Kenyan Youth?

Kenyan Youth?

The talk on the streets in Nairobi, today, is that all the Kenyan leaders have to go. Wipe the slate clean. Out with the old!

Kenyans are absolutely fed up with their government. No one’s attempted a poll, but my informal and unscientific survey of my friends here suggests 90% of Kenyans don’t like or want their leaders. And the remedy? Universally, everyone says young people must come forward to assume the reigns of power.

Of all East African countries, Kenya is the most tribal. The British colonial government supported the Kikuyu over all other tribes, giving them a leg up on development. The west supported the Kikuyu during the Cold War. So the ethnic divide was encouraged, even nurtured by the developed world. The old “divide and conquer” mentality.

It is striking that no matter how educated a Kenyan may be, their allegiance starts with their tribe. They buy their tribe, marry their tribe, socialize with their tribe and vote their tribe. Peace in Kenya comes when power is satisfactorily allocated tribally.

And like all historic tribal conflicts – northern Ireland Catholics or Balkan Muslims – over time these socio-religious divisions ultimately become economic ones as well. In Kenya, the Kikuyu are the rich and the Luo are the poor.

That’s a generalization, and to be sure, Luo politicians aren’t poor. But even as they race around town in their Mercedes, they champion those in the slums, those out of work, and those whose attempts to disengage from poverty seems hopeless. Because the majority of the poor are Luo. But there’s plenty of poverty to go around in Kenya, and of course it extends to many Kikuyu. But Kikuyu politicians are the free marketers, the small government champions, the ones who break the white collar laws the most often. The generalization that the Kikuyu are the rich and the Luo are the poor is more important than its qualifications.

But all politicians are rich. About the only project on which leaders from different ethnic groups cooperate is how to pay each other outrageous salaries.

And it may just be that this rich-poor divide is prying open the eyes of many Kenyans. Luo and Kikuyu leaders are all rich. And all are elected by a majority of people who are poor.

But what to do? Kenyans may universally disavow their leaders, but they seem unable to disengage from the tribalism that keeps taking them down the same, doomed path. No tribal-less leader has ever emerged. No man or woman has ever tried to appeal to a broad swath of Kenya. They all emerge from their own ethnic groups. When they finally reach positions of power, their main fortress is their tribe.

The wisdom of the street in Nairobi, today, is that everyone old has to go. Youth has to emerge. There is a real hope that some of the student leaders might emerge as the new political leaders.

I doubt it. In March, a hotly contested battle at the University of Nairobi for student council president, between David Osianyo (Luo) and John Ngaruiya (Kikuyu) was even financially supported by the country’s two main political parties, the PNU (Kikuyu) and ODM (Luo). The dissident student protest in March of this year, which disrupted traffic for a day and led to some serious police violence, was orchestrated by student David Otieno (Luo), and it was Kenya’s Prime Minister Raila Odinga (Luo) who gained most by the affair.

That’s sad. If the new “youth” leaders can’t come from the university, where will they come from? High schools?