Kenyan youth shouldn’t look up to elders

National Youth Council Tharaka Nithi County Chapter delegate member Anne Muthoni Mbaabu (right) and Nairobi Chapter delegate member Gaddaffi Isiavale address the media in Nairobi on September 18, 2020.

Photo credit: Kanyiri Wahito | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Respecting elders is ingrained in African culture but unfortunately, it’s a norm that a few elderly, power-hungry individuals have taken advantage of.
  • It’s the youth who need protection from elders behaving badly

In the 2017 American film Going in Style, three elderly men organise an impeccable bank robbery together, escape punishment and ride off into the sunset.

To paraphrase Michela Wrong, it’s as if the elders decide it’s their turn to eat. They are willing to do whatever it takes to ensure they leave this world – eventually – in style.

Does this synopsis sound familiar yet? The vices the film addresses, such as impunity, shamelessness, greed and lack of empathy, may be universal but they certainly seem to define exactly how some Kenyan elders have been behaving of late. Or perhaps they have always been this way, and the Covid-19 pandemic only exacerbated this.

Respecting elders is ingrained in African culture but unfortunately, it’s a norm that a few elderly, power-hungry individuals have taken advantage of, making it impossible to use their behaviour as a moral yardstick.

Respect

Even those desperate to reserve a layer of respect would be sorely disappointed for they are bound to encounter corruption, lack of moral values, narcissism, hate speech, tribalism, sexism and every other ‘ism’.

In June 2020, as the Covid-19 pandemic raged on, Kenyan youth were badgered about protecting their elders. They were presented with evidence which indicated they were coronavirus super spreaders. This came barely a month after President Uhuru Kenyatta publicly bashed his son for putting at risk the life of his 86-year-old grandmother.

“While the youth are likely to get infected and spread the virus, the likelihood of [their] dying is minimal. However, for our elderly people, because of their pre-existing conditions, the number of deaths is high. We should take good care of elderly people,” Health CS Mutahi Kagwe said.

But now, the tables have turned. It’s the youth who need protection from elders behaving badly. What a perverse and shameful twist. You have seen the elders leading campaigns in crowded political rallies. You have seen them huddling around microphones at press conferences, churches and funerals.

Spew venom

You have heard them spew venom with their words and actions. You have watched them come to the defence of Mama Ngina when a politician insulted her and how they have always slunk back when it was Mama Wanjiku’s life on the line.

It’s galling to think that some of their counterparts, the ones who chose the narrow and moral path, are living in ultimate indignity.

It’s difficult to reduce the whirlwind of misdemeanours by some “respected” Kenyan elders into neat strips of words, especially since it feels like a cultural abomination to declare that they have shown us that they don’t deserve our respect, but if one was to try, then a word that seems adequate is ‘disgraceful’.

Our elders are a disgrace. They have made it impossible to resurrect the culture of respecting them. It’s time the youth ignored them.

  foneya@ke.nationmedia.com; @FaithOneya