Kenya

It’s hard to convince any young person in the country that something will change after August 9

Friday, 11am. I am booking a bus ticket for my sister to travel to Western and there is hardly any space left. My people are infamous for such detours. We take a holiday as an opportunity to disappear from the city. The only question is, are we going to vote or running away?

Saturday 11pm. I am out with my crowd, smelling the last petals of our fading youth, and dancing before our knees hit the ripe age of 30. It’s my private time, which I waste with the profligacy of a callow bachelor. We are drinking beer like water; our fathers taught us well. For broke youth, we are really rich. There is a sweeping tsunami of anxiety brewing – and the question hangs above us like a cartoon anvil: Will you vote?

“No.” one says. “I’ll be drinking and smoking and *** {Expletives removed} that day.” “I don’t even have a voter’s card,” yet another says.

Myself, I am in limbo. In three days’ time, we will have a new administration but my reality will still be the same. In Kenya, as soon as you’re done growing up, it seems, you must face what to do with your life. I’ve constantly felt like I’ve gambled and lost, yet I hadn’t started playing. To be a young man in Kenya is to always look over your shoulders, never sure of what you’ll get in a country that constantly takes and takes.

Honestly, I want this election to be over. It’s hard to convince any young person in the country that something will change after August 9. The drowsiness of the Kool-Aid that hard work pays is wearing off. Well, not to be some gauche simpleton, but if hard work pays, show me a rich donkey. Cases of young people engaging in fraud are prevalent, not least because at the core, man must survive. HOWEVER. Think about it: you want to tell me crime does not pay yet lawyers are (mostly) paid by criminals?

Like in Sandisile Tshuma’s Arrested Development, “It is not in the nature of Zimbabweans to complain or question.” She might as well have been writing about Kenya. This is less of an election and more of a funeral for youth participation in building the nation.

And what is there in this election for the youth anyway? Oh yes. There is free cash to be doled out, free health to be checked in and if that doesn’t tickle your fancy then how about exporting some cannabis and while at it throw in some fresh, succulent recently-harvested hyena testicles? So…no news James?

The next time the vote comes I will be just shy of escaping youth (but age is just a number no? Hehe). Three-quarters — 75 percent — of the population of this country are aged 35 and below. Only three percent are 55 and above. Those are the majority in leadership. Waheshimiwa.

Every mheshimiwa is promising change. But the young know change is never going to come. “Change Mpya. Change Inawezekana.” “Let’s make XXX Work.” “Vote Yako. Future Yako.” You become so used to politics as theatre, that it all becomes performative. 

Leadership in Kenya is spent campaigning and the other half recouping the campaign costs.

“Wacha tukule pesa ya campaign juu watarecover too.” That is the bonhomie of politics, you know of the money first before the leadership. Most of the “young” people vying present a gloomy picture: with the brouhaha of social media frenzy and the airs of wash wash with their famous anger issues and superfluous grandiosity.

If you forgot what ‘oxymoron’ means, look at the options on the ballot box: The so-called young leaders are hardly paragons of virtue in this area. It’s their scandals that stand out. Who frolics with who, who has been known to have a short temper, who actually sung against the very things they now are. (I hoped they’d be the first person in the world who could lie with dogs and not end up with fleas.) No manifesto, no plan, just operating purely on vibes and inshallah. The motif is immediate and glaring: “Ni sisi ndio tuko.” 

We are living in a constantly changing world, but our leaders remain the same. If anything, the only thing we can learn from them is persistence. If at first, you don’t succeed, try and try again. Even if by the time you get your desired nirvana, you will have spent all your youth and life after it. I have made peace with the fact that there is nothing for me in this election. Watching the local debates and MPs fumbling just goes to show that they do not even know the legislative process. My line-up in my constituency, Dagoretti South is already forecasted as light showers with chances of thunderstorms. I am not half as excited as I was during my first time voting in 2017 when I lined up at 4.30am.

James Baldwin had it right the first time. “This innocent country set you down in a ghetto in which, in fact, it intended that you should perish.”

As in dating, first impressions in politics last. But that’s what politicians do: lie. Politics by nature feeds on smooth, charismatic deceit. A politician can only ever be half the person they want to be. We are stuck between a rock and the proverbial hard place. But once there is a choice, you must choose.

But voting we all must. I will still come out and vote. Make my voice count. It’s not the despair, the despair I can cope with. It’s the hope that I am struggling with.  As a young man in Kenya, hope is a commodity peddled around like you-know-what.

Maybe what you are afraid of is that that corrupt leader, that swashbuckling slayer with a foul mouth, that drug dealer with unaccounted wealth, that cheapskate waving wads of cash is a smokescreen. A mirror. And when you shine a light, what you see…is you.

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