The day started off pretty grey. The sort of weather that neither threatens you nor comforts you. Not a very auspicious omen, as far as I was concerned.
It would have settled a few tummy knots to have someone look me dead in the eye saying “It’ll go fine! You’ll see!” None of that, though. Just my quiet apartment, some crisp Kakamega morning air, and my own reflection in the mirror, all Devolution Conference-y in my high bun and glasses.
So I left.
It’s a small town. A few quick minutes and I was at MMUST (takes too much breath to say ‘Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology’).
YACT, through Kakamega-based youth-led organization Youth Alive! Kenya, had supported 100 youth advocates to be there and participate in Day Two of the first ever Youth Pre-Devolution Conference. This was the first year that a separate event was organized for young people to identify issues of importance for them within the Devolution Conference theme areas. The conference agenda mimicked that of Jubliee’s second term; Agriculture, Trade and Manufacturing, Energy and Infrastructure and Health. Naturally, we as YACT didn’t waste any time diving in to lend a voice (along with Organisation of African Youth, Ipas and other health and youth organizations) to the need for improved Sexual and Reproductive Health outcomes for young people (case in point, maybe some functional Youth Friendly Facilities?).
Having met the previous day to discuss and agree on various needs and recommendations in each theme area, young folk from the Western region of Kenya showed up in droves to symbolically present what was dubbed as the ‘Kakamega Declaration’ to the Guest of Honour, H.E. Hon. Wycliffe Ambetsa Oparanya, Governor of Kakamega. We were probably close to 600 heads in that hall!
So that happened. The presenting and all. But then the policy makers present were given the chance to speak to us. And boy did they speak.
First up was H.E. Caroline Wangamati, First Lady of Bungoma. She was all positivity and opportunity and “Seize the day! It is your time!” She was of the opinion that “You can see a ripe mango on the tree, but if you don’t pick it and eat it, you’ll never know the sweetness of it” and “That mango is Devolution.”
Then came H.E. Hon. Mutahi Kahiga, Governor of Nyeri County. He took more of a practical angle, saying that “it behoves the youth to engage the government so that (the government) may be able to assist (the youth)”. Which, of course, left to question why certain things, such as health services, should require engagement before provision. But anyway! He also spoke about Nyeri County’s initiative to set up a development fund for young people. His closing quote (I suppose that was a thing that day) was “If a man can write a better story than his neighbour, if he can preach a better sermon than the pastor, if he can make a better mouse trap… Even if (he were) to build a house in the forest, the world will come to his doorstep”. Take away point: We’re doing our part, so you guys do yours. Then the icing on the cake was… Yup. The star guest himself, the Governor of the host county.
His message was slightly different. He started off along the same lines. Organize yourselves and seize opportunities that are available. Engage your leaders and so on. Then it took a bit of a turn. He said that he had had bad experiences engaging young people. As young people we had let him down: county internships abused by tardy or absent interns; county stipends spent erratically; county IGA funds shared out and IGAs disbanded. There was even an uncomfortable moment when he spoke about a youth leader whom he had endorsed (and to whom I had been introduced at the start of the project… awkward). Let’s just say, regarding this individual, that he had nothing nice to say, and this was in front of… oh, I don’t know… HUNDREDS of people #shrug.
He then went on to remind us that we “have (our) fellow youth in the rural setting, and they are in the thousands. We need to take their needs into consideration (and) remember that there are other youth who do not have the opportunity to be where (we) are.” It all left a weird taste in my mouth. In one fell swoop I had been motivated, admonished, inspired, shamed, encouraged and warned. What the heck was the take away point there? And, more importantly, how are we going to get this Governor, who seems to have all but given up on the ‘youth’ cause, to hear and act for us again?