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Youth of Kenya, arise and vote

Friday July 14 2017

From left: Sheila Sifuma,Kevin Karanja, Esther Gathambo, Fredrick Ogweno and Stella Nderitu. PHOTOS | NATION

From left: Sheila Sifuma,Kevin Karanja, Esther Gathambo, Fredrick Ogweno and Stella Nderitu. PHOTOS | NATION 

JAMES KAHONGEH
By JAMES KAHONGEH
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Only three weeks remain to the 2017 General Election. Have you been registered as a voter?

Will you be voting on August 8? If yes, what policies will you be voting for? If not, what are your reasons for snubbing this democratic exercise?

This week, we interview five young people that are not only voting, but are also playing active roles in this year’s electoral process. One is an election observer, another one is a former MCA aspirant, while the other three work for organisations that provide civic education and train young leaders. 

While they all agree that voter apathy among the youth is a major concern, they explain why 2017 presents the best opportunity in the revolution of youth politics in Kenya, and why all young people should come out to vote for change.

Sheila Sifuma, 24

Former MCA aspirant, Woodley Ward, Nairobi

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 Sheila Sifuma, a former MCA aspirant, Woodley Ward, Nairobi at the Nation Centre on July 7, 2017. PHOTO | CHARLES KAMAU

Sheila Sifuma, a former MCA aspirant, Woodley Ward, Nairobi at the Nation Centre on July 7, 2017. PHOTO | CHARLES KAMAU

What is your background in leadership? Do you intend to vie again in future?

I served as the vice chairperson of MUSO (Moi University Students Organisation) at the Nairobi Campus. I got a chance to interact and network with individuals in government and the corporate world, which made me realise just how much space there is for young people in companies’ and government structures. My conclusion was that there is either a communication or goodwill gap, which is what I would like to plug when I am elected. So yes, I will vie again.

Do you think young people support their fellow youth who contest various seats?

The majority of people who voted for me across the ward are young. I led in all polling stations with a high concentration of youth. Young aspirants should package their candidacy in a manner that appeals to their fellow youth. We cannot afford to trust the older generation of politicians with our problems anymore. 

Women and the youth have been encouraged to run for elective positions, but we still have few of these in our legislative bodies. Break down this scenario.

We have empowered our youth and women to run for office, which is wonderful. But have we empowered our society to actually vote for them?

Civic education is important, to show our communities that even young people and women can competently lead. We must also rid ourselves of the mentality that money equals power. Youth like me may not have made enough money to comfortably finance their campaigns, it is therefore commendable that the constitution allows us to pay half the amount required in party nominations and registration fees.

If it were up to you, what would you change in Kenya’s electoral process?

First, I would ensure that we have tougher party rules to discourage formation of so many parties, which contribute to a chaotic democracy. I would also rally the public to ensure that only credible leaders are voted to office, as opposed to the current situation where leaders exploit the electorate’s desperation through bribes. 

Why should young people bother to vote on August 8?

Leaders elected in this election will be shaping our future for the next five years through the various legislations they will make and pass. By participating, we are able to vote in only leaders that we entrust with our future. To most young people, the future may sound very distant, yet the future is now: if you don’t vote, or vote wisely, expect a poor economy, poor quality of education and inadequate healthcare. We must take charge of our future by electing people of integrity.

What message do you have for those leaders who will win in this election?

For years, the youth in Kenya have been commoditised. Our politicians’ manifestos treat the youth as a problem that needs to be solved. We are a resource that needs to be developed by promoting our talents, nurturing our entrepreneurial capacities and providing incentives for our growth.

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Kevin Karanja, 25

Founder, Centre for Independent Candidates

 Kevin Karanja, 25, Founder, Centre for Independent Candidates at the Nation Centre on July 7, 2017. PHOTO | CHARLES KAMAU

Kevin Karanja, 25, Founder, Centre for Independent Candidates at the Nation Centre on July 7, 2017. PHOTO | CHARLES KAMAU

What training do you have in election matters?

My specialisation is governance and security in Kenya and in Africa. I did paralegal studies at the Kenya School of Law. I have been to Mali for studies in civil military coordination. I am trained in election management and monitoring by the International Peace Support Training Centre offered at the Defence Staff College. I am currently pursuing a degree in International studies and diplomacy at the University of Nairobi.

