Monday, September 14, 2009

Great battle for the youth's hearts and minds in Kenya

Daily National Article
Great battle for the youth’s hearts and minds in Kenya
By JACKSON MWALULU Posted Friday, July 10 2009 at 22:39

Nowadays, if you want to find out what Kenya’s young generation is saying, don’t bother with the mainstream media. The youth have gone high-tech by adopting new media as their are interactive medium through chat groups where they rant and rave about national issues. One of the popular sites is, an initiative of the National Youth Convention forum which, in turn, is a project of the Youth Agenda civic organisation.There is also and the Debate in these fora, and which — of course — are dominated by politics, is charged and fresh, mature and focused.

But the fact that the Kenyan youth have discovered a new way of communicating with themselves about their country is not the news here. It is that most of the things they say go unnoticed by the people who matter most — leaders. THIS DISCONNECT BETWEEN THE youth and the national leadership should be worrying. Ignored by the mainstream media, the youth are regrouping in their own ways with a view to making an impact on the nation’s life and leaders had better find out what this important category of Kenyans is saying and engage the youths constructively.

The NYCIV chat group, for instance, emerged after the April 2009 national youth conference, which brought together 1,300 young people from across the country in Nairobi to deliberate on various issues affecting young people, ranging from leadership to the Constitution. Their documented resolutions would interest any government or leader with an eye on 2012 and beyond.To be sure, youth activism is not new to this country.

But as 2002 and 2007 elections proved, ICT has changed the way young people engage in national life in dramatic ways. The outcomes of both elections were substantially determined by the internet and mobile phones, as young ICT-savvy minds burnt the midnight oil to make sure rigging the old way was as minimal as possible. With the youth resorting to cyber conferencing, 2012 will definitely be even more different and interesting.This is because this method of interaction is sure to create a critical mass of young Kenyans who will seek to shape the opinion of the youth constituency at the local and national levels as far as political direction is concerned.

If this comes to pass, it is only those leaders perceived to hold the youth agenda dearest who stand to reap the most.In 2007, the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), despite its heavy historical baggage, packaged itself as the party of the youth. On realising the danger it faced as a result of its disinterest in youth matters, the Party of National Unity (PNU) camp quickly adjusted accordingly. What followed was a titanic battle for the youth’s heart and mind — especially the former— as each side sought to woo young Kenyans to its side.As 2012 knocks on our door, the youth appear to be the most (if not the only) important factor to show the way the country goes. It is therefore not surprising that youth-related political initiatives have started sprouting.

Apart from the Emmanuel Dennis-led NYC, there is the Inter-Ethnic Youth Dialogue, led by Mr Stephen Kihanya and the Regional Dialogue Forum, led by Ms Karol Ruto and Mr Wambugu Ngunjiri.Although the latter two groupings have the restoration of peace in areas affected most by the recent post-election inter-ethnic flare-ups as their raison d’etre, one does not need to be exceptionally gifted to smell the 2012 Kibaki succession politics in the whole affair. Then there is the new kid on the bloc, Mr Jimmy Kibaki’s Simama Kenya initiative, which has controversially hit the political scene mainly due to the background of the personality behind it. At 46, Mr Kibaki, the businessman, is clearly not a youth, hence the question why he should lead a youth project.

But by his own account, Jimmy, President Kibaki’s eldest son, is out to mobilise the youth with a view to playing a more positive and proactive role in national affairs. Now that Simama Kenya has been officially launched, its success or failure depends on how the public — and especially the youth — views it, which in turn depends on its packaging. What for instance is Simama Kenya’s position on the Constitution, unemployment, HIV/Aids, crime and ethnicity? SECONDLY, WHAT IS THE CALIBRE OF the other drivers of the project? Are they people the youth would want to identify with? Do they have the necessary drive, verve and charisma to make an impact?Be that as it may, the youth appear to have stormed the national arena in a way that has jolted the political and business elite.

This explains the various methods the coalition government is employing to address the youth employment as a way of arresting runaway crime. The National Youth Enterprise Fund, which disperses funds to youth groups for investment projects, has been given new prominence under the recent national budget by being allocated an extra Sh500 million from the last financial year’s Sh2.9 billion.

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