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In the year 461 BC, while cajoling the public to back him against Cimon, Greek politician Pericles quipped, “Just because you don’t take an interest in politics doesn’t mean that politics won’t take an interest in you.” Cimon was another Greek politician who, after rising to power, started supporting the aristocrats and became anti-democratic, neglecting Athens’s vital interests in favour of individualistic ones. 

It was important to kick him out, then, if Athens was to get back on the path of prosperity. What happened was that the youth joined hands and formed The Democratic Party, which they decided to use as their vehicle against the aristocracy. Led by Ephialtes, The Democratic Party called for a reduction of the powers of Areopagus, a traditional council controlled by the Athenian aristocracy that had at one point been the most powerful body in the state.

The Ecclesia (Athenian Assembly) adopted Ephialtes’ proposal without any opposition. This single reform, started by the youth of Athens, signalled the beginning of an era of “radical democracy” in Athens. Thanks to this move, office holders in Athens, previously shielded and controlled by the Areopagus, could now be held under scrutiny by the public.  

That, dear folks, is an example of how, in the past, the youth have successfully come out to fight for their rights. It is now the year of the Lord 2024. Almost 2,500 years since that event. Pericles’s quip about political apathy rings as true today as it did then. 

I, for one, can admit to succumbing to the recent political upheaval. See, I have been an ardent newspaper reader for the longest. I have consumed, in the fullest, all the stories published in the dailies for the past ten years. But never before had I felt the need to take a direct stand on politics. Why? Because it seemed to me to be an activity for the proles.

I had come to this conclusion after having observed the people around who engage in political talk. The kinyozi, the boda boda guy, the jobless guys at Jeevanjee Gardens, the old men who converge at the Maasai Market parking lot after working hours, etc. For me, if a topic is shallow enough for everyone to have an opinion on it and deem themselves to be right, then I shall not engage in it. And so, I limited my interests to quasi-elitist topics such as philosophy.

I was to later learn that, as German playwright Bertolt Brecht once said, “Those against politics are in favour of the politics inflicted upon them,” and so, as an apathetic person, I might have been frying myself in my own fat.  

The straw that broke the camel’s back

We had our general election two years ago and, unlike some Gen Zers, I lined up to vote. Well, a sizeable number of Gen Zers actually did so. In my case, it wasn’t necessarily about bringing change, but more like ticking the act of voting off my bucket list. My candidate never won (and by “never”, I mean in all the previous elections he has contested). I still believe that he might have been the right one, but that doesn’t matter at all now, does it? As Machakos Governor Wavinya Ndeti once said, “Yaliyo ndwele sipite.” 

It has been two years since the general election. Two horrible years. In these two years, we’ve seen the price of fuel shoot up. We’ve seen education and healthcare being defunded. We’ve seen welfare programmes being scraped. We’ve seen subsidies meant to cushion consumers thrown out. We’ve seen, or rather, experienced unemployment in its brute and raw form. We’ve seen stones meant for building affordable housing being repackaged as fertiliser. We’ve seen scandals on edible oil. And most of all, we’ve seen an intellectually deficient executive and legislature. 

In these two years, we’ve seen Kenya crumble. As Rasna Warah once tweeted, “One day, someone will look at Kenya and say, ‘Here lie the ruins of a country destroyed by greed.’” And I can tell you for a fact that nothing hurts like things going haywire when it’s finally your turn.

This seems to be the case for Gen Z. It’s almost like we’re back in the early ’90s when the IMF inflicted SAPs on the Kenyan economy. Shall we sit back and witness the ruin of our country in the hope that it’ll get back on its feet after 10 years? Or shall we, like those before us, take matters into our hands and revolt against this punitive regime?

In case anyone doubts the lengths to which youth activism can go, then it is important to look at the impact of activism against Moi’s government by students from the University of Nairobi and Kenyatta University College in the 1980s. We can pick up the oratory skills of the first chairman of SONU, Titus “Tito” Adungosi. We can pick up the wisdom of Peter Nicholas Oginga Ogego. Add to that the bravado of David Onyango Oloo, who, despite his lawyers withdrawing from his case following intimidation by the government, stood up in court and defended himself. And let’s not forget the mobilisation skills of Wafula Buke, who led the longest ever strike in the history of the university at the time. 

A careful analysis of this period would show you that university student action was part of Kenya’s democratisation process in the ’80s. They opposed police brutality at the time, even if they bore the brunt of it. They demanded the freedom of assembly, association and speech on behalf of other Kenyans. They fought against the oppression of government critics and radical politicians by protesting against political assassinations (like JM Kariuki’s) and detentions without trial (like Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s). Through this, you can see that student action reinforced democratic values at every opportunity, and thus, advanced the process of democratisation in Kenya. In the ’90s, the Young Turks joined seasoned politicians like Kenneth Matiba in fighting for multi-party democracy, and it was through them that Section 2A of the constitution was repealed.

