“Bliss was it on that dawn to be alive/But to be young was very heaven”. Thus wrote the English poet William Wordsworth of his feelings at the time of the French Revolution that began in 1789 (although Wordsworth probably these words in 1804 or 1805). Ah, “to be young was very heaven”: but not in Kenya in 2013, it seems, if you are a friend of Raila Odinga.
10 MILLION KENYANS AGED 15 TO 29 YEARS OLD
An editorial in The Standard (‘Yes, the world revolves about youth’) back on 20 December highlighted the fact that a ‘major item in the last demographic and household survey [in Kenya] is the number and age of youth’, those aged between 15 and 29, about 10 million people who make up one-quarter of the population.
The “youth bulge”, suggested The Standard, has forced politicians ‘to go back to the drawing board’. ‘Politicians’, said the newspaper article, ‘are enamoured by this group because they are versatile, excitable, impressionable and, on the flip side, can be manipulated to manage some politicians’ vested agenda’. In short, Kenya’s youth vote is up for grabs.
Fair analysis, fair comment, nothing controversial there, Africa is young (demographically) continent, says the Kenya Forum. Others beg to differ, or at least are concerned.
THE ‘AGE MYTH’?
Writing in the Standard on Sunday (‘Age myth in politics has no basis to guarantee change, good leadership’, December 30 ), the Minister for Medical Services and ODM Secretary Anyang Nyong’o, declared; ‘A myth has been created that the March 4 General Election is going to be contested between two different social forces: The old represented in the CORD Alliance, and the young, represented in the Jubilee Alliance’. He concluded the paragraph with, ‘Nothing could be further from the truth’.
Anyang Nyong’o went on to write that, ‘I find the Jubilee assertion that the young can do better in Kenya’s political leadership today absolute balderdash’ and backed up his arguments and assertions by citing the fact that Hitler was younger than Mandela when he built the Third Reich, Moi was oppressing Kenyans when he was quite young and Mahatma Gandhi made history in old age.
You can see Nyong’o’s point: youth does not necessarily equate with being good.
‘DIVIDING KENYANS’ BY AGE?
But what’s this? Same day but this time in the Sunday Nation: ‘Stop dividing Kenyans on account of age’, was the headline over an article by Kwendo Opanga. The sub-headline was, ‘The Jubilee Alliance must rethink its emerging young-versus-old platform and the shrill rhetoric that conveys it’.
‘Today’, Kwendo Opanga wrote, whereas in the past tribal lines had been used to divide Kenyans, ‘age will be the jewel in the splinter-and-triumph crown if Mr Uhuru Kenyatta, Mr Danson Mungatana, Mr William Ruto and Mr Najib Balala don’t check their tongues’. Opanga went on to, in effect, accuse Kenyatta and friends of ‘deliberately defining, profiling and dividing Kenyans on account of their age’.
‘REASON BEYOND YOUTH’?
And yet more: same newspaper (Sunday Nation), same day, different column, same subject. ‘Fifth Columnist’ Philip Ochieng’s weekly article was entitled, ‘To get my vote, give me a reason beyond youth’.
‘What laces the word “youth” which bewitches you so?’ asked Philip Ochieng. ‘Why does every political yuppie hope to bag you vote simply by flaunting his chronological “youth”? he continued.
Who did Philip Ochieng specifically in his sights? None other than those political yuppies, Mr Kenyatta and Mr William Ruto.
‘Take what Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto told Kenyans the other day about “youth”, wrote Ochieng, ‘Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka… should retire with President Mwai Kibaki and leave the political arena to “the youth”’.
For Philip Ochieng the claim that “youth” is a measure of personal virtue – is subterfuge and pretence’. He concluded: ‘If you wish for my vote, you had better tell me a more interesting one than the cock-and-bull story about “youth”.
Barrack Muluka returned to the theme of age in an article in the Standard on Sunday on January 5 entitled, ‘Politicians should stop defaming age as they walk to the ballot’. He noted that the people of his home village, Emanyulia, respect and revere old age, ‘a mystery that very few are privileged to experience’.
Ruto, Mudavadi and Kenyatta, suggested Barrack Muluka in conclusion, ‘will want to look for something useful to tell us as we walk to the ballot, in place of defaming the institution of age’.
WHY ALL THE COLUMN INCHES ABOUT ‘AGE’?
All interesting stuff but, asks the Kenya Forum, why suddenly all these column inches devoted to the subject of age and how being a bit older is ‘a good thing’, or at least, should not count against, say, a candidate for high office? The truth of course, is that it’s not by chance.
Raila Odinga’s CORD alliance is pushing the, ‘Don’t forget the ICC’ as part of their campaign against Kenyatta and Ruto. The latter are running, as part of the subtext of their campaign, ‘Raila Odinga’s part of the old generation’ message, ‘he’s 68 we are young politicians in our early 50s’. It’s politics.
IS RAILA ODINGA’S AGE AN ISSUE?
Do the friends of Raila Odinga need to worry? Have the Kenyatta, Ruto and their friends got a point?
There is the point that ‘public servants’ in Kenya are now supposed to retire at age 60. Judges are supposed to put on their slippers at the age of 70. There is no age restriction on being President of Kenya however.
There is perhaps the valid point that should he win the election, Raila Odinga will be 73 years old at the time of the next election when he will want to run for a second term (forget the talk of Raila giving consideration to being a one-term president).
However, the Kenya Forum thinks that the vast majority of Kenyan voters do not regard Raila Odinga’s age as any sort of major issue in the campaign and to that extent the friends of Raila Odinga should stop worrying, whilst Kenyatta and Ruto should get on and address issues of concern to the electorate.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY RAILA – BUT BE CAREFUL!
Today is Raila Odinga’s birthday. He was born on January 7, 1945, during the latter days of the Second World War. He is 68 years old. Should we have mentioned that? Happy birthday Raila, anyway, and be careful when you light all those candles on the cake!