The recent harrowing accounts depicting violence meted against young people in the country has brought to the limelight the plight of our young people in society. As the wheels of justice continue to roll for the Kianjokoma brothers and as investigations continue to unravel what exactly happened to the young men brutally murdered in Kitengela, a conversation is ensuing on how the youth, who comprise almost 70% of our population, are the unfortunate casualties of systemic inequalities in our society.
The two aforementioned accounts are not isolated incidents. A report by the Human Rights Watch reveals that at least six people died from police violence within the first ten days of enforcement of the curfew intended to curb the spread of Covid-19 in March 2020. Truth be said, Kenya has a long history of police brutality, with roots going back to the colonial times when the police units were created as a force to serve the interests of the colonial administration, rather than serve and protect the people. Arguably, successive regimes have retained elements of this force to achieve political aims and crush dissenters. The Moi regime, in an attempt to solidify its grip on power, retained elements of police that would routinely round up perceived enemies of the administration, and proceed to detain and torture them without trial. While progressive steps have been made to reform the police from a force into a service, the ghosts of its crude past have stuck on the institution like glue to paper.
For instance, in 2002, the Kibaki administration embarked on an ambitious police reforms programme that culminated into a taskforce in 2004. However, any progress made seemed to have been wiped away after the police was implicated in the 2007/08 post-election violence that left 1,133 people dead. More recently, after the promulgation of the 2010 Constitution, the reality of sustained police reforms became more apparent with the provision of legislative changes within the police service, including the National Police Service Act. The legislation aimed at transforming the police from a force and a paramilitary unit trained to deal with serious conflict and disorder, to a service meant to protect and work for the citizenry. Further to this, two oversight bodies were created, one for internal oversight within the service and the other, for external and independent oversight. The internal oversight body, named the Internal Affairs Unit, is responsible for handling police conduct internally, and answers to the Inspector General of Police, and receives complaints against the police. The independent oversight body, the Independent Police Oversight Authority (IPOA) is mandated with investigation into police misconduct and also review of the internal disciplinary measures, among other functions. However, with such cases like the one involving the Kianjokoma brothers, clearly more needs to be done. It appears that unless there is cultural and behavioral change, there’s little external intervention that can stop repeated police brutality.
Already rendered vulnerable by socio-economic inequalities and economic pressures, the social injustice meted out to our young people is like a last nail to the coffin of despair and destitution. However, rather paradoxically, I tend to think the youth have a crucial role to play in liberating themselves. This conviction is informed by keen observation of the situation. Our young people seem apathic to the change they desire, even as they remain victims of glaring social ills mentioned above. A cursory glance at social platforms reveals that a typical young person’s attention has been captured by an addiction for approval and social leads, fanaticism & social following, & an affinity towards opulence reckless consumerism. It is my wish that young people redirect the effort made in the pursuit of these ideals into aiming for higher ideals like social freedoms and political power.
Instead of parading & commodifying their youthful exuberance on social media platforms for short-lived validation, why not aspire to a cause that might actually change the lives of many young people now and for generations to come? More specifically, to realize concrete, meaningful development in their socio-economic lives and experiences, the youth must learn to be owners of production. Economic power denotes social freedom as seen in multiple Marxist accounts. While most think of entrepreneurship as buying goods, and selling to the end consumer, this model is old and outdated. It’s easy to replicate it and creates unhealthy market competition.
The youth need to realign their thinking and see themselves as owners of production. We have to transcend beyond merely looking for employment to actually fulfilling immediate social needs; the need for shelter, clothing, healthcare and housing.
But how can young people do this?
Well, to do this, we need to starve the culture of consumerism, and the pursuit of opulence and instead, think about how to access capital for the acquisition of value-adding assets – machinery and equipment. Think of importing a packaging machine, and producing packaging materials for small and medium-sized local businesses. In addition, given that they have easy access to new upcoming technologies, they can use this knowledge to gain an edge over archaic, legacy enterprises.
For instance, cloud computing is transforming traditional legacy enterprises by hosting enterprise applications and transitioning business operations to remote cloud platforms. Also, AI-powered tools are driving automation up the supply chain, and IoT is the new frontier in marketing and digital advertising. In addition, given the fact that Kenya has a wealth of natural resources, it is easy to make a spin. They can always use this to gain an edge. On the other hand, young people can also take stock of the government’s efforts to create an enabling environment for doing business, by demanding that the state provides incentives for young people to be owners of production, including lowering the cost of production. This way, young people can call for accountability where needed. It is my view that by moving up the socio-economic ladder, young people shall arguably be less vulnerable to the mercies of violence and brutality by those in power.
To free themselves from social ills, the youths must seek out new opportunities, step out of their comfort zones and roll up their sleeves. They must learn to own production and manage supply chains in local and international markets. Unless they step-up and step-out, the youths will forever cry foul of political downplaying, poor leadership, and eventually economic collapse. And with the ever-growing dependency ratio, it is not doubt that the youths are the only hope at the blink of any socio-economic collapse.
Change is not a matter of how, or if, but when.
Writer: Jesse Kamunyu
Kamunyu is a writer with an interest in socio-political issues
This article first appeared on the Late Bloomer Ke – https://latebloomer.co.ke
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