“Every generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it.” Frantz Fannon.
We are living in interesting times as young people. Fast internet, access to information on our fingertips, advanced globalization and vibrant political spaces. Are we involved in these political spaces as we should? Revolutions of days’ past were led by courageous young men and women who were tired of the status quo and nothing could deter them from their vision; leadership for the people and by the people. We cannot forget the late great revolutionary and former president of Burkina Faso, Thomas Sankara who took the reins of power at only 33 years of age. There were also student movements and civilian movements in the 60’s and 70’s and they played a key role in upsetting authoritarian governments especially in less developed countries, each with the conviction that they had to participate in creating a new reality for themselves and fellow citizens.
Youth have long been described as ignorant and lazy and uninterested in politics. This is blamed on the fact that during the times they grew up in, there were less regime upheavals and therefore their focus has been somewhere else but politics. It can also be said that the education systems do not encourage engaging in politics as the education is based on learning in rote, in most cases. The systems of education especially in Sub-Saharan Africa do not encourage critical thinking and therefore less interest for young people to question wrongs committed by governments. But, could these notions of them actually be a case of ignorance of the older generation about the youth?
In recent developments, however, youth have spurred civil action across Europe, South America and North Africa is a reminder that millennials are not a demographic to be ignored. They are using the interconnectedness that technology has accorded them to mobilize, share and learn from each other across the globe. This has been further necessitated by the widening democratic space and the awareness that citizens have a right to hold the leaders they choose accountable to their actions. In Universities, the realization that their actions towards demanding for better from the administration and the governments has an impact on what happens outside those walls too.
In 2014, in Hong Kong, youth poured into the streets for pro-democracy protests against China. It resulted into the citizens having a different view of the youth; their organization and cleanliness during the protests was applauded. Even more, it came as a surprise to the citizens that the youth who were mostly students were very much aware of what was happening in the city and that they could swing into action and were concerned how the city was being run. A young protester remarked how much the protest had roused the interest of secondary school students by them being more interested in how the government runs its business.
It is quite a contradiction that young people are not expected to be concerned about their government’s actions when most of the negative issues affect the youth more than any other population. Unemployment in Africa has been rising at a very fast rate and you don’t need to think far about the group most affected. They are well educated but this does not translate into better livelihoods. To try softening their hearts, leaders push youth to think ‘outside the box’, that is, to look for opportunities in other places other than pursuing careers in the office. Policies that are made to inform this are not always formulated taking into consideration the realities of the youth.
In Kenya, as an example, Uwezo Fund and youth enterprise fund were put in place to enable youth who are not only in business but also those who are interested in engaging in business with the government. The funds were to be disbursed to the youth either in groups or as individuals through loans. The two initiatives are good and they have borne success in increasing youth access to funds for their businesses. However, after the youth get the funds, how does the government track their progress in utilizing these funds in the right way?
What is the viability and sustainability of these programs?
How protected are the programs from corruption?
In the recent past, the bosses of the funds were charged on the count of defrauding the public funds. This then begs the question, are such programs set up just to hoodwink the youth that the Government is taking steps to tackle the unemployment challenge. Also, are youth consulted when such programs are being set up?
While the idea of being business owners is very attractive, there is no reason why every unemployed youth should be encouraged to take it up being that in the first place there are no training or proper incubation programs set up to encourage this. Yet, people become incensed or surprised that the youth can be discontented with the Government. Leaders should admit that they have failed in their mandate to provide employment opportunities for its youth.
It is the election period in Kenya currently and the youth have more reason than one to carefully vet and vote the leaders who will serve them and their interests for the next five years. Youth as an agenda is very attractive on paper, especially in candidates’ manifestos. However, over time we have realized that we are just pawns in this game. This is seen in the high number of youth vying for electoral seats in the coming elections. It is encouraging as they will more young people in legislative seats and therefore can pass legislation that is well informed and not put together by some old timers wanting to get this ‘youth thing’ over and done with. But the narrative is changing: the youth know what they want and are not afraid to demand for it, because after all, we do not get we what want by waiting for it to be handed to us but demanding for it. Even more encouraging is the fact that we have young leaders across the world taking up positions of power, making decisions based on their experiences as young people. We are awakening and defining the future that we want for ourselves and future generations.
We are no longer a demographic to be ignored and be taken advantage of.