March 15, 2011


Is there much room for a power share in politics between Kenya’s new and old guard? What perspectives are missing from our conversation?

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Kenya politics: a power share between generations?

Kenya politics: a power share between generations?

The subject of ‘Youth’ linked to the need for new ‘leadership’ has been much in the news of late. From Egypt to Algeria, Tunisia to Syria, Bahrain to Libya and beyond to Ivory Coast and Zimbabwe, the talk, or at least the talk of many commentators in the media, is of disaffected, educated and mostly under-employed ‘youth’ challenging the aged political elites.

Hardly a day goes by in Kenya when a newspaper columnist doesn’t tackle the subject of ‘youth’ and ‘leadership’ but being columnists they can’t agree on what is happening now or what is needed for the future.

The debate seems to be divided between the ‘out with the old and in with the new’ argument calling for a ‘generational shift’ from the old, corrupt and cynical leaders to new, dynamic and honest young leadership, and the more conservative line of conserving that which is good, get rid of the bad and look to a new ‘generational mix’.

According to press reports based on yet more Wikileaks, the US is to press ahead with Sh3.6 billion funding of ‘youth projects’ in Kenya aimed largely at ‘edging out the old leaders’.

A meant-to-be secret letter from US ambassador Michael Ranneberger to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (but of course secret no longer), said that the embassy was fully behind youth groups whose “ultimate objective is the emergence of alternative political leadership”. Youth groups funded by the US would also be used to promote reforms through “domestically-driven pressure”.

So the US seems to be erring on the side of ‘generational shift’ through “domestically-driven pressure” – domestically driven from the USA that is.

Very much on the ‘generational shift’ side of the argument it would seem was Maina Kiai writing in The Nation. “Power cannot be given; it must be taken … The discourse must draw a clear line and drive the point home that the choice is between the past and the future”, he concluded at the end of a hard-hitting article.

The headline above an article by Professor Egara Kabaji, also writing in The Nation two days later, gave his position away from the outset: ‘We need a generational mix, not shift’.

‘The old guard have not acted alone’, he declared, but have ‘been actively aided by the so-called youthful leaders’, and that, ‘Most of the youth we elect have let Kenyans down’. It is ‘important to think of a generational mix with focus on new ideas in political and economic leadership rather than an empty generation shift that perpetuates the old order’, the good Professor argued. What was needed was ‘visionary leadership’, ‘new systems’ and ‘high-voltage thinking’, something not determined by age. The Prof surely has a point.

Michael Ranneberger is no spring chicken and the Forum team don’t know the ages of Mr Kiai and Professor Kabaji but guess they are moving beyond ‘youthful’. So let us leave the last word to someone who is undoubtedly youthful and part of the next generation.

Writing in The Young Kenyan Leader, Joan Wanjiru Njiru who the Forum would guess to be aged 16 or 17 years old judging by her photograph, declared, ‘Africa needs leadership that is for the people… African leaders need to realize that the people’s health is what matters; their education is what is of great importance and decent shelter for them tops the list of priorities. Leadership, whose core is the people, is able to build the Kenya and Africa we want’.

High voltage and visionary Miss Njiru says the Forum. Lead on.


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