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Last update: 1 July 2022 h. 10:44
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Youth locked out of political leadership

Kenya's political landscape is reeling from the generation gap as older generations hold on tightly to political leadership at the expense of the energetic and more adventurous young generation.
Fred Oluoch

The question is who is to blame, between the older generation, who is not just about to relinquish its long hold on power, and the younger generation who have kept out of competitive politics in favour of their careers.

This comes as Kenyans are yet to agree whether the younger generation could be the panacea to our political morass or whether they are destined to stick with greying leadership one after the other.

President Mwai Kibaki for instance, incensed the youth early last year when he stuffed his cabinet and appointments in the civil service with old, retired personalities that came to be known as the "grey-haired club".

Thus, the long-held dream that Kenyan politics could at one time be driven by young and educated personalities aged 40 and below, remains a mirage, even as there is a growing consensus that the old generation is starving Kenyan politics from new and innovative ideas to propel the country into the global realm.

The frustration is such that very few youthful politicians earned themselves cabinet positions following the 2002 National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) victory, despite the youth having contributed immensely to the defeat of the Kenya African National Union [KANU] regime through street protests and other forms of agitation.

The same is the case with the civil service, where president Kibaki still retains six permanent secretaries who have bypassed their official retirement age of 55 amidst high rate of unemployment and the agitation to include the youth into the political mainstream.

So far, the only youthful cabinet ministers include Najib Balala and Ochilo Ayacko, while one of the most outstanding appointments by he Kibaki government, is the recent elevation of the 34-year old Alfred Mutua, as the government spokesman.

Unfortunately in Kenya's 41 years of independence, no politician has ever come up to provide a clear-cut rallying point for the youth, despite the reality that the youth comprise the majority of the Kenyan population and has the potential of forming the most potent voting bloc ever experienced.

The old generation, who still calls the shots, has been accused of conservatism, lacking vision and too preoccupied with their old friends to experiment with the younger generation.

The older generation on the other hand argues that youth is not the only qualification for leadership, and that besides inexperience, the young can also learn to be tribalistic, corrupt and dictatorial.

They have also been accused of expecting to be given leadership on the silver platter and that Kenyan youth—just like in most parts of the continent—are under-represented in many spheres because of their reluctance to join active politics.

In his twilight years, former president Daniel Moi vowed to work with the young generation to give the country's political landscape a face-lift. He argued— while propping up Mr Uhuru Kenyatta to succeed him—that the old crop of politicians had over the years messed up politics and should pave the way for the young.

Observes, then, called him bluff on suspicion that he was targeting Kibaki and Simeon Nyachae, both of who were presidential candidates and who he had earlier called upon to retire with him.

The Kenyatta and former Vice-President Musalia Mudavadi team, on one hand was the first serious attempt to push the youth into senior political leadership. But on the other hand, it was seen as Moi's style of regional politics, besides the proteges coincidentally being the scions of some of Kenya's prominent political families. So far, it is only environment minister, Kalonzo Musyoka, who has rose to political prominence without family connection.

The private sector, has however, done a commendable job by going for young and energetic personalities. Though part of the political arrangement then, the appointment in 2001 of Raymond Matiba, as the head of Kenya Tourism Board (KTB) by the former president Moi, was seen as his commitment to encourage the youth to aspire for positions of leadership.

At the dawn of independence, a lot of youthful and charismatic leaders emerged, mainly through the labour movement and went on to hold senior political office, or make a mark in the Kenyan political scene.

Notable among them included the late Tom Mboya, the current president Kibaki, James Nyamweya, Martin Shikuku and John Michuki, among others.

These personalities, however, went on to dominate the political landscape for decades, and a number of them—to the chagrin of Kenyans—have found themselves in the Kibaki government after staying out for most of the Moi reign.

It now seems that these leaders, most of whom are now in their twilight years, have refused to give way for younger leaders, and still retain much influence.

Just like Kibaki who took over the country's leadership at 72, Jomo Kenyatta took over at the age of 70 and died at 85. Though Moi left the leadership at an advanced age of 78, he still holds the record as the only Kenyan president who took over leadership at a reasonable age of 54.

But age aside, it is the capacity of these leaders to surround themselves with old politicians at the exclusion of the young, that has generated heated debate. This was clearly demonstrated recently when president Kibaki, faced with rebellion from his partners in the ruling coalition, resorted to octogenarians from the opposition in the name of Nyachae and Njenga Karume, to save the government from collapse and also for advice.

With the country's politics still driven by ethnic loyalties and considerations, the young politicians who aspire for political leadership have found it difficult to inspire the old and rural-based population who comprise over 80 percent of the voters.

The urban-based and issues oriented voters, who observers believe could help reduce the level of ethnicity in Kenyan politics, have not only shied away from politics, but hardly vote.

As it is, Kenya's politics is still driven by cash handouts and the rich carry the day. Taking into account that corruption is embedded in the Kenyan society, young politicians are also disadvantaged by the skewed belief that it is those who have made money that can promote development, since the young will spend more time accumulating wealth at the expense of the constituents.

The trend is that if you are connected to a prominent political family, or has made money sometime through dubious means, then you can as well get leadership. The former cabinet minister and the leader of Youth for Kanu '92, Cyrus Jirongo, is a case in point.

After helping mobilise and rallying the youth behind the former ruling party in 1992 in return for personal enrichment, Jirongo was not capable of contesting and winning in 1997 because he was perceived by the voters as a cash cow, his youthfulness notwithstanding.

In the last elections, KANU led by their youthful presidential candidate, Mr Kenyatta, managed to bring in new and youthful faces. 70 percent of KANU’s MPs are either new or just hitting their 40s, according to the 37-year old William Ruto, who is also the chairman of the Parliamentary Select Committee on the constitutional review.

But as the Kenyan youth grouse over their exclusion in positions of leadership, some of them who have made it to parliament, have displayed high amount of immaturity that have left their supporters baffled. Those who have disappointed the youth through their public outbursts include assistant ministers, Danson Mungatana, Robinson Githae, and MPs Peter Munya and Koigi wa Wamwere.

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