Who will fight for democracy when youths are slowly killing it?

By Tabitha Marion.

Youths are a formidable force, constituting over a third of the country’s population and representing the largest demographic unit and political constituency. With this demographic power, we anticipate nothing less than a force capable of shaping the nation. In essence, the youths serve as the pillars that uphold this nation, rendering it unshakable. Now, as Kenya undergoes a youth bulge, whether this surge is advantageous in the context of democracy is a matter we are poised to explore.

Despite their significant numbers, youths in Kenya express disillusionment with political leadership and the current political landscape. This to a certain extent, limited their participation towards any democratic processes for various reasons. Reflecting on my experience at Masinde Muliro University in Kakamega, I observed a low turnout of students. In some instances, class representatives had to use tricks like lying about there being a class in session to entice students to vote.

In interviews with some students, they shared views why they did not vote. John, a third- year student said, “I don’t see the need when we rarely have a say when these leaders are in office. They dictate rules, some even based on favouritism. So why should I waste my time voting for people who can’t help me?” Similarly, Anita stated, “The candidates tarnish the entire process. They send out their people to mobilize paid groups to come and vote for them. Some even resort to threatening or bribing students. There is always ‘chai ya bure’ and meals if the person wins.”

The resentment toward elections procedures at Masinde Muliro University is troubling. Some students cite a lack of interest, while others liken it to national politics, assuming that election mirror the hidden process where leaders are chosen by the influential in society. But how valid is this?

It is true that the ethno-political framework undergirding Kenyan politics has bred roots in varsities through the students- who are youths. This kind of framework has set challenges that have devastatingly undermined democracy. In Masinde Muliro University, for instance, some students point out their failure to vote because of the idea that a particular tribe is   predominant, asserting that their vote wouldn’t matter as the tribe will inevitably win.

Promises never met is another ache. Student candidates make promises that eventually amount to nothing. With such cases, most students are put off and choose not to take part in any school democratic processes. Moreover, the use of abusive language by candidates during campaigns is becoming increasingly intolerable. This not only violates ethical standards but echoes the regrettable behaviour witnessed during the post-election violence in 2007, which was fuelled by youths.

The path we are on as a nation, democratically, is alarming. If we intend to raise a generation that understand their democratic rights, know how to implement them, and are willed to enjoy them, we ought to lead the way and be the way. It is a ball on the court for both the leaders and the youths.

What to do

To address these challenges, civic and voter education, often underestimated, plays a pivotal role in determining whether people choose to vote or not. Presently, civic and voter education exhibit fragility that undermines democracy. There is a need to educate people, especially the youths, on the importance of participating in democratic processes. The myths surrounding democracy must be dispelled to reveal its true value.

The leaders on the other hand, should be realistic enough when making their manifestos. Citizens are not empty vessels where empty promises are deposited. They need to cast their lot on leaders who are worth the salt. This way, they will be motivated to participate in the process. Apart from choosing good leaders, citizens should be involved in government affairs. It is not a one-sided affair; it ought to be mutual.

The time has come for the youths to be proactive and intentional when choosing their leaders. We do not get good leaders if we passively observe. I give credence to the words that when people fail to exercise their right to vote, it increases the likelihood of political extremism and the pursuit of narrow interests. Imagining our nation in such a state is a scenario best avoided. I will take part, je wewe?

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