Youth Apathy Sours African Election Fever

On August 9, Kenyan voters will cast their ballots in what many call a two-horse race between 77-year-old Raila Odinga and 55-year-old William Samoei Ruto, the current deputy president.

Kenya’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) has cleared two other candidates in the race to succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta.

However, the hotly contested general elections will likely witness reduced participation by young people. That’s according to IEBC Chairperson Wafula Chebukati.

“The number of youth 18 to 34 years old registered to vote in 2022 stands at 39.84%, which is a decline of 5.27% against what we had in 2017,” Chebukati told reporters in the capital Nairobi as he unveiled an audit of the voters’ register.

‘First to complain’

Kenya’s population is predominantly young. The youth form about 80% of the nation’s 56 million people. But many of them seem disinterested in the political and electoral process. But does that have to do with insufficient civic education?

“We cannot say it is a lack of civic education, but a lack of solid interest in things that matter,” Edwin Kegoli, a Kenyan political analyst, said.

“We don’t want to participate in electoral matters fully, but we are the ones who will be on social media platforms complaining about bad governance and the deplorable state of the economy,” Kegoli told DW.

“So, we are the first to complain and the least to participate in the national discourse.”

Marginalized majority

Kenya’s youth has often grumbled about being marginalized in terms of opportunities, with most of them forming the bulk of the unemployed.

At least 1 million young Kenyans enter the labor market each year, but the majority of them struggle to get jobs, according to Kenya Private Sector Alliance.

“The political space has been inducing apathy,” according to Wilkister Aduma, a youth leader running an NGO that supports young people seeking elective seats.

“This is why young people have found themselves on that side because what they’re looking at is where are the opportunities, so if they don’t see the opportunities, they don’t relate with that,” Aduma told DW in an interview.

The young political activist believes the current economic hardships have fueled voter apathy among the youth.

It appears that young people have also completely lost faith in the entire election process, which has been made worse by a lack of trust in the politicians.

“It’s very toxic and so acidic,” said Peter Mwyne, campus director at Daystar University. “

It’s toxic because it is not based on a mutual ground.It’s a symbiotic relationship where you give me this, I give you that. It’s a quid pro quo.” Mwyne added, complaining that politicians only come to the youth when it is convenient for them.

Nigeria’s youth fired up

The picture is entirely different in Nigeria. Africa’s most populous nation goes to the polls on February 25, 2023, to pick its next leader.

Unlike in Kenya, Nigerian youths seem eager to cast their ballots.

“Nigeria is in a mess, everything is upside down, the economy is getting worse by the day,” said Peace Joseph, a student in Lagos.

“As a youth, most people can’t afford a three square meal a day. So, I am going to come out on that fateful day and vote,” Joseph vowed.

She encouraged other youth to stop being ignorant by saying, “our votes do not count.”

Tolu Akinsulere, a young public relations officer, also said he was looking forward to choosing his presidential candidate.

“As a [Nigerian] citizen, I would vote because I feel it is my right,” Akinsulere said.

“I implore all youths, all Nigerians over 18, I implore all of them to come out and vote because if they do not vote, then it might even get worse,” he warned.

“If they [youth] are tired of the way the country is, if they are tired of the high rate of insecurity, banditry, terrorism, Naira devaluation, and all other factors affecting us, they should come outside and vote.”

Political observers say this might have to do with the 2020 #EndSARS protests triggered by a video of a man purportedly being killed by the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).

Inspiring the youth to get active in politics

Young Nigerians mobilized tens of thousands of fellow youths and protested against police violence in the streets under the hashtag #EndSARS.

The demonstrations shook the nation for two weeks and forced the government to disband SARS and establish judicial panels of inquiry to look into the numerous claims of police abuse.

According to Amnesty International, at least 12 people were killed after the army reportedly opened fire on demonstrators.

Since then, Nigerian youth have been actively engaging in the country’s political discourse, said DW correspondent in Lagos Sam Olukoya.

Political analyst Edwin Kegoli stressed that getting many young people to develop a culture and interest in national discourse is crucial.

“If we get more young people into employment and empower them so that they are participating in programs that will bring growth and development from an economic perspective, then we’ll find most of them beginning to develop that interest,” Kegoli said.

He called on all political stakeholders to bring serious discourse to young people and tell them the future belongs to them.

“If you fail to make a decision right now, maybe you are disinterested. You are only trading in your future,” Kegoli said.

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