Youth Participation in Elections

A truly inclusive democratic society involves everyone in the political process, but in some areas of the country a segment of the population remains marginalised, namely the youth. This usually is as a result of institutional and policy constraints that have hindered youth involvement and left them sidelined from the democratic process. This trend is beginning to change however, as the recently concluded Kenyan elections have shown the crucial role that the youth can play in the system.

Kenya’s large youth population is seen by many as a potential strength of the country; but is also the most vulnerable segment of the population however, suffering from systemic poverty, lack of education and a high rate of disease. Young women are particularly vulnerable because they must also withstand greater acts of gender based violence and sexual assault.

Even though some fear that disenfranchised young people pose an imminent threat to national security and political stability, their involvement in the political process is still limited. Instead, many politicians have utilised the youth’s voting clout for their own political agendas, thereby exploiting the youth through the political process. It is this type of mentality that has at times resulted in violence.

While such violence is caused by a variety of factors that differ depending on the country or situation, it can be determined that youth involvement in election violence is often driven by dissatisfaction with government policies or with ongoing manipulation by politicians that seek to gain support by ethnic, religious, or tribal divides.

Although a particular youth group might pledge support to a candidate or political party with hopes of material gains or greater political influence, these promises are often not fulfilled. In reality, the youth are often used as pawns in the political game by veteran politicians. These occurrences have hindered the development of young political leaders and have resulted in a situation in which many young people fear that there is no way to peacefully assert themselves in the political system.

Understanding the important role that youth play in the political process is vital for the future stability and growth of the country. Using young people for mechanisms of change in their society through civil engagement has become an important topic surrounding recent elections; such as the 2013 and 2017 general elections. A number of grassroots youth advocacy campaigns have begun to take shape, as the youth have successfully begun to negotiate their way into political participation and economic equality.

Social media and communication technology have also played an important role in connecting the youth and empowering individuals to become involved in the political process. Social media lowers traditional socio-economic barriers to political involvement and provides youth activists with a platform to build capacity with one another and to mobilise political action.

In order for both the 2013 and 2017 general elections to have been a success, young Kenyans had to have understood and supported the political process. Youth involvement in both elections proved to evolve past tribal differences as young people emerged as active participants and had a greater influence in developing national policies.

Young Kenyans renounced violence and utilised programmes that allowed them to have a political voice and stake a claim in the election process. Kenyans must continue to stress this openness and forge bonds that supersede tribal and political differences in order to build a lasting national identity.