A number of years back, I was involved in a carjacking in Industrial Area. A friend and I went to pick up furniture from a godown and the Canter carrying it was delayed in traffic.
So we stopped at a petrol station at the junction of Bunyala Road and Uhuru Highway to give it time to catch up with us.
Two youngsters, barely out of their teens, ran from Uhuru Highway towards us, one of them shooting in the air. We got out of the car, since, clearly, they needed one more than we did, but they ordered us back in at gunpoint.
It was three o’clock in the afternoon! I can write ten pages of the three to five-minute drive from that point to a kijiji behind Mater Hospital — it was the longest five minutes of my life.
This is Africa, where we imagine there are more pressing matters than ‘I’, so I have not heard of any support groups for victims or those afflicted or affected by youth violence. But I can assure you, back then, I needed therapy to get over that experience.
We were not physically harmed in any way — just emotionally traumatised and psychologically scarred. The two thugs did not steal any material items from us, not even our phones or jewellery, which were right there for the taking.
Never mind they made it very clear that they were doing us a great favour by not robbing us. In their opinion, the getaway ‘service’ we were providing was more valuable than our ‘valuables’.
Those two young men stole something from me that day — any sympathy I might ever have had or developed for perpetrators of violence, even if they are youth.
This is just one manifestation of youth and youth-related violence in Kenya. There are many others, including public executions of youth by alleged law enforcers, school bullying and arson, and suicide apparently related to computer games. There are also electioneering-related incidents of youth violence.
Kenyan society has an interesting way of dealing with youth-related violence. When youth are shot in Eastleigh, extrajudicial killings are to blame, when schools produce more bullies than certificates, the school administration and prefects are to blame, while in electioneering, the politicians are to blame.
Kenya is not tackling youth violence as the social, global public health challenge it really is. Each incident is taken in isolation, and most times, the factors surrounding the youth are identified as causes.
The problem can no longer be seen to belong to the socially underprivileged, popularly referred to in Kenya as masufferer, or those affected by drug and alcohol abuse. Children in schools and those with access to information communication technology and the media are increasingly being put at risk of violence.
Youth violence greatly increases insecurity, and creates a big burden and strain to the public health, education and criminal justice and social welfare systems of society.
Kenya needs to device ways to prevent it before it occurs, not just rant about it, as it occurs.
The entire society feels the effects of youth violence. It not only causes significant social disruptions, but also reduces productivity as it creates unnecessary dependence of a productive part of society on the aging.
There are factors in the close circles of the youth with their own families and peers that are not getting adequate attention, in both the causes and solutions to youth violence.
INCONSISTENCY IN PARENTING
Poor, abusive, depressed or alcoholic or drug-dependent parents have traditionally been identified as factors related to youth violence at the family level, in addition to association with delinquents and gangs at wider interaction levels.
Emerging factors such as lack of parental involvement in their children’s activities are not getting the required attention as contributing factors to this violence.
This does not necessarily mean physical absence. Sometimes children spend too much time on the internet unsupervised by a parent, who is sitting right there chatting on WhatsApp and other media.
There is also inconsistency in parenting, where children are exposed to a confused myriad of servings in discipline, ranging between harsh, lax, inconsistent and sometimes completely absent, depending on what is happening in a parent’s life.
Working parents these days also seem to be of the impression that what their children lack in terms of parental guidance, affection and time inputs can be bought in forms of smartphones, genetically modified foods at the malls and other materials things.
The government also has a role to play — by addressing the social determinants of youth violence such as income inequalities and low levels of social protection.
At the end of the day, however, a child is the responsibility of parents for 18 formative years!