It is exactly this that we Gen Zers are looking up to now. Having been apathetic for the longest, it is finally time to take matters into our hands. It is finally time to go out in the streets and ask for our rights and freedoms. It is finally time for us to have what we deserve.

And the recent #OccupyParliament protests – first held on Tuesday 18 June and then on Thursday 20 June – are enough proof that this is possible. Gen Z were able to read the Finance Bill 2024 and see the punitive taxes being proposed. Gen Z were able to take part in public participation by submitting their opinions on the Finance Bill 2024. Gen Z were able to mobilise themselves and come out in numbers to protest, peacefully, of course. Gen Z were able to deliver a message to the older generations, and most importantly, to the politicians, that their voice needs to be heard. Gen Z are now politically conscious.

Famous German playwright Bertolt Brecht reminded us that, “The worst illiterate is the political illiterate; he doesn’t hear, doesn’t speak, nor participates in the political events. He doesn’t know the cost of life, the price of the bean, of the fish, of the flour, of the rent, of the shoes and of the medicine, all depends on political decisions. The political illiterate is so stupid that he is proud and swells his chest saying that he hates politics. The imbecile doesn’t know that, from his political ignorance is born the prostitute, the abandoned child, and the worst thieves of all, the bad politician, corrupted and flunky of the national and multinational companies.”

I can now proudly say that Gen Z are politically literate.

Youth political party

At the start of May, after noticing the level of political agitation among the youth, I decided to create a platform called Bunge la Mayut together with Lilian Mutinda and Mwende Mukwanyaga. The purpose of this Bunge is to make the youth aware of all the current political affairs in the country. 

The Bunge takes three forms: Bunge debates – These sessions, held once a month, borrow the model of parliamentary debates. We pick a topic that is relevant at the moment, for example, the doctors’ strike, the Finance Bill 2024, or Ruto’s state visit to the US. Then, on the week prior, we share the necessary resources/documents and have people prepare their points to present for the debate. During the session, we have two sides of the house: the government side and the opposition side. Then, for two hours, each side takes turns presenting their points and debating each other, before the Speaker of the Bunge concludes the session with a quick summary of all points presented, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of each side. The Clerk of the Bunge shares the Hansard later on, with factual details on every point presented – as well as those forgotten – on the particular topic.

The second form are the Wahenga sittings. These monthly sessions involve either a panel discussion or a lecture by an expert on a particular topic of interest. For example, during the public participation period of the Finance Bill 2024, we invited NTV’s Business Journalist Julians Amboko to take us through the budget process in Kenya, the pros and cons of the Finance Bill, as well as how to submit our memoranda. It was a great learning process for most people, and through more of these, the youth could learn about everything in the country that involves them. 

Then there are the Freadom book readings. These monthly sessions are simply book readings and discussions of celebrated freedom writers, such as Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Micere Mugo. Through these readings, we are able to reawaken the spirit of political conscientiousness among ourselves by borrowing a leaf from those who came before us.  

It is our dearest hope that, at the end of it all, we’ll have a band of youth who’re knowledgeable about every aspect of the political system, and that will, if need be, take power from the old guard. We’ll have a band of youth who’ll have the intellectual bandwidth to think through the implications of any policy before passing it. We’ll have a band of youth who’ll actually be the best leaders of this nation. 

It is imperative that, besides age, this party coalesces on the basis of ideology. For Kenyan politics has failed to develop an ideological agenda. We have always coalesced around ethnicity, and that has been our failure each and every time. Therefore, this is a chance for a fresh start, and for a bright future.

I say this without fear: there is need to take the presidency of this country away from the KANU folk. Moi once said that KANU would rule Kenya for 100 years. It’s been 61 years now; Sixty-one years of plunder under the KANU regime. It is time for us to take power. And not just any of us, but the wisest among us.

Therefore, this is my invitation to you, dear brother and sister, dear comrade, to join our Bunge La Mayut. The time is ripe for the youth to bring change in this country, for the country belongs to us. As Pericles also said, “The whole earth is the tomb of heroic men and their story is not given only on stone over their clay, but abides everywhere without visible symbol woven into the stuff of other men’s lives.” Therefore, herein lays the chance to stand up for your fellow comrades and make an impact on their lives, as well as on ours. For when that is done, for when the dark clouds clear from the sky and we can finally see the sunset, then we will all agree that it was worth it.