Gen Z protests proof things are not moving at right speed

Anti-Finance Bill protestors demonstrating outside ACK Church of Christ the King Pro-Cathedral in Nyahururu, Nyandarua County during the consecration and enthronement of Rev. Major Samson Mburu Gachath on June 23, 2024. President William Ruto and his deputy Rigathi Gachagua among other leaders attended. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

If Kenya were a camel, then the middle class would be its back. This is a demographic segment that that has demonstrated resilience for years without as much as a murmur.

But things seemed to have taken a different turn this past week when an army of young, educated and tech-savvy Kenyans stormed the streets to protest the Finance Bill 2024.

The protest took an ugly trajectory when one protester lost his life in the hands of law enforcers.

The question is, how did we get here? Eric Hoffer, in his timeless book ‘True believers’ says that “It’s usually those whose poverty is relatively recent, the ‘New Poor’ who throb with ferment of frustration.

The memory of better things is as fire in their veins. They are the disinherited and dispossessed that respond to every mass movement.’’

The Gen Zs perfectly fit into this description. They were born in the dying days of Moi presidency, they certainly did not experience the pain of the structural adjustment programmes of the late 20th century, they went to primary school when corporal punishment had been outlawed and they came home to ready and tasty meals as the prosperity years of Kibaki set many families on the path of upward social mobility. What is more, parents lavished their new-found wealth on providing for their childrens’ education and comfort.

Then when these young people step out of college and want to start their families, they realise they can’t afford the things they took for granted while under their parent’s care.

They realise that the prospect of a decent job is so thin, and starting a business is also not guaranteed, for new businesses die long before they celebrate their second anniversary.

This unfortunate turn of events owes to our history of wanton and unchecked borrowing which has the effect of mortgaging away the future of these young people and our posterity.

The raison d’etre of protests is to pique the conscience of the authorities, and to shine a light on the darker crevices of our polity.

They are not intended to foment anarchy and lawlessness, and right now, with the calls for more protests, there is palpable apprehension that the protests can be misused to serve the nefarious goals of other actors.

We must remember that under the previous administration, Kenyans once experienced rationing of two very basic products.

In 2016, we witnessed long queues as Kenyans were not allowed to buy more than four packets of 2kg maize flour.

We also witnessed long lines in 2021 in petrol stations when there was not a drop of fuel in pumps. For all the supposed imperfections of Kenya Kwanza, a packet of unga is more affordable today than at any other time in the last five years of the previous administrations.

Our fuel pumps have petrol and diesel and the price keeps coming down. Let us remember the work we, the people of Kenya, collectively have done.

We literally dodged a bullet when we averted a default on the sovereign debt that so many naysayers had predicted.

We then renegotiated the balance of trade around the debt that was causing unrealistic pressure on our currency and within no time the Kenyan shilling has been voted the strongest in Africa. All these are indicators of positive progress.

But it’s instructive to note that the mere fact that there is progress does not insulate the political leadership from the discontent of the masses. It actually fuels the dreams of the masses.

The outpouring of the Gen Zs is an indicator that things are looking bright but unfortunately not fast enough to satisfy every Gen Z’s aspirations.

When all is said and done, we must commend our children for daring to dream of a better nation.

We can now have a conversation on the objectives of their movement, even as we reflect on the poignant words of Hoffer that “Our frustration is greater when we have much and want more than when we have nothing and want some.”  

Mr Kidi is the Convenor of Inter-Parties Youth Forum.