Kenya political crisis: Youths yearn for their own 'Obama'
As a corruption scandal threatens to derail Kenya's fragile coalition government, some young Kenyans are reaching across ethnic lines and saying they'll no longer be tools of cynical politicians.
In Kenya's last national election, the country's youths were out on the street, campaigning for candidates who promised to improve their lives. Some young Kenyans even carried out horrific acts of ethnic violence at the urging of their political leaders.Skip to next paragraph
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But now, disgruntled Kenyan young adults say, they won't be fooled again.
"Young people have served the role of being the gear levers used by politicians to reach power, and at the end of the day, youth feel excluded from political power," says Joshua Nyamori, leader of the Nyanza Youth Coalition in Kisumu. "So we've started a dialogue among ourselves. We decided to organize ourselves around issues, instead of around politicians."
He chuckles. "The public officials are fearful. They do not know how to handle us."
This week, as a corruption scandal threatens to tear apart the fragile coalition government and allies of Prime Minister Raila Odinga say they will boycott cabinet meetings, Kenyans are worried that the political crisis could once again devolve into ethnic violence.
The convergence of so many youth groups – dozens around the country with tens of thousands of members – from different ethnic and religious groups, is one of the most hopeful signs on Kenya's torrid political landscape.
Once the tool of ambitious or cynical politicians – used as speechmakers and organizers, or as thugs, killing more than 1,000 civilians after the last national elections in December 2007 – Kenya's youngest voters are now reaching across ethnic lines, talking about unemployment, education, and health, and organizing for positive, lasting solutions.
"In past elections, the violence was done by the state … it was the government agents who paid for it and managed it," says John Githongo, an anticorruption campaigner and head of the Zindinko Trust, which funds some of the larger citizen groups in Kenya.
Kenya's political class is good at defending its interests, Mr. Githongo admits, but there is reason to believe that Kenya's youth can outwit them. For one thing, young leaders are traveling around the country to rural areas to speak with youth about their rights and responsibilities as voters, leaving behind the snobbish intellectual circles of Nairobi. Secondly, youth are much more in touch with the disgruntled sentiments of the Kenyan population.
The US Agency for International Development (USAID) funds a number of these forums under its goal of democracy building and citizenship awareness. Over the past year, the forums have been occurring nearly every other week, in big cities and small towns, at schools and churches and public halls.
"The challenge for them is to do this within enough time to have some sort of impact on the next election," Githongo says.
The convergence of Kenyan youth groups – across ethnic and religious lines – is the most hopeful political development in a nation that's become disgruntled by the corruption of its democratic process.