Age is just but a number, the adage goes. That might ring true to many people in some quarters. In the political circles in Kenya, however, the youths still have to contend with minuscule contributions as the major parties in the country lend unchecked space and finances to the older and experienced politicians to run the outfits.
For their age, the youths are often relegated to the periphery as the parties draft manifestos, key policies and even bills even though they are the majority and deserving of more space to invest their knowledge and skills. Often, they are ignored due to imagined inexperience, shallow pockets and other malignant characterisations that often denigrate the good additives they bring to political circles.
Mention of youth leagues in politics immediately evokes memories of the critical role such played in nurturing Nelson Mandela into a revered leader. The anti-apartheid icon, with others, formed the youth league of the African National Congress (ANC) in 1944 and made it one of the most vibrant organs of the party. The leaders would, despite suffering lengthy incarceration for the independence struggle, eventually got into power in 1994.
Despite such historical feats, most political parties worldwide are yet to fully embrace youth leagues. The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) reports that people aged 20-44 comprise 57 per cent of the voting age population but only 26 per cent of MPs. Youth under 30 represent 1.9 per cent of the world’s MPs but there are none in more than 80 per cent of the upper Houses of Parliament.
This resonates with the prevailing political context in Kenya. Despite being the majority of the electorate, the presentation of youth in formal institutions of the state and government — as in political parties — is minimal. The number of youth MPs increased after the last election but they still make less than 10 per cent in both Houses.
Secure their future
Although most political parties have active youth leagues with membership and leadership from the grassroots to the national level, with the leaders sitting in the parties’ national executive councils, their contributions are often dismissed as some party mandarins regard them as political neophytes not worthy of their time.
This must change. Youth leagues are a critical entity for political parties to secure their future. Excluding the youth is a huge risk that no political party should dare take. Parties must not only have the leagues as a formality but to seriously address young people’s needs, offer them an avenue for political growth through mentorship and provide leadership opportunities through nominations.
Parties with vibrant youth leagues have a greater chance of adapting modern politicking tricks as youths are more receptive to new ways of doing things than the older generation of politicians.
The proposed Political Parties Act amendment that seeks to peg 20 per cent of the Political Parties Fund allocations to representation of youth and other special interest groups in Parliament is, therefore, welcome and should be pursued.