Youth in Politics and Movement Building

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“How can we as youth hold each other accountable? How can we transform the dynamics of Kenyan politics?” These were some of the topics on the table at the Youth in Politics forum that we co-hosted with Fortitude Kenya on August 13th.

Campaigns' manager, Jacob Okumu, leading part of the meeting.
Campaigns’ manager, Jacob Okumu, leading part of the meeting.

Anyone who has been to a youth-targeted forum in Kenya will know that the amount of energy, passion, and anger expressed at these events leaves no doubt that a youth-led movement is on the horizon in Kenya. However, the central question becomes: how do we channel these feelings into sustainable systemic changes?

As one of the forum participants noted, it is not enough to simply have young people holding leadership positions; if young leaders are to transform the status quo in Kenya, then we must repair the opaque and self-serving systems that have corrupted Kenyan politics for decades. We can’t build youth power in isolation: we need it to exist in nurturing environments with transparent systems.

At this action-focused forum, we spent a lot of time discussing what key steps must be taken to realize these systemic changes. In addition to systemic reforms, civic education was noted as being the cornerstone of increased youth engagement: with a devolved government and a still relatively new constitution, Kenya remains in flux. Many still do not have a clear understanding of the responsibilities of various county as well as national offices, which makes it near impossible to hold elected officials accountable.

A key component in this is really interrogating what we mean when we call for increased youth participation in politics. Are we calling for the mobilization of an informed and active citizenry, or are we only calling for young leaders? Of course, effective youth mobilization would require both, but as one participant noted, being a leader and being a politician are not the same thing.

Building a strong young electorate requires that we constantly challenge ourselves as young people to think carefully about how we are building solidarity  across class and geography, and to ask if we are lifting up each others’ voices. It is not enough for urban youth to ‘educate’ rural youth. Or for wealthy youth to step into leadership on the back of their (likely) more extensive schooling. Instead, we must respect that all youth have valuable resources to bring to the change movement, and each of us must be ok with leading sometimes but being led at other times.

The group at work
The group at work

As the session concluded, we left feeling energized and excited to get to work.

The group agreed to reconvene on September 3rd to begin mapping a way forward. All are welcome to attend: call 0770357700 any weekday, for more information. 

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