Youth vote will decide outcome of Kenyan General Election

Friday June 16 2017

People queue at Tala Township Primary School to vote in a by-election in 2017. PHOTO | JENNIFER MUIRURI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

People queue at Tala Township Primary School to vote in a by-election in 2017. PHOTO | JENNIFER MUIRURI | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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They say a week is a very long time in politics. British Prime Minister Theresa May cannot dispute that assertion. After seeking a mandate for a bad idea, that is Brexit, she took the electorate for granted and they called her bluff. Last week’s British election was a defeat for arrogance, punditry and the right-wing press who lambasted Jeremy Corbyn as an ideological fool and terrorist sympathiser. The Labour leader, however, had the last laugh, increasing his party vote by 10 per cent and leaving May struggling to form a fragile government with the sectarian Democratic Unionist Party.

But the general election was above all a victory for youth who emerged as an influential and powerful voice. In the 2016 referendum, 75 per cent of 18-24-year-olds voted to remain in the European Union. However, they didn’t have the numbers. In May 2017, one million more of them registered as voters and it mattered.

That meant 72 per cent of young people aged 18 to 24 voted last week and 75 per cent of them voted Labour. Theirs was a protest vote against austerity, unemployment, xenophobia and grim economic prospects. Age, too, was synonymous with class as 25 per cent of this age group are unemployed. But they are now a force for change and Labour must heed that.


Yogi Berra said: “It is hard to make predictions, especially about the future”. But I will take the risk and forecast that the youth vote will also determine the outcome of Kenya’s presidential ballot as well as every other electable position. Seventy per cent of the Kenyan population is under 30 years and the majority of them are poor, unemployed and frustrated. Young people for decades have been deceived and exploited by the political class. They made up the crowds for hire at rallies and were given false promises and fraudulent employment programmes that became conduits for corruption by their elders.

But in the last twelve months there has been a quiet revolution taking place that will enormously impact on the August ballot. In previous elections 80 per cent of voters were over thirty years old. But there has been a huge demographic shift in registration that now gives the youth the power to turn the tables.

Between August 2016 and February 2017, a whopping 4.9 million young people aged between 18 and 29 years registered as voters. In the process, their total vote has risen from 3.95 million to a massive 8.85 million.


More interesting still is that in the 2013 General Election, the 18 to 29 age group represented 20 per cent of the registered voters. Today, they represent 46 per cent those on the IEBC register, and they are not in the "dead" list. The campaign to get the youth registered and voting has been part of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems' contribution to this year’s ballot. Is it any wonder then that they fell afoul of the Jubilee administration?

For the chattering classes and property owners, the youth are considered a problem and a threat to the nation’s security. The truth, however, is that the youth are a positive force, more patriotic than the older generation and more prepared for change. If they realise that they have the numbers, things will never be the same again.

Fr Gabriel Dolan is an Irish missionary priest who has been working in Kenya since 1982. He is currently based in Mombasa.