The constitution is the supreme law of the country ranked high and above all other present and provided laws. It is undeniably most fundamental, essential and significant to those who are hereby subjected to it. It creates the people, an institution of governance which is the civic society and the common power. A society is known to comprise of different age groups; among them the youth, nevertheless, this Youth are undoubtedly the key foundation of a society.
Their energy, character and superb orientation define the pace of development, sustainability and therefore, the security of a nation. A debatable question however lies in most of this innovative young minds today, does this body of laws indeed give meaning to their existence? Well, it is to my honest opinion that this new constitution dispensation of Kenya is truly of great essence to the youth today. First, it clearly recognizes the youth. Evident herein, Article 260 which defines the youth; “Youth” means collectivity of all individuals in the republic who; a. have attained the age of eighteen years; but b. have not attained the age of thirty five years This takes into account the physical, psychological, cultural, social, biological and political definitions of the term. In essence, it is a constitutive and creative aspect of the existence of the youth.
In certain scenarios today, it has caught the attention of many, that when organizations both of government ministries and the youth hold certain programmes on youth policies, lack of a national definition of youth and effective co-ordination mechanisms hamper their expected effectiveness. Comparatively, not all constitutions incorporate the youth as directly as the Kenyan constitution. True, it can be hard to distinguish the basic determination of a youth and consequently, difficult to safeguard and implement the provisions of the constitution; therefore the definition of the word youth is a sufficient constitutional safeguard for implementation of the required legislation concerning the youth and in the long run, their recognition therein creates a sense of patriotism and of being to the society. This is then a durable and viable basis of a significant meaning of the constitution for the youth. The constitution begins with a preamble, commonly; ‘We the people of Kenya…’ This is to say, in line with creation, the Kenyan constitution recognizes the youth, however indirectly, in all aspects of the constitution. The key word there is ‘people’.
The phrase ‘we the people’ is an all-inclusive entity comprising of all those it binds, the youth not an exception. It can therefore be deduced that the youth form part of those, from whom power is drawn. ‘All sovereign power belongs to the people and shall be exercised only in accordance with this constitution.’ Article 1 depicts therefore, that the legitimacy of the constitution does not stem merely on its popular institutions or persons, but rests in the ability to integrate a multitude of individuals as a people, the youth being part and parcel. This indeed shows that the constitution has harnessed a little dose of incentive encouragement as well as providing a common basis that is equal and non-discriminatory. There are specific applications of rights not generalized in the provisions given under the Bill of rights. As a result however, the constitution of Kenya provides for these applications thoroughly. For instance, Article 55 states as follows; another significant meaning of the “The state shall take measures including affirmative action programmes, to ensure that the youth- (a) Access relevant education and training; (b) Have opportunities to associate, be represented and participate in political, social, economic and other spheres of life; (c) Access employment; and (d) Are protected from harmful cultural practices and exploitation” A close assessment on these provisions is an obvious indication of how this constitution seeks to protect the youth from being neglected, help develop them in a more nationalistic outlook and hence ensure clearly categorized application and implementation of rights in a safeguarded manner. To highlight but a few details of each of the above provisions and their subsequent importance, we analyze; sub- article (a). Here, the constitution provides for access to relevant education and training.
In Kenya today, the well known 8-4-4 education system and tertiary training institutions continue to churn out graduates, who are, in their opinion, neither properly equipped for entry into the labour market nor have the necessary life skills. Majority however, have failed to join these institutions due to unaffordable expenses and to others, inability to attain the properly prescribed qualifications. Nevertheless, keeping in mind the fact that these facilities are not adequately provided for, excessive admission of the youth would likewise outdo or compromise the quality of training and education offered as congestion would not make that environment conducive for learning. Unfortunately, several consequences of this technicality have been noted as a big problem today. Social immorality has risen as the youth have engaged in illegal and unaccepted social behaviors such as that witnessed in the avoidable 2007 post-elections violence. Youth were the tools of distraction allegedly hired by political personalities to perpetrate their ill deeds for them. It is highly likely however, that most were acts of frustration as a result of being without any worthwhile jobs. This provision therefore is after eradication of illiteracy and poverty as well as mobilization of the youth abilities by providing them with a direction. It would, with no doubt, be a great national wastage if these energetic hands and brains are not provided with some sort of chance to meet the nation’s needs. As provided for in Sub-article (b) however, despite the numerical superiority, the youth too need representation in political and economic spheres due to societal attitudes, socio-cultural and economic barriers, and lack of proper organization.
