Capital FM (Nairobi)

Kenya: The Youth Form Crucial Voting Bloc

If the Kenyan youth were a maiden, she'd have numerous suitors courting her for the promise of tomorrow now that another General Election is upon us.

The importance of the youth vote in deciding who wins the 2013 presidential ticket can be seen in how political parties have gone out of their way to accommodate them.

"If you look at the leadership of TNA for example, Johnson Sakaja who is the chairman is barely 30-years-old. Onyango Oloo, the Secretary General, is also fairly young... so there was an attempt to induct young people," says the Country Director of the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA) Felix Owuor.

"ODM is trying to model its youth congress after the ANC, UDF the same; URP is also trying to do just that," he adds.

Only a day ago, The National Alliance (TNA) presidential candidate Uhuru Kenyatta asked Kenyans to vote him in en-masse come March 4 and ensure there is no run-off as he plans to invest the money set aside for the exercise in the youth.

"About Sh6 billion has been set aside in the event there is a run-off. We'd like for you to vote us in en-masse so we can use the money to help the youth start businesses."

Ten days ago, the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) deputy presidential candidate, Kalonzo Musyoka, made the same promise at a rally in Bomet county.

"We will train unemployed Kenyan youth on entrepreneurship and award them grants for their start-ups."

Peter Kenneth who is vying for the presidency on a Kenya National Congress ticket selected 33-year-old Ronnie Osumba as his running mate in January.

At the unveiling Kenneth said Osumba was an obvious choice given the youth are the majority in this country, "We must be able to pass the gauntlet to the young generation."

The African Youth Charter defines the youth as being between the ages of 15 and 34 and so going by this definition they make up 80 percent of Kenya's population according to the 2009 census.

Their numerical advantage has made the youth a much sought after group throughout Kenya's political history. "Look at the history of our multi-party politics. Ad hoc committees calling themselves Youth Wings were formed. Youth Wing emerged from the then KANU regime but was retained as part of the political party practices," Owuor explains.

In its 2002 campaigns the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) promised to create 500,000 jobs within its first 100 days in office. According to a report compiled by the African Development Bank and released in August 2012, seventy percent of unemployed Kenyans are below 35 years of age.

This time round however, Owuor says, the race for the youth vote goes beyond their numbers as the country enters a new political chapter following the adoption of a new constitution.

"These are people who are not bound by the traditions of the past. These are people not tainted by tribalism and so in an ethnicised political environment such as ours, the ability to get these people actually can sway the votes one way or the other."

The Secretary of the Kenya Psychiatric Association, Lukoye Atwoli, characterises the undecided voter to be between the ages of 15 and 35 living in an urban or peri-urban setting. A characterisation Owuor agrees with.

"The young people and the middle class are essentially the majority of the undecided voters. The recent presidential debate actually targeted this category of voters."

If the social media activity associated with the presidential debates is anything to go by, the organisers reached their target audience. During the first presidential debate held on the evening of February 11, the official Twitter hashtag #KEDebate13 was trending worldwide as did #254Debate.

This however, Owuor says, is no guarantee that this demographic will actually go out and cast their ballots hence the rallying call across the political divide for the youth to decide the presidential race in the first round.

"Jimnah Mbaru won by and large on social media. Everybody agreed that he has the right character, the right qualification and experience to be the Governor of Nairobi. Unfortunately, those who turned out to vote were young people who don't carry out their politics on social media; overwhelmingly voting for Ferdinand Waititu."

"That is the problem, the ability to conduct massive mobilisation to get them to actually come out and vote."

The constitution requires a presidential candidate to garner 50 percent plus one the national vote for a run-off to be averted and at least 25 percent of the votes cast in each or more than half of Kenya's 47 counties.

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