From Apathetic to Change-makers: Kenya's Youth and Politics

Regardless of what the Kenyan political landscape has been like since independence, things might soon be changing – perhaps even starting with this upcoming election. The reason for the change: that ambiguous social category known as ‘the youth’.

Today’s post is the fifth installment of these week’s series on the history of Kenyan politics, the upcoming election, and the potential impetuses for political change. Today I focus on how urbanization (which can be brought about by development, which I discussed in more detail yesterday) and youth have the power to shift Kenyan politics from their archaic ways towards something more constructive.

Changing Social Dynamics
One of the main reasons that the political landscape of Kenya is evolving is because of changing social dynamics, specifically urbanization and the growing youth population.

Along with the general population growth in Kenya (which grew from 8 million to over 40 million since the 1960s), there has also been a significant growth in the number of Kenyans living in urban areas, which has significant effects on politics.

Living in an urban area usually indicates cultural/ethnic diversity. And according to the contact hypothesis, people tend to become more tolerant of other groups when they learn they are no so different from themselves. This in turn means greater ethnic tolerance.

Kenya’s Burgeoning Urban Population. Graph via World Bank Data

The average voting age in Kenya is now 35 years, just on the brink of the ‘youth’ category – and this upcoming generation has little time for ethnic politics like the older generation.

As noted in Al Jazeera:
Amidst emerging complex regional dynamics, there are emerging internal sobering political dynamics with a new generation of young urban citizens that consider themselves as distinctly different from their older counterparts, least bothered about ethnic affiliations and therefore difficult to manipulate using tribal messages.

Youthful Change
Kenya’s youth are often classified by the older generation as a “hedonistic generation of brand-obsessed youth, moving from party to party in the night and congregating on Facebook during the day…” and who hide behind sex, drugs, God, or alcohol. But when change is always promised and never comes, who can really blame them?

This characterization, however, is no longer accurate (if it ever was) because Kenya’s youth are now politicized, or perhaps they are now just understood.

Kuweni Serious is a youth blogging initiative that seeks to uncover the opinions of Kenya’s youth about their own politics. The writers of the blog state that:
It is perhaps only when our country was set on fire that we began to see how deeply politics affects us. A few months later, we were paying hitherto-unheard-of prices for fuel, there was water rationing, and power rationing, and then food started to run out. Only then did many more of us realize that we can’t hide forever in the company of the Lil’ Wayne’s and Prison Breaks of this world.
The following video, produced by Kuweni Serious, illustrates the realization of Kenya’s youth that “if the country burns, they burn with it”. As the clip explains, the past generations have been treating Kenya as if it is a rented country, and have forgotten, or perhaps neglected, the fact that they are all permanent residents and it is up to them to maintain the upkeep. The clip accuses the older generations of tearing the country apart by politics. And as the clip rightly states: “It is not Obama’s job to save this country. It is not the donor’s job. And the government has shown it is not their job either”. Deep stuff:

Kuweni Serious also did a survey among youth at a festival and asked them what they would do if they were President for a day. The pretty much uniform answer: sack all politicians currently in office:

So the moral of the story is that Kenyan youth is not apathetic, in fact they are quite the opposite. Tired of the old guard of politics based on ethnicity and focused around corruption and nepotism, the youth strive for something better – something that Kenyans deserve – a government for Kenyans. As simple as that. Thankfully, they’ve got the will-power to make that happen...and soon.


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