It has been a journey of a year now. From the coastal counties of Kenya, Mombasa and Kilifi to the shores of Lake Victoria. From the Central Highlands to Kenya’s tea zone to the tropical regions to the Great Rift Valley; Shujaaz has embarked on a journey of providing a safe platform for young excluded Kenyans to engage with their local leaders.
In our report ‘Young People, Democracy & Governance in Kenya’ we realized that in order to reboot youth perceptions of government, we needed to create an accessible mechanism for excluded youth(the disgruntled & disengaged – click here to read more about these youth segments), to engage with government officials. Our solution was ‘Policy Handshakes’ (or ‘Mic Yetu’ – our microphone – to our audience), a platform that allows leaders and youth to listen, challenge, understand and ultimately to learn from each other. We use fun icebreakers, role-play and lively discussions to help these disparate groups to shift their negative perceptions of each other, to break down stereotypes and to co-create solutions.
The youth themselves identify the issues that will be discussed at the events by ‘pitching’ for them ahead of the event on the Shujaaz social media pages. So far, we have covered a wide range of topics from unemployment, health, infrastructure, radicalization, security, education, peace, agriculture and many more.
From one location to another, young people arrived frustrated, confrontational and armed with questions to the leaders. And many times we disarmed them, reminding them that they too could provide solutions. From one location to another, leaders came prepared to lecture to the youth and speak down to them, but were surprised when the youth presented them with a reality they were unaware of and offered thoughtful and practical solutions.
The sessions which took place in churches, school halls, hotels and gardens, all presenting us with challenges and opportunities unforeseen. Many times, we were let down by leaders who would cancel their attendance minutes to the start of the session. Many times we had to allay young people’s fear and encourage them to talk like equals to the leaders.
When all was set and the discussions were rolling we discovered just how willing young Kenyans are to be engaged on governance issues. They spoke and stated their position on various matters. Quite amazing to note was how willing leaders were to listen to the young people, sometimes for the very first time. The impact of these ‘Policy Handshakes’ can be seen in the conversations that have continued on the whatsapp groups that we create after the events.
One of the things I’m most excited by with ‘Mic Yetu’ is how we bring the magic of the events to millions of other youth through the Shujaaz media. We interview the youth and leaders before, during and after the events and package the most interesting and compelling moments for the comic, radio and social media so that others can also reassess how they think about government.
“I will start visiting government offices to get information on government opportunities. I will also mobilize fellow young people to have sessions like this one”, a young person in Kericho wrote. “We now understand our youth better and continue bringing such programs to Bungoma”, a leader remarked.
However it is also very evident from the events that the two parties live in very different worlds and that the enthusiasm and energy that the events create can quickly dissipate. One youth attendee was desperately disappointed when he followed up on an invitation from a local leader to visit him in his office to discuss an opportunity, only to be turned away because the ‘opportunity’ no longer existed.
As Shujaaz, we are looking to build more relationships with other organizations who are helping provide opportunities for youth who are motivated to engage with local government. We have seen the magic transformation that can take place in our events where disgruntled youth emerge inspired and hopeful. But without opportunities for further engagement, this motivation will quickly evaporate and there’s a danger it will never return. But we are hopeful. After the elections next month we will continue to bring more excluded youth together with their newly elected leaders to hold them accountable and to participate in shaping their country.
By Opondo Okoth: Events & Special Projects Associate
To hear more about the work we’re doing in the Shujaaz media to reshape the youth discourse on governance, listen to our PODCAST here