To be young, gifted and invisible is the unenviable situation of youth in Kenya

Thursday June 20 2019

Youth on May 27, 2019 protest outside the Youth Enterprise Fund offices in Eldoret Town, in the Rift Valley in Kenya, over delays in getting funds from the kitty. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


Being a history lover, it is always hard for me to comprehend how students made such great strides in this country and yet no youth-centred book has been published here.

The history that lies in the University of Nairobi, the kind of leaders that were bred in that campus, some of whom lost their lives, while others now have the power that they fought for, when they were filled with zeal and ideas of nationhood. They were so young, yet so brave.

So what happened? Students these days will be on the streets to fight about defending someone who insulted the president. However, when Education CS, Amina Mohamed had said that HELB will work with the police to hunt down 74,000 loan defaulters, they were angry, really angry on Twitter.

What happened to young people? Often, in discussions with people who are not youth, it is the question often asked and it is very difficult to be in a conversation that turns out positive. I often hear the words lazy, selfish, corrupt, confused, and just plain lost. How the young people of today just do not know how to handle stress.


Many young people are reporting cases of depression and they are being told that it is just not African. They are prayed over, because it must be a demonic spirit, or some jealous relative who has put a curse on them. The rise of suicides and murders, of people who have not even seen their 40s, comes as a shock every time it makes the news.


But actually engaging with young people, you will find many feel as though they exist but are invisible. No one really listens to them, or understands what they are going through; their issues are seen as complaints, simple whining. At what point did being young and being able to change a country, turn into being young and just irrelevant to change?

There’s a sneaky way young people’s voices are being taken away and it is being done by law. I have written about the Universities Amendment Act 2016; the change of student leadership structure and the election process, which was signed into law by the president in December 2016.


The new structure is Electoral College, where there is a council that selects the chair as compared to one man, one vote: That simply means that the student body no longer directly elect their representatives.

This is not just happening in the universities though. The same system is being pushed with the National Youth Council currently under review.

Established in 2009, it is a corporate body designed to be the official youth voice of Kenya. It is meant to regulate and co-ordinate activities and initiatives relating to young people. That includes youth groups, youth-led organisations, civil society and so on. The NYC has representatives all over the country who are elected, and now, they want to change it to Electoral College.

That will greatly affect young people. Youth already have no idea what the NYC is. The body is underfunded and there have been external influences that have made it difficult for it to function. Representation on the board has most of the time been unconstitutional.

The one voice, by law to represent young people, has no voice. All this in a system where youth have representatives everywhere, leading to no representation.

NYC is clumped together with the Ministry of Gender and Public Service, and has representation in several offices, yet those same offices can hardly co-ordinate or collaborate. Youth affairs not having devolved makes it difficult to have a focal point at the county level.

Voting gives one the power to say, “I put you there… I voted for you.” There is a connection, as even the elected feel they have a constituency to please. When one finds themselves in a position, they will be answerable only to those who put them there. So right now, the voices of the youth are being muted, because they put nobody anywhere.

Nerima Wako- Ojiwa is executive director of Siasa Place. Twitter: @NerimaW