Representation of the youth in decision making bodies fosters support as well as positive and effective initiatives and programmes set up by associations and non-profits groups, all with the intention to help the youth fulfill their long-term expectations. A well known fact is that majority of the voters in Kenya are the youth. However, over the years, they have been manipulated by the resourceful and wealthy leaders not to run for or even participate in available representative positions. The mere capacity of having such an opportunity is quite significant to the youth. This is because, for a considerable length of time, they have been subjected to already made decisions. A representative post to say the least is therefore an open ground for consultation, negotiation and deliberation on their part. Hence, provision of participation goes hand in hand with democratic enhancement and decentralization. Ultimately, the voice of the youth is hence considered in determining issues that is of concern or has an impact on them. Employment is indeed a weapon for swift socio- economic regeneration and a necessity for the betterment and fulfillment of a society. To the youth, it is a chance to repose faith in their capacity and capability, to the nation however, a substantial reduction to the turmoil of persistent violence, unrest and repeated demonstrations. Sub-article(c) thereby sets this provision in motion. In Kenya, it is widely observed that after undergoing a full educational cycle and subsequent completion, there is still a major problem of unemployment that discourages many from pursuing their fields of interests.
The economic growth rate unfortunately, has not been sufficient to create enough employment opportunities to absorb the increasing labour force. Most of those left out are the youth; with an inevitable burden of unemployment on their back. Moreover, those fortunate enough to per take in the labour market, have jobs that do not match their qualifications and specialization. The government has however done little in addressing this issue which is in fact a subsequent failure in eradicating poverty. Hopefully though, employment being a specific right to the youth stipulated in the constitution, the unnerving problem of unemployment among the youth shall be readily addressed. Sub-article (d) is a supplementary of the right to protection. Cultural diversity has since subjected the youth from diverse communities to illegal practices such as female circumcision among others. Such practices have denied the youth various chances in proceeding with various levels of training and education by being married off at early ages. Sexual exploitation and abuse is rampant in certain uncivilized communities in Kenya, not to mention other cultural practices such as wife inheritance which has been on the spotlight for the spread of HIV and AIDS. With such a constitutional protection, it is therefore proper to anticipate for major reforms on this sector which will be indeed a sufficient and meaningful purpose of the constitution for youth. For this reason, it should by all means be encouraged, safeguarded and embraced wholeheartedly. The contributions of the youth to a worthwhile system of governance can be attributed to the constitution. This is evident in reference to the new constitution dispensation of Kenya having settled for a decentralized system of governance.
