Peripheral youth participation in our politics and governance has always come back not only to haunt them, but also proved very costly to the entire polity. Youth, as transient as it is, can be a blessing and a curse to any country.
It’s against this backdrop that investment in people - their education, skills, healthcare et al - is seen as a prerequisite for economic take off. This is true because the reverse is also true. An ignorant, sickly, disenfranchised (youthful) population can be a ticking time bomb anywhere in the world.
The Kenyan youth has received enough flak on account that they did not participate in the last general elections. Some commentators have been quick to extinguish any conversation around youth inclusion on the basis that there is nothing special about them.
If we want to talk about youth inclusion and the inclusion of all special interest groups - minorities, women and people living with disability - we must not only open our minds to appreciate the systemic and structural barriers that have kept this demographic away, we must also open our hearts and jettison the attitudes that have placed power, privilege and opportunity in the hands of a few at the expense of so many.
A country’s future is therefore as brilliant as the investment it makes in its people. An economy is likely to be on the upward spiral when it erects inclusive political and economic institutions that ensure property rights are sacrosanct, that disputes - be they of a criminal nature, civil and, or commercial - are resolved expeditiously by an independent arbitrator.
Today, as the country talks about national dialogue, the young people are disappointed that the bipartisan committee has not only bickered on non-issues, but it has also started on a less than inspiring note. The priority, as it appeared on the demands by both sides of the divide, demonstrates no fundamental departure from the spirit and letter of previous elite pact settlements. The focus being primarily on individuals and their immediate interests rather than the painful political choices we make collectively as a nation.
When young people were mobilised into the streets to chant, ‘IEBC must go’, many believed that it was to help set up an election management infrastructure that would be beyond reproach. But a year later, people were in the streets bitterly contesting an election. When the handshake happened in 2018, many heaved a sigh of relief hoping that sense had prevailed. But just like other ceasefire settlements before, handshake did not get much done on account of institutional reforms.
With the cost of living going through the roof, the youth believe that any rapprochement between the big political formations should help us boldly confront the debt question. This is important so that we know how much debt we have accumulated in the last 10 years, what interest it has attracted thus far, how much have we repaid and what we need to do to restore government’s fiscal viability.
This is important because the young people want an economy with sufficient liquidity. As we speak, the exchange rate has placed pressure on the economy and this, coupled with government taxes, has seen many SMEs go belly up. So, before we say which office should be in the Constitution and which should not, let us see, as a demonstration of goodwill to Kenyans, a joint effort to amend Section 50(7) of the Public Finance Management Act to ensure that all the money that is borrowed in the name of the people of Kenya is first wired to the consolidated fund as it was before the amendment in 2014.
Immediate reconstitution of the IEBC is important to young people. There are many by-elections that have fallen due. Knowing that occupiers of the presidency are mortal men, an electoral body without substantive officeholders does not look and feel prudent.
Mr Mwaga is the Convenor, Inter-parties Youth Forum. [email protected]