Westlands is a residential area in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, where tensions between poor residents and commercial interests express the divisions inherent in Kenyan society. On 18 August 2009 I met with 38 representatives from youth clubs in the Westlands area, to talk about political representation for young people in this part of Nairobi.
These young people explained to me that while youth represent the largest demographic group, especially in terms of elections, elderly politicians still have a huge advantage over the young people because they already have networks which they use to protect their privileged political positions.
These elderly politicians, I was told, use their money and influence to form gangs who become their political foot soldiers, intimidate opponents and campaign for them. The elderly politicians also use their wealth to buy out potential young political contenders.
This reflects the concept of youth in Kenyan politics which involves notions of agility, militancy and masculinity; hence it is also discriminatory against women and the disabled who do not fit this template. Such an identity also reinforces the view of the youth as foot soldiers who should defend their community and those of their own.
The youth in Westlands said that even with these difficulties, they remain hopeful that Kenyan politics is improving. Youth organizations such as the Kibagere Youth Trust Fund, Risamora Ria Kangemi, Emumbo Music Association, Mountain View Youth Transformation and Chungwa Self Help spearhead campaigns, distribute party regalia and are involved in peer education. Further, they also spread their parties’ propaganda and defend their candidates from malicious media coverage.
They are forming clubs and forums to spread civic education and embark on self empowerment projects. They also said, however, that there is need to allow for more autonomous youth wings of political parties, and to fund youth wings separately from the main wings of political parties. Finally, they pointed out the need for leadership mentorship and exchange programmes so that they can learn from their colleagues from other parts of the world.