In this context therefore, Kenya has two levels of government, the national level and the county level. On close examination of these provisions, it is with no doubt that the constitution has largely recognized the youth in the organization and power management functions of our country. To begin with, is the national assembly of parliament, one of the houses responsible for the task of legislation. Here, its composition has a reservation for the youth clearly articulated under article 97 as; “The national assembly shall consist of- (c)twelve members nominated by parliamentary political parties according to their proportion of members of the national assembly in accordance with article 90,to represent special interests including the youth, persons with disabilities and workers ” This indeed is another meaningful strategy of enhancing representation of the youth at this particular level of governance in the functions assigned by the constitution for the national level commonly including; education, health, security among others. Decisions pertaining the youth therefore, should not be made without their consent, a right thereby fulfilled through the above representation. The county assembly too, has a reservation for the youth provided for in Article 98 of the constitution. Its obligations and representation are given clearly under one of the constituents of parliament, the House of Senate. “The senate consists of- (c) Two members being one man and one woman representing the youth” The youth representation in the senate is likewise a major provision for the youth. This opportunity too has the chance to promote and protect the interests and rights of the youth and provide ample local solutions to various problems. Representation at governance levels is, as earlier mentioned, an adequate protection from social, economic and political manipulation. The above feature of representation has other already reserved capacities for youth, Article 100; “Parliament shall enact legislation to promote the representation in parliament of- (c) Youth” This provision, however as much as it does not clearly define the type of legislation to be enacted, it is possible that whatever legislation therein, shall promote the representation of the youth. A constitutional constraint on financial management, transparency and accountability to ensure that funds are properly appropriated to the relevant sectors is indeed another significant purpose of the constitution to the youth. Measures of proper management and allocation of funds have been undertaken and implicated in this constitution, reason being, majority of the youth programmes, run by both the Government and non-governmental agencies lack adequate funds and equipment, hence limiting their success. Recently observed, the kazi kwa vijana initiative failed due to financial misappropriation and corruption. To add to that, The whole of chapter six of the constitution has articulated qualifications and implications on those holding public offices such as cabinet ministries like the ministry of youth affairs. With restraints and constraints of leadership and integrity in Article 73 to Article 80, it is quite a proper demonstration of a more transparent budgetary allocation and expenditure of funds.
However one may ask how constitutional provisions maybe safeguarded from misinterpretation or infringement. In the occasion of an infringement of a constitutionally provided right, justice may be sought through application to the High court under an independent judiciary created and empowered by the constitution. Article165 3(b) provides; Subject to clause 5, the High court (b)Jurisdiction to determine whether a right or fundamental freedom in the bill of rights has been denied, violated, infringed or threatened. This is a guaranteed position that the rights of the youth articulated in the constitution will and indeed must be enforced limitlessly. Having assessed the constitutional meaning to the youth of Kenya, it is explicit and distinct that this new constitution of our country, has largely addressed the aspects of the youth in nearly all dimensions and spheres as well as in governance. This multi-dimensional approach towards establishing its essence to the youth which includes their detailed recognition as part of the group from whom power is drawn and Specific applications to their benefits as discussed under Article 55, sub-article a, b and c of the constitution, vividly highlights the desire to harness the enthusiasm for our country’s development .Likewise, the youth’s participation in decision making, as stipulated in article 97 and 98, not only puts this Young and innovative minds to work ,but also prevents exploitation of the same. Financial accountability and transparency as well as the subsequent safeguarding from misinterpretation of the above mentioned rights, to add to that, then affirms that the constitution is an important guide never to be abandoned by people, and the youth alike. Therefore, to answer my earlier on posed question, yes the constitution does, beyond reasonable doubt, foster its undisputed meaning to the youth. Do they however use it to better their lives and those of fellow Kenyans? The new constitution dispensation today represents an important milestone, not only to young women and men but also to our country as a whole. It is, needless to say, a true cause for great celebration and ample dedication. Celebration, because for the first time, since time immemorial, the aspirations, needs and conditions of men of all ages and gender, have been formally and respectively recognized and articulated through this very constitution. Dedication however, is all in respect to the strategies and initiatives vividly outlined in the provisions of the constitution which are to be implemented, promoted and fostered all to the benefit of the entire society. In retrospect however, it is unfortunate that no recognition was given to the needs and concerns of youth, eventually, they have not only been left out but have had to deal with the issue of rampant identity crises. With the constitution in place henceforth, we can hence contemplate major reforms for the youth in our country as well as opportunities and subsequently, worthwhile representation. “The youth are the torch bearers of our nation”. Countries who fail to realize this, on the contrary, fail to adopt this importance. Most definitely, young people’s contribution to the development of the country helps them realize their full potential and importance in various aspects. This is to say, it is less likely that the rise in social evils such as theft, crime, prostitution among others, will be heard off. Going back to the avoidable violence witnessed in the 2007 post-election time, the youth largely participated in the unfathomable killings and associated evils that resulted to the country’s economic and society degradation. This brings forth the concept of generating of educational and training institutions which, not only equip these young vibrant minds with the necessary knowledge to help engage in positive societal strategies but also in the graceful building of the nation. In the long run, the beneficiaries are this very youth, our country Kenya, and we as its people. Statistically speaking, the youth contribute about sixty percent of the total labour force in our country. Many of them have not been absorbed in the job market owing to the country’s high unemployment level among other reasons. If brain drain was to be curbed, by the government reducing such chances, incorporation of all this labour force therefore, can be put to good use our country development. This effort once per taken, shall in no doubt save a lot in substitute to expensive and unnecessary machinery. Likewise, it could equally bring benefit the youth as an opportunity, to earn a living.
