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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Focus on Fellows: Pastor Mishack Chege

Pastor Mishack Chege envisions a country where there is a free drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in every county. These centers, he envisions, would serve as a refuge for young people struggling to beat addictions and support them through the journey of recovery.

Pastor Chege began this campaign after he found himself growing increasingly troubled by the well-documented alcoholism problem among young, impoverished people in Kenya. Mishack quickly recognized that the problem of alcoholism was spurring a range of further social problems in various communities; including increases in the levels of crime, and violence. Thus, “Youth for a Drug Free Nation” was born. “I started Youth for a Drug Free Nation as a community-based organization (CBO) in Utawalla,” Mishack tells us, “However, we found that the community there was generally non-responsive.”

Pastor Chege with a member of his team, Brian, pictured at a recent Tatua Fellows' gathering.
Pastor Chege with a member of his team, Brian, pictured at a recent Tatua Fellows’ gathering.

Not deterred by this, Mishack decided to refocus the campaign on his home county, Murang’a, and is now based in the Kenyanjeru sub-location. When he came to Tatua, Mishack was determined to avoid the mistakes made in Utawalla. “I eventually found that many people in Utawalla did not view alcoholism as a problem for their community because there, alcoholism was less connected with poverty,” explained Mishack, “I realized that part of the problem was I had diagnosed the community before I listened to it.”

Now with his Kenyanjeru campaign, Mishack is trying a different approach. “The reception has been warm,” says Mishack, “Part of it is definitely because this community already knows me and my family. It makes it easier for them to listen to what I have to say, and I can more quickly figure out who my strongest allies are.”

As a member of the church, Mishack is no stranger to community service, and sees himself working on this and other issues across the country. “Once we’e successful in Murang’a, we can leave the project in the hands of the community and move to another community that is struggling with similar problems.” Mishack is excited to have been exposed to Tatua’s work because he believes that community organizing will allow him to build networks of solidarity. “What I’m most excited about is having company in this journey,” reveals Mishack, “People who also believe that the work is important.”

Certainly, we are proud to be part of Mishack’s community.

Focus on Fellows: Sam Mbiu

Sam is the type of person who starts off a meeting by quoting Paulo Freire’s, “Pedaagogy of the Oppressed,” that is to say, a natural activist! “When I was in school, I always found myself being the guy who said what needed to be said,” Sam shares with a laugh, “I’m not sure how it happened but I was always playing the advocate.”

Sam Mbiu comes from a historically socially and politically active family. “My grandfather and father were always political, and my grandmother’s sister was one of the leaders of the Maendeleo ya Wanawake movement in Kiambu,” reveals Sam. He says that it’s no surprise that he wound up as a law student, excited to embark on a long career of advocacy.

Sam has never shied away from having difficult conversations nor is he afraid of winding up on authorities bad side. “I never want to sit aside and allow a bad situation to continue,” Sam asserts. This desire to rectify problems has led Sam to launch his Tatua campaign; he aims to improve reproductive health outcomes for young people in Kawangware, where he spent part of his childhood. “There were people in my family – very young people – who ended up being parents before they were really ready to be,” explains Sam, “I knew that if they had had access to better family planning, the outcomes would have been different.”

Now as the Coordinator for Youth Programs at Sauti ya Jamii, (“Voice of the Community”); a group that seeks to empower young people with information to change their mindsets. Sam is able to draw from his background as a representative voice to direct grassroots programming for young Kenyans, especially those living in informal settlements. His role at Sauti ya Jamii presents a unique opportunity for his work as a Tatua Fellow because he is able to run the campaign as one of his programs, providing crucial organizational support for him.

When asked about some of the challenges that he has faced in this work, Sam shares that conservative values have sometimes gotten in the way of the work. “Sometimes school officials are hesitant to let us speak to students because they think we’re encouraging young people to have sex,” says Sam, “But the reception from young people and high school students proves that our work is necessary.”

As the Youth Chair for the Kenya Red Cross in Kiambu, and a member of the legal team at U-GEN – a platform that hopes to represent youth interests at a national level – Sam is no stranger to leadership. Keeping busy by speaking out, Sam has a bright future in activism in Kenya.

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Sam’s confidence is clear as he relaxes outside the Tatua offices in Nairobi

Join us in supporting Sam and our other incredible fellows as they build power in their communities. Fill out this form for updates and information about how you can get involved.

Focus on Fellows: Sheila Kerubo

About to enter her final year at the University of Nairobi, Sheila Kerubo is poised to embark on a lifelong journey working to support the most vulnerable members of our society. Her remarkable compassion and nurturing instinct, developed well beyond her years, drive Sheila’s commitment to her community. As a social work major, Sheila feels that she has found her passion. “I’m all in,” she shares, “I don’t think I could ever leave this work.”

Sheila came to Tatua out of a desire to find a way to more extensively support a community of street children that she had built strong relationships with. “It all started when I met Kevin one day, as I was waiting for a mat home,” reveals Sheila, “Kevin was young and homeless. We soon began talking and he shared a little bit of his background with me, and he began to explain that he was hoping to go back to school. I wanted to help but I didn’t have any money, so I asked him to take my phone number and give me a call the next day.” Kevin hesitated. As Sheila recounts, a long history of having supposed “well-wishers” either give him incorrect information or take a picture of him only to disappear, had made Kevin extremely cautious. “When I finally convinced him to take down my information, I knew that no matter what came up, I had to be there the next day.”

This initial connection sparked the formation of a new community. Sheila quickly became ‘Aunty Sheila’ and made visiting Kevin and a group of other street children in the CBD a part of her daily routine. “Sometimes it will be two kids, sometimes eighteen,” says Sheila with a laugh, “They’ve even been to my house, and brought my mum a hostess gift of sugar, salt and tea leaves.”

Now, partnered with another Tatua Fellow, Beatrice, Sheila hopes to do more to address the systemic causes of youth homelessness. Having had the opportunity to connect with these children has revealed to Sheila the importance of giving them their childhood back. “I rarely give these kids money. Sometimes I bring them food but sometimes I have to go empty-handed,” she explains, “I’ve discovered that mostly, these kids want people to treat them like kids. Ask how their day was. Prove that you’re someone that they can count on.”

Sheila is a soon-to-be social work graduate and proud mother
Sheila is a soon-to-be social work graduate and proud mother

Sheila and Beatrice hope to create communities of support for these children. Communities that are prepared to forgive and be loving, and work with the children to redress the causes of their homelessness. They also want make the lives of street children a budget priority for county governments, to facilitate that work.

We at Tatua are proud to walk alongside them.

Join us in supporting Sheila and our other incredible fellows as they build power in their communities. Fill out this form for updates and information about how you can get involved.