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Kenyan politics no longer a reserve for 'retirees' as the youth revolution gains momentum

Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja, Kericho Senator Aaron Cheruiyot and Nandi Governor Stephen Sang. [Standard]

 

Ten years ago, if you asked a civil servant or a senior employee in the private sector what their post-retirement plan was, their most likely response would be joining politics.

Those in powerful non-political positions would use their final years towards retirement linking up people from their backyards to opportunities ostensibly to create a name for themselves.

And before the beneficiaries knew, the retirees would have them in their list of ‘things already done for the community as a bait to win voters promising to do even more if elected.'

This saw Parliament packed with people in their advanced age albeit a few who joined politics from their youthful years, some having started while in tertiary institutions of learning.

Domination of political space by older persons saw the emergence of famed ‘Young Turks of the 1980s and 90s’ some of them who are still holding elective positions in national and county governments. 

These included ODM leader Raila Odinga, Dr Mukhisa Kituyi who has since withdrawn from the presidential race, Siaya Senator James Orengo and Makueni Governor Prof Kivutha Kibwana. 

Others were late former vice president Michael Kijana Wamalwa, Kisumu Governor Prof Anyang’ Nyong’o, Meru Governor Kiraitu Murungi and Kitui Governor Charity Ngilu.

 

Kirinyaga governor aspirant Martha Karua, former Chief Justice Willy Mutunga, lawyers Paul Muite and Gitobu Imanyara were also in the group of youth in politics of their time.

Turning point

While the entry of young politicians remained locked for years, things started taking a different route in 2013 with the young politicians turning the old into the butt of the jokes as they called on them to quit.

Age proved not to be a barrier as youthful Kenyans ascended to senior positions such as governours, senators and MPs without gradually growing through the lower ranks such as ward representatives.

A perfect example is the 37-year-old Stephen Sang who was first elected as Nandi senator in 2013 and rose to be the county’s second governor in 2017, elbowing out seasoned politicians. 

At the age of 30, Kericho senator Aaron Cheruiyot pulled a surprise to upstage veteran politicians in a March 2016 by-election and successfully defended the seat in the 2017 elections. 

Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja, 37, clinched the seat in 2017 and is among the front runners in the governorship race. He first joined Parliament in 2013 as a nominated MP at the age of 28.

Following these and more success stories, the 2022 polls are set to attract even more youth who are gunning for top political seats.

Joachim Njui, 29, who is among the Jubilee Party aspirants for the Nakuru Town East MP seat believes the narrative of politics being preserved for the old is long overdue.

From left Rongai Parliamentary Aspirant Gladys Kamuren, Nakuru Town East Parliamentary aspirant Joachim Njui and Nakuru East Ward aspirant Susan Wanjiru addressing the press in Nakuru on April 8, 2022. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

 

“Nearly two decades ago, the youth had largely bought the idea that they are the leaders of tomorrow. That tomorrow has since arrived and we have to fight for our space,” said Njui. 

He believes that having the same old people take up political roles after retirement is among the main reasons parts of the country have failed to develop as per expectations from electorates.

“The young people have been used as voting machines despite accounting for more than half of the registered voters. We need fresh ideas for the world of today. It is the youth who have them,” said Njui.

While some of the veteran politicians dismiss them as inexperienced, the youth have a different reason why they need to be in politics other than their age.

“Provided one has the right leadership qualities and passion to serve the people, age is not a factor. Great leaders like former US President Barrack Obama made an impact in their youth,” he said. 

Thomas Mwangi, 33, is battling for the Jubilee ticket in the Nakuru senate race with veteran politicians some of whom were in the fight for the country’s second liberation.

The Commerce graduate and former chairperson for the African Students Association Kenya points out that the youth have the best solutions to challenges in the ever-evolving world.

“Every leader has their unique perspective of a problem and thus will offer diverse solutions. Elders have wisdom while the youth have the vision. Veterans should be there to offer support and advisory opinions,” said Mwangi.

He regretted that positions, some meant for the youth, have been given to those outside the youth bracket making them feel sidelined by the government without granting them an opportunity to prove themselves. 

“It has been like the elders don’t trust the youth with certain posts. Vijana wataharibu Kazi (the youth will mess up the job) is often thrown to deny us of the opportunities we deserve,” he said.

Mwangi noted that there is a continued global shift in the discussion citing great power countries like France which elected Emmanuel Macron as their President in May 2017 when he was aged 39 years.

Gidraph Mwangi, 29 has thrown his hat in the ring battling for the Nakuru governorship against politicians with big names running well-oiled political campaigns.

Nakuru Jubilee Governor aspirant Mwangi Gidraph. [Harun Wathari, Standard]

 

The aspirant notes that the lack of youth at the negotiating table has greatly worked against them despite rosy promises made to them during the campaign period.

“Politically speaking, if you are not at the negotiating table, you are on the menu. For long, the youth have been on the menu. It is time for a change. We have to redefine our politics from being a game for the old,” said Mwangi.

He pointed out that the current council of governors depicts the unfavourable representation of the youth despite some of them having unrivalled manifestos.

“The youth always cry for five years starting immediately after voting in older leaders who appoint their peers to government positions. Our time is now. Our voice has to be heard and our cries implemented,” he said.

Dr Phillip Chebunet, a political commentator agrees with the youth that this is their time and they should not feel intimidated to vie for seats that make them appear to be biting more than they can chew.

“Postponing leadership is not good. If someone has leadership qualities and ideas, nothing should hold them back. Our democracy is now past the era of discriminating youth in politics,” said Chebunet.

He however urged the youth to keep the right mentors and strategists close to them citing that politics is not a game for the faint-hearted. 

“Going for the jugular of the big shots exposes the youth to opportunities if they don’t succeed in elections. Despite the financial challenges, they should not shy away from vying. The likes of late Tom Mboya overcame such hurdles,” said Chebunet.