Scenes from riots in Kenya in 2007

By Winnie Linnet

Globally, politics plays a very crucial role in the growth and stability of countries. Thus, it is a matter that attracts important discussion worldwide. No country can escape this topic since governments are initiated by politics and one cannot exist without the other. The distinguishing feature is the nature of politics practised – healthy or unhealthy. Stability, growth, and development are characteristics of healthy politics, these factors are not evident when it comes to a lot of countries, especially in Africa. It is therefore paramount to illuminate the issues that come along with unhealthy politics like bribery, corruption, nepotism, terrorism, chaos and violence, and explain how these issues affect the youth population, who are often the target population used by the political class to incite these vices.

Kenya is an example of those countries whose political situation over the years has had a tremendous impact on its economic state. Kenya is a beautiful country blessed with natural resources and great manpower comprised of youths with fresh brains to bring about innovation and creativity, so as to spearhead the growth of diverse sectors of the economy. Unfortunately, it is very alarming that these youths are same ones who are used by the political class to ruin what we have struggled to achieve.

Why talk about Kenyan politics? As a young girl who grew up in the Western part of Kenya in a small community called Ebusakami in Luanda Sub county, I have witnessed a lot. It is very normal during a political campaign period to see mostly youths and women lined up to receive handouts in exchange for giving their vote to an aspiring candidate. It has actually become the norm that people will only vote for candidates because of what they have given them, and not on the basis of merit. The question is why youths and women? They are vulnerable, desperate for jobs and would do anything to meet their needs – not forgetting that they compose three quarters of the vote count in Kenya. As if that is not enough, I have experienced young people being bribed to do various harmful activities such as causing chaos at polling stations during general elections.

On a personal encounter of the corrupt, chaos and bribery, a month ago I went to get a KRA pin (a tracking number, generated by the Kenya Revenue Authority to any person or group, that helps in tax compliance procedures so that no group or person can evade being taxed). This pin is supposed to be generated within 3 to 4 working days of application. However for over 2 months I struggled to get it. I applied online but they rejected it. Later I went to Kisumu city, which is about 45 minute drive from home – again it was rejected with no reason whatsoever and I was told to consult the nearest Kenya Revenue Authority offices. I chose Kakamega since all the clues pointed there.

The next week I left for Kakamega which is a bumpy two-hour drive. On getting there I find a long queue of people waiting to be attended to. Finally, my turn comes up and on explaining the issue at hand – such as wanting to know the reason for rejecting my application – they tell me the boss who gives approval is not around until the next week. I felt so frustrated and wondered what would be next since I had spent all my money on transport. I was just about to leave the town when I received a phone call from an official there wanting me to give him “kitu kidogo” (“something small”), so as to make my KRA pin. Apparently, that is what happens to everyone who goes there. This explains the dirty fabric that drips from the top to the lower offices of government. Since I had nothing to give her, I left with no results.

Back in the year 2007, our country experienced the first post-election violence that claimed a lot of lives. The innocent died, homes were razed down, and businesses deserted. This was the most terrifying time in the history of Kenya, as the tribes in Kenya forgot that they were brothers and sisters. A major cause of the violence was insightful statements that enraged the youth to act in defence of the defeated candidates.

A Kenyan leader  was quoted as saying “we have just started, and we are not accepting defeat” The question is, what have they started??

It is through such statements that uproars begin.

Wametuibia kura” (they have stolen our votes).

When leaders should have been calling for peace and urging their followers to be calm, because their offices are symbols of national unity, they forgot and let their emotions get the best of them. Our leaders became the real definition of division, thus a contradiction between national loyalty and tribal loyalty emerged. Leaders identified themselves with whichever tribe had aligned itself with them and any other tribe that was not supporting them became enemies. Guess who was used to accomplish these inhumane brutal acts… the youths.

The political class came with empty promises and stolen mwananch (local citizens’) money to lure the youths only to forget them later. The businesses that the youths destroyed belonged to our mothers and fathers, the schools they razed in flames are the sources of their ultimate knowledge. Our leaders encouraged them to do this in the name of not accepting defeat. We entrust our leaders with the responsibilities of taking care of our interests and carrying our voices to the national government, they campaign with the promise to change the situation only for them to disappear for years after election.

The funds intended for the youths to start projects disappear or are distributed unfairly. The youth population in the rural area find it difficult to get information about available funds, the few who are able to get this information give up due to a whole lot of requirements. They especially need help when it comes to developing proposals for the government. Another issue is when the leaders with information and knowledge on how to assist them do so on the basis of nepotism. Also, the government vet applications for grants online. It means everyone who applies must showcase their skills or talent online, which is actually very hard for a youth in the rural areas with no electricity let alone a phone. In the process of making policies or decisions it is important that youths of all calibre be considered.

