Angry and unafraid: When Gen Z storm country’s streets


A crowd of youthful protestors mob a police car during demonstrations on the streets of Nairobi on June 20, 2024.

Photo credit: Francis Nderitu | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • The Gen Z has an advantage no generation ever had.
  • They are unafraid; they question authority and push back.

Facing unemployment, constant exposure to grim realities and a general amplified sense of crisis, they took matters into their own hands and stormed the capital city.

Swashbuckling, gut whirling with anxiety and heart racing, they hit the streets — bracing for impact.

They poured into Nairobi streets, some holding up banners and waving them in the air like flags — the flags of an unstoppable army, there to spread a message of defiance, youth, the anarchy of pure heedlessness and “I dare you”!

That’s a description of most of the protesters who hit the streets of Nairobi on Tuesday, June 18, 2024 in the protests dubbed “Occupy Parliament” — meant to oppose the proposed Finance Bill 2024.


Protesters display a banner during the Anti-Finance Bill demonstrations along Kenyatta Avenue in Nairobi on June 20, 2024.

Photo credit: Billy Ogada | Nation Media Group

Young people in Kenya are fed up. That seemed to be the message to the government. As they breathed in, sucking in teargas in short, raspy gasps, they marched on — fearless.

What was surprising was that a good number of them were young people. The presence of Gen Z in the protests was a surprise to many.

The Gen Z has an advantage no generation ever had as Megan Carnegie once wrote in a BBC article, “…Technology has given young people a louder voice than ever before. Gen Z are angry — and unafraid to speak up…starting a life in activism at a young age — and going all in — is an increasingly common story among Gen Zers. Born between 1995 and 2010, this generation have already found themselves up against immense challenges as they make their way into adulthood:… social unrest, political division, economic distress and more… And although they are far from the first generation who’ve spoken up about injustice and other societal ills, technology has meant Gen Z’s activism looks different than the movements of the past — which means their influence may be, too…”

The Gen Z have some interesting characteristics: they are many, identify less with our tribal identities, have no fear and they can amplify their voices through their devices using social media.

On their numbers, statistics show that the median age of Kenya’s population is 20.1 years (that’s a Gen Z). Interestingly, over 50 per cent of Kenyans are aged under 25 years old.

If they were to become politically conscious as they did in the recent protests, and if they were to mobilise and actually start voting in elections, politicians would quake in their boots. 

The other characteristic is that the Gen Z is also the generation that was taught to speak up.

They are not the kind to cower in a corner like their parents and grandparents were socialised to.

They are unafraid — they question authority, push back and refuse to be silenced. 


Anti-Finance Bill protesters mob a police lorry during demonstrations on the streets of Nairobi on June 20, 2024.


Photo credit: Billy Ogada | Nation Media Group

And probably the most powerful characteristic of Gen Z is their ubiquitous devices and their use of social media. Unlike their grandparents and parents who consumed traditional media, today, social media is interactive: one post on Instagram, Tiktok or YouTube shorts can reach thousands of people if not millions in a short time.

Gen Z’s voice is an amplified voice. This was evident during the “Occupy Parliament” protests, as some of them took selfies inside a police truck after being arrested.

On their phone screens, maybe their faces flashed in and out of the frames, the filters unsure how to present them — behind the screen, it may have been something with a different effect; beautiful in its hallucinatory sway, producing the images of visionary heroes, their faces somehow steely, their eyes shining and the sun intercepting child-like innocence.

However, documenting everything in photographs and videos not only helps them amplify their messages but also protects themselves from being mistreated by the police. It will be on record.

This is what happened in the recent protests: On social media, video clips were posted of the protesters, their voices mingling sometimes in amiable insult and argument, vanishing at last in the echoes of the crowds.

In a Nairobi street corner, with the wind whipping against their hair, young protesters turned their faces towards the police under shadowed skies, and as people prepared to prophesy, took their stand — facing the police eyeball to eyeball.

One of the reasons the Gen Z may have to protest in the face of injustice is that they cannot hide from what is happening in society.

As Megan Carnegie writes, “With just a smartphone, people can access a 24/7 buffet of reporting through social media sites, search engines, news sites and TV… Young people can’t turn away from the discourse, so it’s no wonder that many digital native Gen Zers are spurred to act on their societal grievances”. 

The outcry by Kenyans of all ages and backgrounds and the “Occupy Parliament” protests that had the Gen Z starring seem to have put some pressure on government because there was an announcement that they had removed the proposed 16 per cent VAT on bread, there would be no increase on mobile money transfer and some other concessions.

Our democracy and political process will only get better as the Gen Z become more active as they are less tribal (some have no tribal consciousness at all). Our current politicians who thrive on tribal politics will be at a loss when the Gen Z start voting. There is hope for Kenya.

The writer is a book publisher based in Nairobi. [email protected]