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Young Kenyans shy away from the election hype

#Young #Kenyans #shy #election #hype

As a well-known campaign jingle gets Kenyan audiences on their feet, Hellen Atieno joins her compatriots and swings to the catchy tune at a political rally in the seaside town of Kisumu.

Just don’t expect the 23-year-old to vote.

“I only came to the rally because there is money. I hope there will be something,” Atieno told AFP, referring to the widespread Kenyan practice of offering giveaways to potential voters.

The former fishmonger, who is currently unemployed, says she is so fed up with the country’s closed political class that she plans to stay home when Kenya votes in general and presidential elections on August 9.

The East African economic powerhouse is one of the youngest countries in the world – according to the government, three quarters of Kenyans are under 34 years old.

Many have no interest in participating in an electoral process that they widely dismiss as corrupt and pointless.

The number of registered young voters has fallen five percent since the 2017 poll, in contrast to the over-35s, whose numbers have increased, Kenya’s electoral commission said last month.

Over 22 million Kenyans are eligible to take part in this year’s polls, with young people making up less than 40 percent of that number, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) said.

– ‘A Dirty Game’ –

Politicians have responded with a giveaway bonanza, offering cash, umbrellas, shirts, hats and even packets of cornmeal – a staple – to anyone who attends their rallies.

Bribes – an election offense punishable by a fine of up to two million Kenyan shillings (US$17,000) and/or six years in prison – are not new to Kenyan politics.

But galloping food inflation – exacerbated by the war in Ukraine – and an unemployment crisis have increased appetites for such handouts.

According to census figures released in 2020, around five million young Kenyans were unemployed.

Brian Denzel has spent the last few weeks rallying after rally, eager to bag the money on offer, although the 19-year-old butcher has no plans to vote and sees politics as little more than ‘a dirty game’ .

“Who will refuse the free money they are being given?” he said while standing in line to collect 200 shillings ($1.70) from a local politician.

Kenya’s Interior Minister Fred Matiang’i even told reporters on Wednesday that banks are running out of 100 and 200 shilling notes “because politicians are bribing villagers”.

In the months leading up to the election, observers suggested that the youth factor could help heal Kenya’s often toxic tribal politics, as a younger electorate is less likely to vote by ethnicity.

But although young Kenyans are less tribal, they also lack “ideological steadfastness,” Kisumu-based political scientist Francis Owuor told AFP.

“That belief that usually comes with the political process isn’t there,” Owuor said.

“Everyone (is) to blame for this, both the people and the leaders, but again the leaders are the duty bearers, so they have to bear a lot of the blame.”

– Disillusioned –

Thirty years after the rise of multi-party democracy in Kenya, many are disillusioned with the constant battles over the credibility of polls and disputed election results.

This year’s presidential election is largely a duel between Vice President William Ruto, 55, and Raila Odinga, the 77-year-old veteran opposition leader now backed by the ruling party.

If both leaders accept the results, it will be a first for the country since 2002.

Amina Soud, manager of voter education at the IEBC, told AFP the election watchdog was “concerned” about the growing indifference of young people towards the political process.

“We mobilized a lot during registration using all these tools, and still voter apathy was too high,” Soud said, referring to the IEBC’s social media push to attract new voters.

But exhorting youth to vote via campaigns on TikTok or comics in sheng — a local slang popular with urban youth — offers little hope to a generation of Kenyans grappling with runaway inflation, corruption and unemployment .

“I don’t think I’m going to vote,” 27-year-old salon owner Irene Awino Owino told AFP.

“I’m not interested because the government puts itself first and not us.”

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#Young #Kenyans #shy #election #hype

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