Rather than inciting violence the government could educate more youths to use their skills and talents so as to reduce idleness. In rural areas this type of education should be free, so as to reduce rural-urban migration to the cities. The government could also conduct visits to check the work or skills being showcased in the rural areas and not only in the major cities, since most rural areas lack internet to showcase farm work, talents etc. Parts of the government are trying their best to reach out to the youths, but down within the system some people are purposely rejecting applications so that the unclaimed monies remain to be squandered by them. This kind of situation is exactly what is derailing the economy of this country. Also, employment schemes could help raise the standard of living for the upcoming youths especially those who are trained with skills. The government could also encourage the youths to save through social security funds etc.

Scenes from riots in Kenya in 2007

It is very hard to digest the thought that a few individuals within the government have become so polluted and eroded in values. It has now become the norm that whoever becomes part of the system in a few months or years will be very rich, with an expensive lifestyle, big houses, numerous plots of land all of these within a short timeframe…how? All this acquired properties are acquired through corruption. The term patience is not understood by them anymore. We want growth at a faster rate. With all this comes consequences. The poor continue to be poor while the rich continue getting richer. Instead of reducing the between gap between the two it continues to widen. Vices in relation to the youths have increased. The whole system deteriorates until it is even hard to trust the government itself.

In the year 2014, His Excellency president Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta took office. One of his aims was to increase youth employment during his tenure. His Excellency the President is the son of the 1st President of Kenya, the late Jomo Kenyatta. He became the first youngest president in the history of Kenya, and I believe that having seen how much the youths suffered and how they had supported him during his campaign period propelled him to implement youth policies. He is still in power I can only say that he has tried but not reached a point where we can celebrate yet. A number of youths have been employed and appointed. Remember, these youths had been unemployed for a while and they had waited for such a long time anticipating employment. On appointment the worst happened – unfortunately, they become worse that those before them. They squandered the given opportunity.

The question is why this turn around?  With research the question has been answered. The fabric of society and government which these youths have been raised in, seen and worked in supports these abominable acts. When their own bosses are stealing, they too would be no different. Therefore, they are more like their bosses – after all that is what they are taught survival is all about. Another reason is lack of values from society up to the government – we only say what we do not mean. A family that raises its daughters and sons in a manner that getting whatever is not yours is not a big deal then it is not possible to correct that mistake when they are fully grown. The bible is clear on this, “train a child in the ways of God while he is young and even if he grows old, he will never depart from them”.

Now where are our churches or mosques? What part does religion play in all this or has it too become corrupted and polluted? Religious institution should play an important role in strengthening governance, they should not be quiet on corruption in the system. They should not accept money being stolen that could help the poor. They could also teach the youths the need to work hard and be content with what they have. They should not condone political leaders using them. It not fair if our leaders, without fear of God, go around luring the clergy with stolen money so as to use the church for political exchanges. Churches or mosques should not allow such behaviour, because people will lack a place for refuge and the church loses its honour through the defiling of the sanctuary of God. It must be a place for refuge where people can speak to their God without being judged. Kenyan leaders have turned the Church into campaign grounds unfortunately this has been made possible by the help of church leaders who have been lured by money offered to them by the political class. They take the opportunity to exchange with their rivals in the sanctuary of God which should not be condoned. Politics has to be done outside of the church and the mosque, these place must be reserved only for the worship of God.

It is very unfortunate to find learned youths struggling to employ themselves through small and medium sized enterprises only for their shops to be burnt in political clashes. Those razing them down have no knowledge of who the owner is and whether it is their fellow youth. Envy and rivalry among fellow youths is also an issue that has to be fought with all our might. All these because others are progressing at a quicker rate than others. It is important to help them understand that friendship is what makes brothers prosper. If they see each other that way, it will hurt to destroy your brother’s home since tomorrow in a time of need he or she may accommodate you.

As a country the death toll of youths is rising rapidly since many of them are used and some are even killed under unclear circumstances. For example, there was an incident in my neighbourhood community where a youth was found dead in a mining site trying to get gold to change his situation. Others lose their lives through motorbike accidents, some through police brutality or stray bullets of reckless police shoot outs while the youths are protesting and fighting for their rights.

As though this is not enough, there are old people being given jobs at the expense of this youths. Why do this to a suffering youth audience. Why lay off youths and keep older people because of experience where then will they get work experience if you drop them off especially with no notice?

The situation in my country is just but a mirror of what the rest of African countries are experiencing. The government fabric must be cleaned, because whatever happens at the top is what will flow down to the lowest of appointees in offices and back to the society. Youths form the government or rather the leadership of tomorrow, thus they are the axis of economy. It is therefore very fundamental that they are taught values that should be practised at family level, in society and the government. Funds should be available to them to enable them to grow since the economy shall grow with their aid. It is my request to all youths worldwide not to fall for lies that the political class may carry along. Let us uphold our integrity and fight for a future generation that is vice free.