Tuesday, March 15, 2022

The way of the future

The clock keeps ticking inexorably towards 9th August 2022 when Kenyans in their millions will be asked to cast their ballots in favor of six different categories of candidates. The office that has elicited widespread excitement is the presidency, the highest political office in Kenya. The person to be nominated as a member of a county assembly in each of the counties does not elicit any attention by the chattering classes. We have been corralled into thinking of the presidency as the be all and end all of the 2022 general election.

Towards this end, the horse race has boiled down into a two-horse race: the incumbent Deputy President and the former Prime Minister. The former has had a spectacular falling out with his boss, who has called him epithets that raise the question as to why he continues to hold his job. The latter has kept his hopes of victory alive through four separate electoral disasters, and this time around, he has the president in his corner.

Our obsession with the presidency has hidden something more profound, something that was hinted at in the selection of the deputy president as the flag bearer of his rebel alliance: the complete absence and marginalization of young people from all levels of power. The upper echelons of institutions of power: political parties, faith ministries, corporate boards, civil society organizations, trades union, and the like are dominated by old men. Young people, women, members of marginalized communities and persons with disabilities are notable by their almost total absence in these offices. What’s worse are the platitudes that keep being repeated: the youth are the future of this country.

A common refrain is that the aged must make way for the young. What is never canvassed is the harsh reality: no one gives up power without a fight. Makau Mutua will not give up his chairmanship of the Kenya Human Rights Commission. Raila Odinga will not give up his leadership of the Orange Democratic Movement Party. James Mwangi will not give up the CEO’s office at Equity Bank. Bishop Muheria will continue to fulminate against hot-button cultural issues for as long as he white-knuckles his grip on the Arch-Diocese of Nyeri. Old men are here to stay and the only way they will leave is if they are pushed out by young people.

Young people must abandon the ayomyom philosophy they have been spoon-fed for the past thirty years. Young people must stop waiting to be chosen. Some of us have had opportunities to lead that we have shirked. We refuse to take up leadership in the home, in our communities, in our faith ministries or in our places of work because we fear failure. We have gotten used to “success” as the only metric that matters. We are no longer permitted to trial-and-error our way through life like our parents did. It is either success or bust. This has crippled the inter-generational transfer of power and wealth.

Old and no-longer-imaginative men have taken advantage. They have learnt the art of dishing out morsels to young people. There is a presidential candidate who has become notorious for distributing wheelbarrows to young people paid for out of billions that he cannot account for. What is amazing is that there are notable human rights defenders who see nothing wrong in defending this short-sighted and reckless scheme. Another p[residential candidate is notable for promising “free” money to young people out of taxes paid by the same young people or from the sweat of those young people. Listening to the two, it is obvious why tracking polls indicate that millions of young people are ambivalent about turning up at the polls in August.

But young people who should know better have done little to wrest leadership from the ancien regime. The CEO of the KCB Group has failed to mentor a younger person to succeed him such that his board has allegedly handed him a secret one-year extension to his contract. The presiding bishop emeritus of the Christ is the Answer Ministry has refused to fade into the background, popping up, on request and unilaterally, at major CITAM events. The Secretaries General of Kenya’s political parties are often young men, but they operate as vassals of their older, slower bosses rather than as the vanguard of the youth that seek political office. That dinosaurs like Musikari Kombo and Dalmas Otieno still have ambitions of high political office is an indictment of the young people who oversee operations of political parties.

Things will not change unless we abandon - truly abandon - business-as-usual. Kenya is ripe for a youth revolution. All it needs is the right spark and it will sweep away the old, decrepit and corrupt old guard. That spark, sadly, will not be lit by young people who have been taught to believe that wheelbarrows and six-thousand-shillings stipends are the way of the future.

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