"The young have power, now it is time we harness it for our growth. This world demands the qualities of youth: Not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the life of ease …”
I begin this column — and essentially this New Year — with the profound words Robert F. Kennedy spoke in Cape Town in 1966 during his visit to South Africa. Senator Kennedy, who would be assassinated exactly two years later in June 1968, understood an important fact that many leaders today forget about the youth; they are the hope of the world, the hope of our country, the hope of our societies and the hope of our industries.
Last week, the US House of Representatives elected 78-year-old Nancy Pelosi, a representative from California, to the become the House Speaker, for a second stint, she’s the first woman to hold the position and the most powerful woman in the history of American politics.
In a recent interview, when asked on her advice to young women — and youth by extension — Pelosi answered with powerful words: “Know your power,” she said. She has also been quoted many times saying; “No one gives you power, you have to take it from them.”
So today’s piece is a message to every young Kenyan. Whether you are reading me on your phone seated in a noisy matatu, or in your dorm room anxiously awaiting a new academic year or even leafing through this newspaper in search of a job opportunity, today’s message is for you. As we begin 2019, I would like every Kenyan aged 18-35 to know this; you are powerful.
Let me give a little perspective. We, the youth, make up 16 per cent of the global population, which means there are more than 1.2 billion of us on this planet. Closer home, in Kenya, the youth make up 80 per cent of the total population, meaning that there are about 40 million of us within our borders. That is a critical mass.
Our country needs us and, therefore, we must use our talents and energy not only in the service of our dreams and visions, but more importantly in the service of our beloved country, our communities and the industries in which we earn our daily bread. In a country with a youth unemployment rate of nearly 12 per cent, it is easier to give up on our country and walk away, but we must remember that this is our home, our motherland, and we must remain stoic and determined to make it better.
They say “youth is wasted on the young”, but we must not allow this to be our narrative. We must make our youthful years count for something. Each of us has the equal opportunity to use our imagination and creativity to turn our respective industries around. The youth of Kenya are the crucible of this country’s incredible entrepreneurial spirit. For those of us with an entrepreneurial bug, we must use our shrewdness to build enduring companies that will transform society.
To those in community service, we must empower communities to see a better tomorrow for themselves. For those in activism, you must not allow selfish ambition to be our guide, but use these opportunities to bring down structures of oppression and injustice.
We must have the courage to look evil in the eye and say “no” to those who want to use us for their own gain. We must not allow ourselves to be poisoned by petty, tribal and divisive politics, but instead, each of us should play our part in respecting our neighbours irrespective of their ethnicity, skin colour, gender, religion, affectional orientation or social standing.
We have the power to take this country in the direction we want, if only each of us takes personal responsibility to remain true to values such as integrity, hard work and diligence. In 1996, Nelson Mandela said that young people "are capable, when aroused, of bringing down the towers of oppression and raising the banners of freedom.”
Dear fellow youth, we are capable; we are powerful. As we embark on 2019, may we go beyond making tonnes of money and benefiting ourselves; may we bear visions that will impact our societies and may we be drivers of the change that we want to see.
Above all, we must remain hopeful. Without hope, there can be no tomorrow. Hope is all we have, and hope is all we will ever need.