Tell us what the Centre for Independent Candidates does…

We are currently focusing on elections in Kenya, Rwanda and Liberia, highlighting the difficulties that independent candidates go through. Self-sponsored candidates in Kenya for instance are harassed by political parties while the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) has set stringent requirements for them. Their verification process especially in collection of nomination signatures from the public is almost punitive. Youth and women independent candidates particularly are more vulnerable.

There is a considerable level of scepticism among most Kenyans on the credibility of elections. Do we not trust our institutions?

One of the major problems in Kenya today is our mistrust of our institutions, which is perpetuated by previous incidents where these apparatuses have failed to live up to the expectations of Kenyans. Some people do not trust the IEBC to deliver a just election. The police are seen to be biased against certain communities in their manner of handling election-related protests. Some people believe that the judiciary is also compromised in its determination of electoral disputes. To enable our institutions to successfully deliver their mandate, we must cultivate trust in them, do everything to strengthen and cushion them from all threats.

Having been an elections observer in Zambia, what similarities exist between these two countries in their management of elections?

Voter education in both countries is usually not as comprehensive and as intense as it ought to be. The Kenyan constitution says that this should be a continuous process, yet the IEBC started the exercise way too late. The two countries have provisions for petitioning presidential election outcomes, but a loophole exists in either a limited timeline or lack of a definite one for determining the dispute. That said, it is commendable that the IEBC intends to introduce voter education as part of school curriculum from next year, but that has to be approved by the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development.

Centre for Independent Candidates is a fairly new organisation. What is the future like for you?

We want to focus on research on electoral matters, to conduct intense civic engagements and build the capacity of young people who may wish to run for office as independent candidates. We also intend to have legislative support and even sponsor bills and motions in the 12th parliament. With so many independent aspirants in this election, we are likely to have more independent members of the National, Senate and county assemblies.

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Esther Gathambo, 23

Executive Director, Chaguo na Sauti

Esther Gathambo, 23, Executive Director, Chaguo na Sauti a civic based organisation that provides young people with a platform to voice their concerns on governance at the Nation Centre on July 7, 2017. PHOTO | CHARLES KAMAU

Esther Gathambo, 23, Executive Director, Chaguo na Sauti a civic based organisation that provides young people with a platform to voice their concerns on governance at the Nation Centre on July 7, 2017. PHOTO | CHARLES KAMAU
 

What is Chaguo na Sauti and what role are you playing in this year’s election?

Chaguo na Sauti is an online platform that allows young people to voice their concerns on all aspects of their lives, while enlightening them on various civic matters. We have a programme called “Katiba made Simple”, where constitutional experts break down the constitution for easy consumption by our audience.

We also hold weekly meetings to discuss issues such as the role of youth and young women in leadership, voter apathy and why it happens, with the aim of encouraging more young people to actively participate in governance.

Why did you choose to pursue this path?

As a student at the University of Nairobi, I was a member of AISEC (a global non-governmental organisation that equips young people with leadership skills and cross-cultural internship and exchange programmes) which made me a solution-oriented person while opening me up to the potential and opportunities I had as a young person to serve my community. Through attending leadership forums, I have become politically conscious and embraced the role of youth in governance.

I conducted a questionnaire on Facebook early this year asking how many of my friends were registered as voters, how many were participating in the coming elections and their reasons. It turned out that 0nly 64 per cent had registered, and out of this, only 40 per cent were interested in voting. There was an interest however to engage on constitutional matters if they could find an expert in the area. It is out of this that Chaguo na Sauti was founded.

Why do you think young people are disinclined to participate in this year’s election?

Most barely understand their constitutional rights and responsibilities. Voter apathy among them is caused majorly by the assumption among themselves that they have no role to play in governance. Young aspirants are therefore easily persuaded to step down for older aspirants who have more money and experience. Young people have almost no say in political outfits.

How do you think this situation can be remedied?

Education will help to transform the mind-set of the youth. The youth in Kenya wield the most power to influence election results. It is also important to initiate structural and policy reforms that help to actively engage them before they turn 18, such as a curriculum that places emphasis on civic matters. Politicians must also seek to connect with the youth more through their manifestos. When young people feel adequately represented, their turnout will increase.

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Fredrick Ogweno, 30

Director, Inter-Regional Peace Network

 Fredrick Ogweno, CEO Inter regional Peace Network on July 8, 2017. PHOTO | MARTIN MUKANGU

Fredrick Ogweno, CEO Inter regional Peace Network on July 8, 2017. PHOTO | MARTIN MUKANGU

What is Inter-Regional Peace Network and what is your role?

