Kenyan democracy in the hands of the young

Elections are only the beginning of any democratic process. The harder task is to construct institutional arrangements that define the relationship between the individuals' rights and the state and sustain that contract over time.

Willice Onyango
12 October 2017

RIFT VALLEY, Kenya - Kenyan students sit in class, January, 2009. Image used under Fair Use: CJTF-HOA.Protests, teargas and chaos have characterised the political scene in Kenya since the Supreme Court annulled the August 8 presidential poll. The court, in a 4-2 majority decision, cited irregularities and illegalities in the way the results were transmitted.

Many supporters of president Kenyatta expected him to disobey the Supreme Court ruling, in – if nothing else – the name of the name of the 'supreme will of the people'. Still others thought that by respecting the ruling without a fight, he had joined the non-violence brotherhood – the league of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

For opposition presidential candidate Raila Odinga, this presented an opportunity for another stab at the elusive presidency. Indeed, he can be credited with most of Kenya’s democratic struggles. Many are keen that his story not mirror that of Sisyphus from Greek mythology, who was condemned by the gods to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. There is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labour.

There is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labour.

In the ensuing turns of the presidential re-run, Raila Odinga has withdrawn from the elections scheduled for October 26th. This plunges the country into further uncertainty. He maintains that protests to demand electoral changes will continue. It appears there may be a lacuna in the law over how to proceed with elections.

Already, varied scenarios abound. The president says the elections will proceed. His lieutenants want him declared and sworn in as the legitimate president after the opposition's dramatic withdrawal from the race. The opposition believes there will be no elections and a caretaker government led by the speaker of the National Assembly may have to be formed. The High Court has also ordered that another the presidential candidate who garnered less than 1% in the August 8 elections be now allowed to contest on October 26th. Everyday is a new twist. Ordinary citizens are baffled.

Internationally, the judiciary has been hailed for being bold, brave and more. In the Commonwealth Magistrates and Judges conference in Tanzania, the Kenyan chief justice was the star of the occasion and drew wild cheers. At home, his critics accused him of being a political novice, a legal fundamentalist, installing himself the de facto president, and of presiding over a judicial coup.

At home, critics accused the Kenyan chief justice of being a legal fundamentalist, and of presiding over a judicial coup.

As would be expected, the battle quickly shifted to the Supreme Court. The court has itself been subjected to the court of public opinion. The ruling party politicians maintain that a six-bench judge cannot simply nullify the decision of millions of Kenyans. Others say the judiciary will keep nullifying the elections until Raila Odinga becomes the president.

No sooner had the dust settled on the landmark judgement than guns were trained on the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission and those of its senior officers mentioned in the botched elections. The opposition has planned regular protests to remove IEBC officers before the re-run or boycott the upcoming elections. These have made the police rely increasingly on teargas to quell political disaffection making Nairobi arguably the most teargassed capital in Sub-Saharan Africa for the time being.

Elections are of course only the beginning of any democratic process. The harder task is to construct institutional arrangements that define the relationship of the individual’s rights to states authority and sustain that contract over time. We need this now.

These street protests have had many young people as the chief protagonists. For many who are in unemployment, causing mayhem in the name of protesting does not come out of the blue.

Kenya youth manifesto


Children at the Christ the King school in Nairobi's Kibera slum. Flickr/Trocaire. CC BY 2.0.But the Kenyan youth have also come together to constructively unveil the Kenya Youth Manifesto, a foundational document that has solidified their shared aspirations into a united philosophy.

The development of the Kenya Youth Manifesto represents the first ever effort by Kenyan youth to work together in providing recommendations and ideas for concrete action for policies and programmes that might address their everyday realities.

It constitutes the core of the projected youth agenda in Kenya and assembles a number of youth-youth led organizations, individuals and experts from all over the country. The compilation of transformative policies proposals therein focus on challenges that affect the Kenyan youth in the 21st Century.

The youth of Kenya have an abiding interest in upholding the values of a democratic state.

Until now, the Manifesto has been presented to the leading 2017 presidential aspirants, major political parties, county governments, the private-sector, and other development partners. Over 3,000 hard copies have been distributed and over 10,000 downloaded online.

Some of its provisions – like a call for free universal secondary schooling and increased funds allocation for youth enterprises – have been adopted by the two frontrunners for the presidency.

But why do we need a youth manifesto? It is a statement of intent: a belief that young people are ready to partner in shaping Kenya’s future. Additionally, the youth of Kenya have an abiding interest in upholding the values of a democratic state.

Most importantly, the manifesto is a call to action for the 2017 election to promote a balance of power that favours the youth. This is in the understanding that inclusivity cannot be forgotten in our efforts to build one country.

Its effective implementation comes with the recognition that improving the lives of young people is a forward-looking process that itself requires cooperation and vital partnerships. The future of Kenya’s democracy is in the hands of her young people. We are continuing this project through youth policy dialogues prioritising county governments, in order to better understand the priorities of young people in democratic cooperation.

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