Today marks the International Youth Day 2017, a day that is dedicated to celebrating young people’s contributions to conflict prevention and transformation as well as inclusion, social justice, and sustainable peace. Being Kenyan, this day couldn’t have come at a better time when our country is going through a tough post-election period. Why am I saying so? It’s very unfortunate that some parts of this great country have and are experiencing cases of unrest as displayed by the mainstream media depicting an almost all youth population, out on the streets expressing its dissatisfaction in how the presidential elections were managed.
In cases of unrest, the youth are the obvious target group that would be out in the streets while the elder population, of which majority of the leaders are part of, are busy resting in their luxurious abodes. Youth, and especially the ones from low income areas are the unfortunate instruments in these conflicts because of circumstances beyond their control, like lack of access to basic social services such as education and health, unemployment, and uncertain future. The fact that so many youths are on the street depicts the current unemployment situation in our country. When youth are neglected, they become vulnerable and can be used to fuel conflicts.
Let’s not forget that these unrests are being witnessed majorly in the informal settlements of Kibera, Mathare, Kondele among others. Poverty is the major deterrent to the poor to have the capacity to decide for themselves and to significantly share in the use of resources. The poor are the victims of war, of violence, of social crime and disease, and eventually get sucked into the maelstrom by being part of the chaos.
However, I believe that youth can play a huge role as agents of change and critical actors in preventing conflict and building peace. I kid you not, if the youths who are on the streets right now retreated to their homes or areas of businesses, this country will return to normalcy. But then I guess they are taking orders from someone above, which they had the chance and right to say no to. To get these idle youths out of the streets and enhance youth participation in sustainable and economic development, the ministry of youth and gender affairs should engage them in the planning, design, implementation, and evaluation of the policies and programs affecting them. I mean, they should be treated as partners, in terms of involvement in social activities, community activities and governance right from the very beginning.
When youth are excluded from political, economic and social spheres and processes, it can be a risk factor for violence and violent forms of conflict. Therefore, identifying and addressing the social exclusion of young people is a precondition for sustaining peace.
But then, they say that youth are the leaders of tomorrow. Remember causing chaos now destroys this beautiful country of ours. Is that the kind of country you want to govern in future? Maintaining peace and orderliness is in the long run going to benefit the youth, not these old wazees you’re seeing around. So, before we even involve the government and other stakeholders, peace and security starts from within us. Youth can be powerful agents that bring change to their communities and engines for positive social, political and economic transformation if they want to, but are they ready?
On this youth international Day, I urge the government to work together with the private sector in creating more economic and livelihood opportunities for the youth through skills training while streamlining its social protection policies, such as the National Youth Service programme , the Ajira Digital Program, to benefit all young people in Kenya.
Happy International Youth Day!