Time to Rethink Youth Leadership?

For a very long time, the leadership spectrum in this country was dominated by the old people, majority being 50 years and above. The parliament was often referred to as the house of retirees. This name came to be because people were seeking elective positions after their retirement from the public service. The trend was similar in the appointive politics where appointments were reserved for those in old age. Therefore, wrinkles and grey hair were the face of political leadership in Kenya for decades after independence.

This even led to the coining of the very famous phrase that the youth are the leaders of tomorrow. That was right with the design of those days, because a young person was supposed to finish school first, secure a job, get a family and work until his retirement which was pegged at 50 for civil servants. Upon retirement, this young person of yesterday is now capable of running for an area Member of Parliament. At that time, KANU was the only political party and an aspirant only needed to be in good terms with the Provincial Administration (DOs and DCs) and the local KANU branch officials who would then facilitate rigging hence a smooth ticket to parliament. And this actually became the norm, you had to wait till you have grandchildren for you to afford seeing the chambers of parliament. Of course a few young men like the current Siaya Senator were able to beat this system as he got elected only at 29, but majority of other young people had to wait until their twilight ages.

Then came push for reforms especially the agitation of multi-partism in the early 90s. Through the new multi-party system, a few more youths got a chance to parliament and at least many young people were able to contest for elective positions offering a formidable challenge to the old guard. With extensive electoral and multi-party reforms, more and more youths were able to venture into politics and some even got elected. The people who rode in this wave include Ababu Namwamba, Joshua Kutuny, Danson Mugatana, William Ruto among other brave young people of that transformational moment. They however did not have it easy for they had to flex their muscles among the old men who commanded huge respect especially in the Kenyan society which demands for respect to old people. The political space continued to experience massive reforms culminating to the 2010 New Constitution. This new constitution expanded the elective positions from three to six. This ther opened huge doors for youth to engage in the elective politics and the first elections under the new constitution saw very many youths get elected in different legislative and executive positions. The tables had turned and the country was now dominated by the young people with old guard being pushed into political oblivion, for example the long time Moi era Mr Fix It Nicholas Biwott who had been in governments for decades was embarrassingly floored by a green horn and first time politician Kipchumba Murkomen to clinch the Elgeiyo Marakwet Senatorial position. This was replicated in the national level when Kenyans elected the youngest pair ever to lead the country as the President and Deputy respectively. This caused a national euphoria of hope that finally the young turks who will transform the country from the shackles of oppression and bad leadership that had orchestrated by the old guard.

Looking at it, almost ten years since this wave of young politicians took over leadership in the country, things have only gotten worse. The economy is crippling, corruption is on a record high, education institutions including the once vibrant institutions of tertiary learning are on their knees, the sportsmen and women are on a public outcry about neglect, food insecurity has become the norm with devastating news of drought and hunger, health facilities are no longer working, among many other ills. To sum it up, the younger generation of leaders that was expected to lead change have lead Kenya into a phase of deteriorated leadership which is worse than that of yester years. This then leads me to my question, is it really wise to continue putting political leadership of this country in the hands of the young people even when they have proven that they are incapable of leadership?

Look at the current parliament for example, many young members were elected because their constituents believed that they would articulate issues in efficient ways that would lead to change. This is the parliament that saw student leaders get out of lecture halls straight to parliament, musicians got out of studios direct into the parliament. It is this parliament that slay kings and slay queens got a chance to seat before the mace. It is only fair to conclude that this is the parliament that has the youngest and the most diverse membership representing the face of the youth in Kenya. But then, their individual and whole performances are wanting. You know of that particular long serving student leader who has a case in court for attempted murder plus several other strings of PR gimmicks? You know that former investigative journalist who used to name and shame the corrupt leaders who has now turned into the real face of impunity ending up as the lieutenant to the arguably most corrupt politician in Kenya? You know that former city musician who used to sing about political conmanship only to end up mute in parliament? You know that lavish and stylish Senator from Coast who only comes to limelight not because of his motions at the Senate but because he has eloped with some women somewhere or has shot and dismissed some woman in a nightclub?
The youthful leaders have literally carried their showbiz mannerisms into parliament and now are thriving in publicity stunts, controversial news or criminal records instead of what they are elected to do which is simply to provide leadership and lead positive change among their constituents through legislations. In this age of Social Media, the young Honourable Members would rather invest in a media team to take pictures of them when launching a TV Set or watering a tree when it is raining instead of using the funds to build classrooms.

Outside the parliament and into the executive, things are pretty much similar. The county governments have all failed to deliver and ten years into devolution, the core duties of devolution remain a mirage. Of course most Governors are relatively younger. The national government is equally dominated by young elected and appointed officials but failure remains the only constant.
With this pathetic leadership becoming a norm in this youth dominated government, I think it is really time to rethink the leadership of the young people. While I have strongly advocated for leadership by the young people, the young people in office today have continued to prove my advocacy wrong. I however believe that there are many young people out there who can lead positive change only that they do not have massive resources as the boys from the showbiz industry and that with time, the Kenyan electorates will offer leadership position to the able young people their financial muscles notwithstanding. Without these, then things may never change. It is becoming a fashion that any young person with some little fame out there runs to parliament. Mean if every musician, or journalist, or footballer or a slay king runs for a parliamentary seat simply because they are famous and have money then we should not expect much to change. I actually think that the bar of getting to parliament has been extremely lowered than ever before. Anyone with money concludes that they deserve the tittle Mheshimiwa, and Kenyan electorate having extreme appetite for handouts, they quickly make these elements Waheshimiwa. I really think just like Law, parliament and general leadership should not be for everyone.

We wait to see if things will change, or more young crooks will get elected in the next year’s polls. Or still, we can revert it back to the old guard until such a time when there will be mature young people to take over leadership. What are your thoughts?

By Lincoln Oyugi

Just as Isaac Newton died a virgin, I'll die a writer!

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