This move will reduce defiant behaviors which arise due to lack of an income, the ongoing sheer frustration and will eventually sustain our people for long periods of time. Similarly the country shall save a lot in initiating labour work and other associated beneficial jobs. Denied involvement of the youth in most strategic plans, has been a great and unfortunate step by the leaders current and before. Existing structures and prevailing attitudes do not provide an enabling environment for youth participation in decision-making, planning and implementation processes. It is however probable that when the constitutional provisions in place are properly implemented and safeguarded, a positive impact on the youth and the society as a whole shall be occasioned. There are however other unprofitable steps taken, such as, the kazi kwa vijana initiative, which seeks to provide the youth with labour intensive jobs. Digging trenches among other job descriptions under this programmme, shows it is less likely to succeed because the youth of today have minimal interest in such like activities. If the youth can be given this money as zero-rated loan either for entrepreneurial purposes or as foundation for upcoming activities, agricultural, musical, among others, they would then largely benefit and participate with much more enthusiasm. With innovative ideas as such, the society and the country in general will be highly boosted both in societal and economic development. A global survey has unfortunately ranked Kenya top among countries with the highest rates of economic crimes. The devastating findings released by the Price water house coopers; indicated that giving and taking of bribe, persistent corruption, theft as well as anti-competitive behaviors was the most rampant forms of economic crimes. Such crimes are largely being carried out by the youth as shortcuts to obtaining money hence a livelihood.
This is a degradation and a frustration to the economic growth because as the economy expands, so does the subsequent crimes. This may as a result, discourage investors both foreign and local and even kill existing businesses opportunities. To support the ongoing growth, it is incumbent to focus on preventing such crimes which can be avoided with use of objective youth initiatives and programs provisions in which are articulated in the herein constitution. Drug abuse last but not least, is a vice mostly associated with the youth as well as rampant spread of HIV and AIDS.
These ills have been of an extra cost to the country and subsequently, a myriad to society. Objective strategies that shall see the eradication of this are highly welcome but can only be fostered through the youth and by the same. HIV/AIDS is prevalent among the youth and so are other associated diseases under sexually transmitted diseases. If the youth are made to engage in the National fight against this grievances, through education and motivational activities it is less likely that Kenya is going to experience the same costs of managing this problems and thereby reduce loss of lives due to drug associated problems or HIV/AIDS. Putting their heads together and advocating for fair treatment and participation, taking up posts in the highly reputable employment sector for better livelihoods, education on a wide scope on responsible and respectable behavior as well as fighting against corruption and those that shamelessly benefit from it, what better way can then affirm the youth’s commitment to improving their lives and in the long term the lives of those around them? In my opinion henceforth, only enhancing each of the above steps is left besides ample back up all in reference to our new constitution, other than that, our future looks promising and so do our youth.
(This essay is an award winning essay of UNDP-Amkeni Wakenya ‘youth and democracy innovation awards 2012′)