When Kenya attained independence in 1963, some of the most iconic independence leaders were youth below the age of 35. In 1963, Tom Mboya the Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs was 33 years old; Samuel Ayodo, the Minister for Local Government was also 33 years old; Mwai Kibaki KANU’s Executive Officer was 32. Nearly half of the other independence cabinet members were either in their late thirties or early forties.
Sixty years later, you will have to search long and hard to find a political leader of national stature who is below 35 years. The combined average age of the Kenya Kwanza and Azimio top coalition leaders is in the sixties bracket. Evidently the millennials (born after 1981) are nowhere to be seen at the top.
Beyond our borders, youthful leaders below the age of forty have led their countries in times of need. Thomas Sankara one of Africa’s most iconic leaders became President of Burkina Faso in 1983 at the age of 34. Madagascar’s President Andy Rajoelina became President for the first time in 2009 when he was 35. French President Emmanuel Macron became President in 2017 when he was 40. Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen assumed office in 2019 when she was 42 and Finland Prime Minister Sanna Marin was 34 when she assumed office in the same year.
Kenya may not have had a young President or Prime Minister but we have outstanding young leaders in other sectors of our society.
Joshua Oigara became KCB CEO in 2012 when he was only 37 years old. James Mworia was only 30 years when he was appointed CEO of Centum Investment Company, East Africa’s largest private capital firm, not forgetting our top athletes who exhibit great leadership and discipline to conquer the sports world at young age.
Many of the so called ‘Young Turks’ who played a pivotal role in midwifing Kenya’s multi-party democracy in the 90s were youth in their 30s. They include Mukhisa Kituyi and Kivutha Kibwana. Even the likes of Raila Odinga, James Orengo and Paul Muite were in their early forties during this period. Kalonzo Musyoka may not have been a multi-party firebrand at the time but he was elected to parliament in 1985 at the tender age of 32. The same goes for William Ruto and Musalia Mudavadi, who were elected to parliament at the ages of 31 and 29 respectively.
Most of these political leaders are still the dominant political players in Kenya. This begs the question – are they unwilling to mentor younger leaders or are the younger leaders unable to claim dominant political space?
I courteously remind the trendsetters of the words of William Powell who said that ‘Power must be taken; it is never given.’ With the new normal brought by Climate Change challenges leading to high cost of living, it is up to the youth to believe in their own leadership, nurture it and exercise it at different societal levels. They cannot just copy and paste the leadership style and substance of older generations. They must strategically claim their space and proceed to provide a breath of fresh air in the country’s leadership. And for instance, if they do not hold any leadership positions in political parties, something is already amiss!
To the older generation. Ultimately, you are only as successful as your successor. Generations to come shall consider it the most ingenious task once the current leadership swallow their self-importance and midwife dynamic roles of youth in leadership. Such an intentional act shall reunify the Nation, accommodate young leaders and whisk sustainable development for common good. Think green, act green.