Kenya's political landscape is
reeling from the generation gap
as older generations hold on
tightly to political leadership at
the expense of the energetic and
more adventurous young generation. The question is who is to blame,
between the older generation,
who is not just about to relinquish
its long hold on power, and the
younger generation who have
kept out of competitive politics in favour of their careers. This comes as Kenyans are yet to
agree whether the younger
generation could be the panacea
to our political morass or
whether they are destined to
stick with greying leadership one after the other. President Mwai Kibaki for
instance, incensed the youth
early last year when he stuffed
his cabinet and appointments in
the civil service with old, retired
personalities that came to be known as the "grey-haired club". Thus, the long-held dream that
Kenyan politics could at one time
be driven by young and educated
personalities aged 40 and below,
remains a mirage, even as there
is a growing consensus that the old generation is starving Kenyan
politics from new and innovative
ideas to propel the country into
the global realm. The frustration is such that very
few youthful politicians earned
themselves cabinet positions
following the 2002 National
Rainbow Coalition (NARC) victory,
despite the youth having contributed immensely to the
defeat of the Kenya African
National Union [KANU] regime
through street protests and other
forms of agitation. The same is the case with the
civil service, where president
Kibaki still retains six permanent
secretaries who have bypassed
their official retirement age of 55
amidst high rate of unemployment and the agitation
to include the youth into the
political mainstream. So far, the only youthful cabinet
ministers include Najib Balala and
Ochilo Ayacko, while one of the
most outstanding appointments
by he Kibaki government, is the
recent elevation of the 34-year old Alfred Mutua, as the
government spokesman. Unfortunately in Kenya's 41 years
of independence, no politician has
ever come up to provide a clear-
cut rallying point for the youth,
despite the reality that the youth
comprise the majority of the Kenyan population and has the
potential of forming the most
potent voting bloc ever
experienced. The old generation, who still calls
the shots, has been accused of
conservatism, lacking vision and
too preoccupied with their old
friends to experiment with the
younger generation. The older generation on the other
hand argues that youth is not the
only qualification for leadership,
and that besides inexperience, the
young can also learn to be
tribalistic, corrupt and dictatorial. They have also been accused of
expecting to be given leadership
on the silver platter and that
Kenyan youth—just like in most
parts of the continent—are
under-represented in many spheres because of their
reluctance to join active politics. In his twilight years, former
president Daniel Moi vowed to
work with the young generation
to give the country's political
landscape a face-lift. He argued—
while propping up Mr Uhuru Kenyatta to succeed him—that
the old crop of politicians had
over the years messed up politics
and should pave the way for the
young. Observes, then, called him bluff
on suspicion that he was targeting
Kibaki and Simeon Nyachae, both
of who were presidential
candidates and who he had
earlier called upon to retire with him. The Kenyatta and former Vice-
President Musalia Mudavadi team,
on one hand was the first serious
attempt to push the youth into
senior political leadership. But on
the other hand, it was seen as Moi's style of regional politics,
besides the proteges
coincidentally being the scions of
some of Kenya's prominent
political families. So far, it is only
environment minister, Kalonzo Musyoka, who has rose to
political prominence without
family connection. The private sector, has however,
done a commendable job by going
for young and energetic
personalities. Though part of the
political arrangement then, the
appointment in 2001 of Raymond Matiba, as the head of Kenya
Tourism Board (KTB) by the
former president Moi, was seen
as his commitment to encourage
the youth to aspire for positions
of leadership. At the dawn of independence, a
lot of youthful and charismatic
leaders emerged, mainly through
the labour movement and went
on to hold senior political office,
or make a mark in the Kenyan political scene. Notable among them included the
late Tom Mboya, the current
president Kibaki, James
Nyamweya, Martin Shikuku and
John Michuki, among others. These personalities, however,
went on to dominate the political
landscape for decades, and a
number of them—to the chagrin
of Kenyans—have found
themselves in the Kibaki government after staying out for
most of the Moi reign. It now seems that these leaders,
most of whom are now in their
twilight years, have refused to
give way for younger leaders,
and still retain much influence. Just like Kibaki who took over the
country's leadership at 72, Jomo
Kenyatta took over at the age of
70 and died at 85. Though Moi left
the leadership at an advanced age
of 78, he still holds the record as the only Kenyan president who
took over leadership at a
reasonable age of 54. But age aside, it is the capacity of
these leaders to surround
themselves with old politicians at
the exclusion of the young, that
has generated heated debate. This
was clearly demonstrated recently when president Kibaki,
faced with rebellion from his
partners in the ruling coalition,
resorted to octogenarians from
the opposition in the name of
Nyachae and Njenga Karume, to save the government from
collapse and also for advice. With the country's politics still
driven by ethnic loyalties and
considerations, the young
politicians who aspire for political
leadership have found it difficult
to inspire the old and rural-based population who comprise over 80
percent of the voters. The urban-based and issues
oriented voters, who observers
believe could help reduce the
level of ethnicity in Kenyan
politics, have not only shied away
from politics, but hardly vote. As it is, Kenya's politics is still
driven by cash handouts and the
rich carry the day. Taking into
account that corruption is
embedded in the Kenyan society,
young politicians are also disadvantaged by the skewed
belief that it is those who have
made money that can promote
development, since the young will
spend more time accumulating
wealth at the expense of the constituents. The trend is that if you are
connected to a prominent political
family, or has made money
sometime through dubious
means, then you can as well get
leadership. The former cabinet minister and the leader of Youth
for Kanu '92, Cyrus Jirongo, is a
case in point. After helping mobilise and
rallying the youth behind the
former ruling party in 1992 in
return for personal enrichment,
Jirongo was not capable of
contesting and winning in 1997 because he was perceived by the
voters as a cash cow, his
youthfulness notwithstanding. In the last elections, KANU led by
their youthful presidential
candidate, Mr Kenyatta, managed
to bring in new and youthful
faces. 70 percent of KANU’s MPs
are either new or just hitting their 40s, according to the 37-
year old William Ruto, who is also
the chairman of the
Parliamentary Select Committee
on the constitutional review. But as the Kenyan youth grouse
over their exclusion in positions
of leadership, some of them who
have made it to parliament, have
displayed high amount of
immaturity that have left their supporters baffled. Those who
have disappointed the youth
through their public outbursts
include assistant ministers,
Danson Mungatana, Robinson
Githae, and MPs Peter Munya and Koigi wa Wamwere.