By Stephen Makabila
Last Friday, Kenyans ushered in the second republic after President Kibaki promulgated the new Constitution at the historic Uhuru Park.
With new laws to propel the country into the future, however, questions abound on what stake the youth, who constitute 60 per cent of the Kenyan population, have in the second republic.
President Kibaki did not miss this point at the Uhuru Park fete when he assured the youth of a bright future under the new Constitution.
"The new Constitution gives us renewed optimism about our country and its future. I see in the youth of Kenya a lot of promise, energy and creativity," Kibaki noted.
The Head of State further expressed confidence the new laws would transform the lives of the young majority and challenged them to seize the opportunity presented to them by the new laws.
He said the new laws give better structures of governance that would present the youth with many opportunities leading them to attain their goals and dreams.
Kibaki noted his Government was committed to a brighter future for the young generation.
However, observers question whether young people have the ability to bring in politics of generational change and break the hold on politics by veterans of the 1990s and beyond.
With the National Assembly going to have two chambers, political observers predict veterans, some of whom are serving ministers in the Grand Coalition Government, may opt to go for senate seats, paving way for younger people to secure some of the 290 parliamentary seats come the 2012 General Election.
"Most ministers are likely to opt for senators’ seats or governors’ positions, meaning there will be new and younger faces in the 11th Parliament," said lawyer James Mwamu, the secretary of the East African Law Society.
There are also leadership opportunities in the 47 county governments to be created once the new Constitution is fully implemented.
The Executive Director of the International Centre for Policy and Conflict, Ndung’u Wainaina, says the youth had a unique opportunity to express, exercise and define their destiny through the August 4 referendum.
"The media has in some way failed young people of this country who have sacrificed for their motherland. Some politicians, on the other hand, have been the single biggest impediment to change in their quest for power and self aggrandizement," noted Wainaina.
He went on: "Lessons of the past offer ingredients of tomorrow. It is time we all start a new people partnership for truth, accountability and justice to oversee a true and meaningful new Kenya."
According to Mr Wainaina, youth have played a part in pushing for change and some even paid with their precious lives in past struggles.
But despite their efforts to gain some foothold in national politics, Kenyan youth have over the years failed to be visible enough.
Kibaki noted at Uhuru Park that the new Constitution is also a promise that all Kenyans, young and old, man or woman will unleash their full potential.
In the run-up to the referendum, the youth were asked to debunk negative actions of stone throwing and hooliganism and adopt the right values to drive the ongoing reform agenda.
Centre of politics
The youth on their part wanted more and well defined leadership slots entrenched in the new Constitution as a testimony that the Government was keen on promoting the young generation.
During and even much earlier before referendum politics gained momentum, several youth movements emerged, with their leaders scheming on how to put more young people at the centre of national politics by assuming leadership responsibilities.
Simama Kenya, Political Parties Young Leaders Caucus, and National Youth Movement for ‘Yes’ were some of the groups that emerged to champion interests of the youth.
Youth lobbies were also formed to campaign for the Draft, among them the Western Youth Alliance and ‘Vijana ni Yes’.
Political Scientist Adams Oloo of the University of Nairobi argues it may not be easy for the youth to stamp their authority politically because of the ‘nature of Kenyan politics’.
"Ethnicity, regionalism and religious factors dictate politics in Kenya and we have a long way to go for the ‘youth factor’ to cut across," said Dr Oloo.
Moi University Communication lecturer Masibo Lumala says it is important for youthful leaders to repackage the message they pass across.
"If they talk about general change, let their change message be well-tailored, convincing and backed up by action," said Dr Lumala.
Simama Kenya, which was launched by Jimmy Kibaki has already suffered a setback, after Jimmy who was its patron, pulled out of it ahead of the referendum.
Simama Kenya’s aim was to empower the youth ahead of the 2012 General Election, but had been seen as a vehicle that could have been used by Jimmy and his allies to ride to Parliament.
It had projected to economically support youth of between the ages of 18-40 and reconcile communities that were pitted against each other during the 2007/08 post-election violence.
The chairman of the National Youth Movement for ‘Yes’, Maina Njenga, admits the youth have been sidelined in leadership positions and in the running of the country’s affairs.
Mr Njenga added that the youth had been misused by politicians during the 2008 post-election violence following the disputed presidential election and called on them to unite.
"The youth should advocate for peace. They should shun politicians inciting them to violence," he said.
The Western Youth Alliance chairman Ben Ombima, who doubles as the ODM Youth national chairman, says finances have been their setback.
"We have a stake in the leadership of this country and we are going to secure some positions when they are created under the new Constitution," predicted Mr Ombima.
Political Parties Young Leaders Caucus Convener-General Caleb Burudi believes all is not lost in pushing youth to play a major role in national leadership.
The caucus, he explained, brings together young people in leadership positions and has already attracted youth leaders from more than 24 political parties.
Mr Burudi, who is the chairman of Federal Party of Kenya, noted the main agenda of the caucus was to champion the interests of the youth.
"During the violence witnessed following the disputed 2007 presidential election, youth were used, killed and arrested. Time has come for the youth to unite for a good cause," said Burudi.
He added that poor leadership, corruption, unemployment, and violence adversely affect the youth.
"For a long time youth leaders have been purely used to mobilise supporters and even fan violence for the selfish gains of politicians. This is the trend that we want to depart from," added Burudi.