mileuristas in Spain.

They have no jobs, they have no income, they have no education, they have no hope, they have no present, they have no future. In these militant groups they find comradeship, brotherhood, a thrill-a-day, income and an outlet for their anger and desperation. The youth in Mombasa are the face of the youth of Kenya; yearning and desperate for any opportunity. 

The answer to radicalisation of youth in Mombasa is not the use of force. That will only fuel their anger and desperation at a system that does not accommodate them. They will go underground, grow in numbers and resolve, and when they resurface — like in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Greece, and Libya — no one will be able to stop them.

The Lost Generation have nothing to lose and everything to gain. The Government and society must find a way to absorb them into the present and guarantee their future.


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