Stay out of Gen Z’s way and we may have an EA worth federating

Saturday July 06 2024

People attend a demonstration against Kenya's proposed finance bill 2024/2025 in Nairobi, Kenya on June 25. PHOTO | REUTERS


As the protests in Kenya continue, it might be safe to call this a movement. The rallying call was to stop the passing of the 2024 Finance Bill, which would put a tax burden on Kenyans that the youth were not willing to accept. It has been successful, somewhat, as it seems that the bill has been halted.

I am using cautious language here because I am no longer young. I recently listened to some Kenyan youth explain the situation to a Tanzanian audience, and one of the members asked whether they truly believed that the bill wouldn’t be passed, even though promises were made. I understood my fellow Tanzanian’s concern: One must always discern between what a politician says, and what they do. Comes from experience.

I think the Kenyans understood the question. It has been a singular pleasure to see that the youth protesting now are capable of learning from the past. They are wise beyond their experiences, if not their years. I am impressed by their refusal to be corralled and institutionalised.

They are rejecting leadership and have warned the authorities and chancers that they do not have a leader. Bravo!

Read: OBBO: Tanzania at it again, but needs to learn to make more noise

Their anarchic tactics keep the state from using its old tricks of co-optation to take the air out of the movement. The protesters know that once things become too solid, their voices will be channelled into impotence. Comply, and they may well be sent home with promises that are unlikely to materialise. They will see their hopes smothered by bureaucracy and formality, the soft power tools of our crafty elders.


“Write a letter!” say the Elders, because letters can then be filed “for further action” after a committee has been formed. But to form a committee, one needs meetings, yes? And to have meetings you need a list of the appropriate names. Appropriate names must be vetted by all parties concerned. Next thing you know, years have passed and so have unpalatable laws. The price of bread remains out of reach, while the youth continue to be fed stones.

Why are Kenyan kids smart enough to navigate the usual pitfalls of movements? How are they so organised, so perceptive? It is a simple little thing, but it is everything. They read. I’m put in the mind of Sir Ken Robinson, whose TED Talk about education raises so many questions about the fate of nations and the power of knowledge, critical thinking and self-direction. A good education is so much more than exams, certificates and employability. It confers agency, without which there is no freedom.

There is speculation about whether the movement in Kenya is going to jump borders like a wildfire and ignite the whole region. Just, stop. Movements don’t catch on like terrible slang. Youth are aware of their particular problems and opportunities, each polity has its own language and culture of change.

Our governments tend to pick up authoritarian tactics from each other, so should we be glad that, in their unarmed struggle against the creep of fascism in East Africa, the youth are creative in staying a step ahead. If we remain somewhat free, we have them to thank. Let us celebrate Gen Zed’s ability to learn from each other and from movements past. If we just stay out of their way, we might just have an East Africa worth federating in another century.

Elsie Eyakuze is an independent consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report; E-mail: [email protected]