Gen Z protests signify beginning of a brave, bright epoch for Kenya

Citizens demonstrate along the streets of Nairobi's CBD to reject the Finance bill. June 20, 2024. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Last weekend, my family treated me to a special Father’s Day meal in the most serene and tranquil place I have visited in recent times.

They took me to Tigoni, where I saw three remarkable trees that left a profound impression on me. These trees, varying in age and character, told a story that mirrors Kenya’s historical journey—a story of resilience, transformation, and hope.

The first tree I encountered was a towering 35-year-old Persea Americana (avocado tree). This tree symbolized the period from 1963, when Kenya gained independence, to 1992, when it transitioned to multiparty democracy.

Like the maturing avocado tree, this approximately 30-year cycle was a time of growth and change. In 1963, Kenya's population was about 8 million, with life expectancy around 40-50 years, and an agrarian economy with limited education and infrastructure.

Despite political oppression and economic challenges, this era ultimately ended the one-party state, laying the groundwork for future growth.

A short walk later, I saw two majestic Podocarpus falcatus (Muthengera) trees, or East African yellowwood, about 64 years old. These trees represented Kenya’s period from 1930 to 1962, a time of colonial resistance and the fight for independence. Their strong branches symbolized the resilience and determination of the Kenyan people.

During this era, Kenya’s population grew, life expectancy improved to around 60 years, and the economy transitioned from agrarian to mixed, with significant urbanization and infrastructure development. The yellowwood trees embodied the strength and perseverance of those who fought for the nation’s freedom and laid its foundation.

Finally, we arrived at the Kentmere Club, where I saw a 150-year-old Mugumo tree. This tree symbolized the current and future cycle from 1992 to 2022 and beyond, representing the promise and potential of Kenya’s youth, particularly Gen Z.

In the past three decades, Kenya’s population has grown to 54 million, with 75% under 35. Life expectancy has risen to 67 years, and the economy has diversified significantly.

The Mugumo tree, known for its strength and longevity, mirrors the innovative and solution-oriented mindset of today’s youth, who are driving a new cycle of change in the nation.

It struck me that Kenya has been operating on 30-year cycles that have brought about significant transformation.

From gaining independence in 1963, transitioning to multiparty democracy in 1992, and now witnessing the rise of Gen Z in 2022, each cycle has marked a pivotal change in our nation’s history.

The recent demonstrations by Gen Z are not just about the finance bill but signify the end of one era and the beginning of another.

It is a clear message that the youth are ready to take over leadership, bringing fresh perspectives and innovative solutions free from the corruption and tribalism that have plagued previous generations.

Gen Z, unlike earlier generations, is equipped with powerful tools like artificial intelligence through platforms like Chat GPT, smartphones, and the internet.

They bring innovative solutions that transcend corruption and tribalism matching their global peers in admirable endeavors. Their fresh perspective and technological prowess mark a new cycle of change, characterized by integrity, transparency, and sustainable economic growth.

Kenya’s journey mirrors the cycles of transformation seen in other nations like the United States, France, and Russia. Each has experienced pivotal periods of change that shaped their histories.

Our Gen Z’s shift is about redefining leadership and governance. Older generations can adopt Gen Z's creativity for beneficial inter-generational teamwork. In today's Kenya, there are three groups- the rulers, the opposition, and Gen Z, who see the first two as one and the same.

I convince us to let’s learn from the three trees. The avocado signifies our democratic journey, the Muthengera our struggle for independence, and the Mugumo the bright future led by our youth. Together, they remind us to shape up or ship out, as change is inevitably underway. ‘Aisee Tujipange’. Think green, act green!"