Youths must pull themselves up by the bootstraps, not by waiting for handouts

Youths under 'The Hustler’s Movement' led by Bernard Nyamwaro (centre) during a press conference at Storm Hotel in Kisii town on May 2, 2018. PHOTO | BENSON MOMANYI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • There is no political demographic in Kenya we can label as youth.
  • What we know is youth faithfully follow the same ethnic cleavages like the rest of our society.
  • Rhetorically, Uhuru Kenyatta loves rooting for the youth as an end in itself.

Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja is upset because the youth were left out of the 14-member “handshake” committee announced recently. I have always been uncomfortable with the notion that you are entitled to positions for belonging to an amorphous group called the youth. Leadership, especially, is not something that should be given out on such criteria, in the manner you hand sweets to children.

Let’s get serious. What have the so-called youth demonstrated in positions of authority? Babu Owino? Governor Mike Sonko? Or even his Mombasa counterpart Hassan Joho? Give us a break. The assumption that youth in itself acts as a corrective to our flawed national leadership is a mistaken one. I like one idea of scholar Wandia Njoya’s, who happens to be the daughter of clergyman Timothy Njoya.

She has argued on Twitter that young people should not expect to get space by merely replacing others, but by creating their own opportunities.

She advocates that the new voices should establish themselves, and not expect room to be created for them by kicking older folks out. I should admit there are aspects of Njoya’s wider activism I find too off but, on this, she is spot on.

LEADERSHIP

True, a good number of can-do younger leaders in politics and other fields who I don’t wish to mention here are showing the way forward with some interesting ideas, and solutions. But they have not yet formed a critical mass. The elders are still in control. The bigger point is that you cannot draw a line and say merely because somebody is young – or old – we bestow him with leadership. Prove yourself first. Youth empowerment is not about quota handouts from the national table. It will come through achievement and taking control over that same table.

Julius Malema, the disruptive South African politician whose name has been on many Kenyan lips over a speech he gave during Winnie Mandela’s funeral, knows how to get ahead without always whining of age.

But there is a problem. Let’s face it, there is no political demographic in Kenya we can label as youth. What we know is youth faithfully follow the same ethnic cleavages like the rest of our society.

Rather than have a member of your age-set from another tribe occupying an important government office, you would rather have a doddering old man from your clan taking that office.

SERIOUS POSITIONS

More to the point, when young people get appointed to serious positions, they have shown they are no different in their modus operandi than their elders. This mindset will remain until the youth align their own interests better.

I am currently fascinated by the way those born in the 80s and 90s are interpreting the “handshake” as a contest between “hustlers” and “royal dynasties.”

This is simplistic. I would have expected, if they really care for the opening up of our democratic space, to ask themselves whether it is really in their interests to have the Presidency controlled for 59 years since independence by only two communities, with the possibility of another five, 10 years. The country’s political tectonic forces are shifting and the youth are stuck with fake narratives.

YOUTH FUND

Rhetorically, Uhuru Kenyatta loves rooting for the youth as an end in itself. But what are they offering? Just their youth? The Youth Fund is a good idea, but it only helps those who put up with government bureaucracy. It’s the same thing with the requirement that a percentage of government contracts be reserved for youth and women.

At most, this creates tenderpreneurs, not entrepreneurs. I know a young, rural man who makes a killing growing and selling grafted avocado seedlings, and who would go places if he benefitted from intelligent professional input to expand. On a good day, he sells 100 plants at Sh150 each which, at the end of the month, can net him nearly half a million shillings, clean.

He only needs another outlet to diversify because the avocado planting period is seasonal. These are the kind of young people the government should help to grow and multiply.

Gitau Warigi is a socio-political commentator [email protected]