The post election violence witnessed in the past one month in Kenya, has some resemblance as well as differences, with other African conflicts. A significant common factor that is evident is the recently witnessed social unrest and the participation of the youths.
Only a small group of youths was needed to bring down a house and burn cars as witnessed in different Cities. The energetic youths took over activities in some towns, imposing roadblocks on major highways declaring their own temporally small territories, governed by their rules. The consequences of this self-governed youth territories were felt in Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda and Southern Sudan. All these countries use Kenya to transport their goods to and from the port of Mombasa. The number of deaths, rape cases and other atrocities inflected on society by these youth are immeasurable.
The idle, angry, hungry, frustrated, and in most of cases, poor youth in Kenya reminded us of their brothers and sisters who participated in other conflicts and genocides in Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia etcetera. So what is it that makes these otherwise peaceful youth who have hopes and dreams like any other human beings, suddenly turn into violent and destructive beings?
These young people, are not naturally predisposed to be violent, however, when a country continually neglects them and fails to offer them any alternative out of poverty and idleness, they resort to all sorts of nonsense. It gives them a sense of identity, a sense of purpose, and sense of belonging.
Their participation in group violence, make them feel ‘empowered’, they have someone to look up to, and the leaders of this gangs are respected and admired.
In Africa the majority of the population is composed of the youth between 16 and 25. Thus, the issue that continues to be ignored by some governments and social change agents is the kind of activities that engage youths’ minds so that their energy is utilised positively.
In his book, "How Europe Underdeveloped Africa", Walter Rodney explains that:
"Education is crucial in any type of society for the preservation of the lives of its members and the maintenance of the social structure and to bring about social change. The greater portion of that education is informal; being acquired by the young from the example and behaviour of elders in the society".
It is however unfortunate, for a society like Kenya where much of the youths is educated, to suffer such a threat.
The African society progressively has been polluted by an individualism approach to life rather than a community based approach. As a result, there is lack of role models to shape the young.
Furthermore, due to lack of this informal and formal education, the minds of the youths are left vulnerable to corruption. The machete happy youths would have understood that, it was wrong to kill their own parents, sisters or brothers. They are however mostly forced to react to the social injustices that affect the majority at a minimal provocation.
Several African governments are offering free primary and high school education; this is commendable and ought to be supported. However, the campaign for free education as a human right needs to be taken a step higher. Some youth who drop out of school remain disenchanted and frustrated. This is the group that forms the easily manipulated youths.
If governments and their partners are truly interested in human development, they need to cater for drop-outs. There is great need for African youths to be in an environment where their thinking can be empowered, appreciated, challenged to understand the international economic systems and how they affect them, discuss conflicts and why they occur as well as their resolutions. Encourage free thinking to put their creativity to task in terms of entrepreneurship. The importance of family and community, as educational institutions ought to be emphasized along formal education.
Inevitably, this will facilitate the most needed mental emancipation.
Higher education should be given its deserved priority in terms of shaping the youths.
It is in Universities where political ideologies will find roots and flourish. Universities gloom young scientists hence enriching human knowledge. Educated youth will be able to challenge unfair international trade laws that have kept this continent on its knees.
These youths should be part; of governments’ policy making, economists shaping their future and capable to use modern technologies to find treatments of diseases that continue to cripple generations. Historians will emerge in these Institutions and put into writing what they witness and this will ensure positive continuity for future generations, spending their energies behind a worthy cause.