Nerima Wako is the Executive Director, Siasa Place.
You speak confidently about politics on TV and other public spaces. Why did you not just opt for a less murky subject matter?
I have had a long-running interest and love for politics. Even before teenage, I would discuss politics with my father; it came naturally. I guess the confidence comes from the encouragement from my family. Instead of being told politics is for men, or told that I should be silent, I was encouraged to speak more. So I read more, learned more and began to involve myself with people who knew much more when it came to politics. I still continue to do that. I realised that politics is the one subject that we cannot evade: education, access to employment or health care are influenced by political decisions. Once you begin to look at politics that way, you begin to approach it differently.
What message do you have for the youth who feel totally disengaged from political processes in this country?
This is the question that we find ourselves grappling with at Siasa Place. What do we tell those youth who voted for the first time that it was the right thing to do? That they need to continue voting? We have to remember that there was a lot of apathy going around before the elections. Although IEBC had a thorough voter education drive, many especially aimed to get youth to vote, the number that was reached was approximately 4.5 million out of a possible 8 million. We could have had a lot more youth voting, but many still feel that their vote does not count, and do not see the importance of the process.
What sparked your interest in political awareness programmes for the youth?
All the current members of Siasa Place are friends. We all knew each other and had drive and a lot of information when it came to politics and wondered why many of our peers didn’t seem so aware. We therefore created a space that educated youth on the constitution, electoral processes and governance using mediums such as Twitter and Facebook. Our dialogues are led by the community, this way, people do not feel as if they are being forced to learn.
You seem very young. Who are you learning from as you continue to build your skills and brand?
I am not 30 yet, but youth should be an advantage, not a limitation. No one should look down on you because of your youth, you should be judged by your intelligence. I have no mentor at the moment, but I am searching. The Siasa Place brand is very particular - when we started three years ago, we had an image in mind and have held on to it.
Outside your academics, what did your university, especially undergraduate, mean to you? Any fond memories?
Yes, I was president of the International Student Organisation; I went to university in the US. This is where, for the first time, I got into politics, actually participating in student government. Many politicians encounter politics for the first time in universities. It taught me perseverance, tested my leadership, and in the process, taught me to appreciate hard work. To students, I say participate in campus politics. You learn a great deal about your personality, strengths and weaknesses.
What would you say have been the benefits of being politically aware at a young age?
Whatever the issue, it is our government’s responsibility to provide public service. I have learnt to do something about the things I wish to change. We cannot simply wish for things to get better and hope that someone will come along and fix it. When you are politically aware, you can have the right people to represent you and follow up on the issues around you. Through participation, at least, you can be involved in some way.
What is the greatest challenge of being a team leader?
My team is brilliant, so having all that knowledge and energy under one roof can be challenging. Sometimes it is an advantage when you work with friends, but it is testing too. I am therefore constantly switching hats and trying to strike a balance. In a nutshell however, I am grateful for such a great team because they push me when we face challenges; they wouldn’t let me give up.
When starting out an initiative, there is always the challenge of money and getting the right people to work with. What was your experience when setting up Siasa Place?
Getting funding for a youth organisation is extremely difficult. To be honest, youth are not really trusted, so the first year we were on our own. We did our work above par. We were organised and timely, we were consistent, in the process building trust. Siasa Place is a unique organisation, what we do is not common, so many had no idea what we were about, building a brand was therefore the priority for us.
If I want to join Siasa Place, how do I go about it?
Basically, one just needs to email us at [email protected] and have an interest in politics. You do not have to necessarily have studied political science, but be willing to learn. We read a lot, share articles and information and write as well. We encourage each other to write opinion pieces on current issues. We are in the process of opening our membership, hopefully before October this year
This space will give our members an opportunity to have access to information, trainings and events.