Issue-based politics has become a buzz-phrase. Those aspiring for political office need to walk the talk on it and ensure it does not just become another political airburger.
They would, therefore, be wise to take on board a few fundamentals.
They should take serious note of a loose but interlinked string of events that have taken place around the world. These range from last year’s Arab Spring, to the bloody conflict taking place in Syria, and to the outcomes of the French and Greek elections.
We can largely attribute the first two to the fight against oppressive regimes fuelled by an assortment of social and economic dynamics.
The third is a reaction against a raft of economic austerity measures that have been thrust upon the populations of these countries and their developed economies in light of their ailing fortunes.
One may ask the question as to how these events could possibly have any real linkage. The contrasts between much of Europe with its neighbours across the Mediterranean, for example, are many and varied.
The interlinking factor is the economic one. If one scratches away at the surface of most of the countries in North Africa and Middle East that have had conflict, turmoil and change, there are core issues that centre on the youth bulge and the failure of many of those looking for gainful work to find it.
This is often exacerbated by the massive disparities of wealth in those countries. It should also not be forgotten that the statistics of the youth bulge and disparities of wealth are comparable with Kenya’s.
In Europe, there is a raging debate about finding a third way out of its economic abyss which would embrace a combination of growth initiatives with a watered-down form of austerity.
If we come back to Kenya’s political scene, one of the most striking things that hits us is the plethora of slanging matches between political rivals which are more akin to bar brawls than addressing the pressing needs of the country.
The people are mere bystanders whereas they should be the focus of attention. Indeed, this level of back-biting is of little relevance to most Kenyans, and therein lies a warning lesson for aspiring leaders.
This warning is reinforced by the general thrust of the various opinion polls we have had in recent months.
It is clear that for the majority of Kenyans, the gut issues cluster around the lack of jobs and gainful opportunity, the escalating cost of living resulting in a free-fall in the standards of living, an array of infrastructure impediments, and insecurity.
What does come out clearly is that these major concerns are reinforced and are, arguably, gathering momentum.
The executive summary of The Youth Fact Book published by the Institute of Economic Affairs chillingly states that ‘‘the majority of Kenya’s young people are unemployed, underemployed or underpaid and are therefore in the swelling ranks of the working poor”.
Kenya’s youth population of 15- to 34-year-olds alone account for around two fifths of the country’s population. Over three quarters of the population is below the age of 34.
Not only are the figures awesome, the disparities are acute and widening. To put it another way, we must double and even triple genuine job creation and gainful opportunity over the coming years just to stand still against this social dynamite.
In addition, Kenya is currently confronted by two major structural challenges to its economy which are already starting to seriously undermine it and could easily send it off-course and even impede the implementation of the fundamental planks of the new Constitution.
Kenya imports much more than it exports and that gap is widening to the extent that what we earn from exports is gobbled up paying for oil imports alone.
Secondly, Kenya’s public expenditure budget is ballooning and the demands of the new Constitution, among other things, will continue to pressure it in that direction. These are some of the most burning challenges.
One more thing. Kenyans expect politicians to, not only make social and economic issues central to their campaign strategies, but also to outline clearly and boldly how exactly they intend to address and implement them.
Mr Shaw is a Nairobi-based businessman (email@example.com.)