Kenya on the cusp of Gen Z-driven political change


A protestor held by police while demonstrating against the Finance Bill 2024 in Nairobi on June 20, 2024. [Denis Kibuchi, Standard]

Of all the fundamental rights ever codified to how a society can craft and reshape its affairs, the right to protest is the alma mater of popular sovereignty.

One would be right to say that an aspect of this proposition is slowly sinking back into the national psyche in Kenya. In the last few days, the country is abuzz with what is largely christened the Generation Z revolution.

In stride, young Kenyans barely bursting from their teenage years have been mobilizing across the country to protest this year’s Financial Bill and condemn the overbearing tax proposals in the budget. The point is simple: there is strength in numbers, and numbers make up the power of the people.

What has been interesting though for this new generation of protesters is the fact that they are being collectively regarded as a discovery! Indeed, they are. Kenya, despite eons of public discussions of its pyramidal demography and the attention that its youth bulge should be given, including the need for accelerated expansion of economic opportunities to secure future stability, it appears that key decision-makers have often ignored this call.

Gen Zees have been seen as sunken in the social media of TikTok, WhatsApp, Telegram, Instagram and other chat platforms. It is apparent too, that Kenyans generally dismissed this generation to a point that not much attention has been directed to its independence of thought, growing proclivity to political self-determination and the power to organize for their interests.

This can be an ideological debate but nonetheless, Kenya is currently swept down its own feet by the fervent show of the youngsters that they have a political stake in the affairs of the country.

Whereas the state machinery has always prepared itself around the subjectively partisan and jaundiced stereotypes of politically led demonstrations, it froze in the face of teenage girls asking for tax relief on sanitary towels and baby formulas for their children. The antiquated state machinery was ill-prepared for the youthful content creators and tech honchos on the streets as opposed to high taxes on telecommunication gadgets and mobile data, money transfers among other contentious issues.

The police officers deployed across the country have faced situations where they have to confront agemates of their children rather than the poor urban hoodlums that they have been used to chasing down the alleys with as skimpy sympathy as the clothes covering the backs of the victims.

The Law Society of Kenya (LSK) rose up this time around to offer legal support to protesters found in the trap of the retrogressive public order laws that still sanction the right to lawful protests and demonstrations.

Across the country, volunteer lawyers have been trooping to police stations to assist some of the demonstrators held over the demonstrations. Invariably tens of the young demonstrators found themselves locked up in police stations.

This action by the LSK has been laudable. In the full outlook of the Financial Bill demonstrations, the Gen Zs aware that article 37 of the constitution guarantees them the right to assemble, demonstrate and picket while observing peace and non-violence – has literally knocked on the gates of the political establishment aiming to re-order the country in their own image, style and vision.

These are boys and girls born at the cusp of the agitation for expanded democratization and the fight for Kenya’s 2010 constitution at the turn of the millennium.  They were born into a socially liberal but hugely divisive political culture as the 2007/8 post-election violence in Kenya evinced. It is now clear to many that the youngsters have been struggling with history.

The demonstrations have condemned the ethnicity, patrimonialism and gerontocracy of the local leaders in all their dimensions. This generation of Kenyans may have taken longer to comprehend what the founding fathers like Jomo Kenyatta, Oginga Odinga, Tom Mboya, Gideon Ngala, Kungu Karumba, Pio Gama Pinto or Bildad Kaggia were about and their vision for the country, but sure they have shown their zeal to craft a country in the image of fairness, justice and progress.

It also means that the flavor of history does not in any case perish with time but rather it thickens to fruition. It is all too clear that the civic education aspirations founded in that period of time, about the same age as they are, have blossomed and the race to re-order Kenya’s political affairs is on. The baton for change is alive. This is fair to say because songs, slogans and philosophies that underlined the people’s movements of the period, buoyed by civic groups such as the National Constitution Executive Council (NCEC), the Citizen Coalition for Constitutional Change (4 Cs) as well as the Release Political Prisoners (RPP) are alive today.

These songs, mainly inspired by the tunes from the South African anti-apartheid clarion anthems have been emphatically sang in the assemblies escorted with the reminder of ‘bado mapambano’ that they would have heard the first time as children.

In the multiple police stations handling the ‘unlawful assembly’ and ‘rioting’ suspects over the period, the youngsters have shown that their voices can no longer be swept under the carpet. Their high-tech coordination and mobilization cut across social privileges, gender and other superficial political cleavages. They have shown that the youth is a generation hungry for change.

Aluoka is an advocate of the High Court of Kenya