Inter-Regional Peace Network is a civil society organisation registered under the NGO Coordination Board, and accredited by the IEBC to conduct voter education.

Our organisation is constituted by young professionals dedicated to tackling fundamental challenges such as unemployment and poverty that affect the youth. Ours is a youth-led approach that reaches out to students in colleges and universities and even those in the informal sector.

What is the relevance of your organisation in this year’s election?

One of our pillars is prevention of violence. We are holding forums where we demonstrate to the youth why violence is not the solution to our challenges. We bring in business people and financial experts who teach them to be financially literate as opposed to relying on bribes and handouts from politicians. Also, through our “Beyond Tribe One Nation” programme, we have trained 2,000 peace ambassadors across Kenya.

Voter education takes place only a few months to the election, and rarely after the election and so most Kenyans do not understand the electoral laws. Shed some light here…

Efforts to educate the masses on election matters is frustrated by bad leadership. Accreditation of organisations to conduct voter education for instance happened only three months to the elections. This timeframe is not sufficient to successfully carry out a satisfactory job because these groups have to apply for funding from donors to facilitate the process.

This time round, we have 5.2 million young new voters who are enthusiastic about participating in this year’s election, but who can only make informed decisions if there is adequate voter education. Massive spoilt votes stemming from lack of civic education infringes upon their right to vote. Secondly, a less-informed youth is a fertile ground for manipulation, poor decisions and even violence.

This election has been thrust into a spin with many legal battles. What is your take on the country’s level of preparedness in this election?

An election is a process, not an event. There needs to be sanctity in how elections are planned for and administered for them to be free, fair and credible. The electoral process is not the preserve of IEBC. There should be support from other stakeholders such as the civil society, which is what IRPN is doing through civic education.

The main political factions have been trading inflammatory statements as we gear towards the polls, leading to a state of heightened tension. What is IRPN doing to arrest this situation?

We are reaching out to the various political divides and putting them to task to commit themselves to ensuring a peaceful electoral process. We are also in touch with the IEBC, emphasising on the importance of conducting a transparent election. We are crusading for peace while calling for a credible election, both which go hand in hand.

Since the 2007 elections, Kenyans have lived with the fear of post-election violence - why do you think that many, especially the youth, resort to violence?

There are many underlying issues that tend to escalate during election time. For instance, unemployment and the resultant frustration among the youth is a ticking time-bomb that can easily be detonated by political incitement and a mismanaged election.

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Stella Nderitu, 23

Programmes Officer, Emerging Leaders Foundation

Stella Nderitu, 23, a Programmes Officer, Emerging Leaders Foundation at Nation centre on July 11, 2017. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO.

Stella Nderitu, 23, a Programmes Officer, Emerging Leaders Foundation at Nation centre on July 11, 2017. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO.

Tell us what your organisation does…

Emerging Leaders Foundation’s main aim is to develop the youth in areas of leadership and governance through coaching, training and mentorship. We teach communication and debating skills and encourage self-awareness among the youth. We then link them up with mentors who guide them through their preferred paths in either business or politics. This year we launched a programme dubbed “Mnaweza” which inspires young people to challenge the status quo, to take part in the affairs of their counties by questioning county expenditure and to champion for peace.

Who do you work with to achieve your purpose?

We partner with young people who relate with our challenges, such as young parliamentarians, youth-led organisations, young artists, youth influencers and young people who have made significant contributions in their communities. We cannot reap anything worthwhile or expect to be treated equally within political formations to whose achievements we have not contributed. We will keep getting a raw deal if we cling on existing political parties formed to satisfy selfish interests of certain individuals.

So far, the youth have not taken advantage of their numerical strength to change this country. Is this happening anytime soon?

We have been manipulated before, but this time, we have woken up to challenges that face us as a constituency, the huge influence we wield in terms of numbers and the opportunities available to us. Today, more young people understand the clauses in the constitution about them and their welfare. A vibrant movement with our full backing is in the offing. It is only a matter of time.

What would you say to the young person reading this?

Come out in large numbers on August 8 and vote with an agenda of progressive development. Scrutinise all aspirants and what they are offering, and kick out leaders who have failed to spearhead young people’s interests.

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