Guest post by Soni
In a parallel universe, perhaps, Diaspora Kenyans would’ve registered to vote for this year’s General Elections.
On a related note, in a parallel universe, ICC suspects would not be running for positions of power and certain governor-hopefuls would be in prison, but that is not my focus today.
There’s no denying how important the youth vote is. Everybody’s clamouring for it. It’s the generation that matters. Just ask Rapho.
With all this talk going on about the youth vote and the Diaspora vote, separately, I feel the need to mention the youth vote in the Diaspora. This, as a result of bits and pieces of conversations with my peers abroad and of personal experience.
A little background on myself: I wasn’t old enough to vote in the new Constitution. I wasn’t nearly old enough to vote in 2007. I’m only just old enough now to vote this year.
I am, at the very least, a middle-class Kenyan. I grew up in Nairobi’s suburbs, between Kileleshwa and Kilimani. I went to good schools. Both my parents had and have pretty decent jobs and I mooch comfortably off them. I cannot say I’ve lacked anything I need at any point in my life. Except maybe an iPod, but hey.
Additionally, as is typical with most people with my history, my childhood was very sheltered, maybe even excessively so.The PEV barely touched me. I was in Nairobi and safely shut behind closed doors behind a closed gate in a very quiet neighbourhood for a few days. At worst, I started school about a week after I was meant to. I was miffed. I prayed. I waited. I watched TV. I was appropriately horrified. I moved on.
Fast-forward a year. Kenya was “recovering” and I was moving schools, right before falling into the cracks in the 8-4-4 system. I landed in one of the oh-so-glorious British-patterned educational system schools. I went through that I-want-to-live-abroad phase when I was a child. I outgrew it. College plans were being made at the age of fifteen or sixteen. Older siblings were in the UK or the US or Canada or Australia. My classmates were already pointing out their dream schools. All of a sudden, that which had been a fantasy looked like a very probable thing, and sooner than I thought. I had become one of them.
Most of us existed in a bubble. We barely followed the news, especially not Kenyan news. Life for most of us was, and still is, shopping malls and clubs, leisure holidays and the latest iPhone. The boys in my class could educate anyone on chinos and boat shoes. The girls were all about the drama.
Kenya was only a temporary situation for us, and even then, we are the “privileged few”. Yes, we shook our heads and tsked at the tragedy that was IDPs, and we did our obligatory community service hours, and tutted at our failing government, then we returned to our history classes where we learned about the French Revolution and the Cold War et al.
I’ve learned a lot in the past four years. A select few of us began to focus on life here rather than there. We read. We talked. We discussed potential solutions but having been so removed from the local sociopolitical scene for so long, most have been flighty and impractical, and interest wanes. Some of the people in the circles I moved in, made significant efforts, such as Sophie Umazi and her I Am Kenyan Project. We began to realise what matters.
September 2012 was college time for my immediate peers. A good number of them left, and landed where they had expected to. They began to love home, but only from outside. “I miss Kenya” and “Kenya my beautiful, wonderful country” have become regular features on my timelines. It’s nice. It’s patriotic. It’s too little, too late.
Talking to this guy in the UK the other day, I told him I was annoyed that Diaspora Kenyans were not going to be allowed to vote. He said the usual “Our government should be…” mini-rant then said he wasn’t going to vote anyway but he was rooting for Kenneth. I asked him why and he said something to the effect of he wasn’t bothered. This made me a bit angry but then he added:
“I don’t think many of our peers would, either. Why would they, given their mentality? They may be sympathetic to the plight of millions of Kenyans but they are (were) in no way responsible for it. We could not vote in 2007. Most of us have been “international students” for years—tribe is a non-factor. Most of us won’t be going back home for a long time—you know, first degree, second, etc. And honestly, if anybody reads the news over here, it’s very rarely related to Kenya. If the Kenya shilling decides to pull another fast one this year, who’s going to care over here.”
Sadly, he’s right—and it’s so wrong. We, arguably the best-educated (according to @VinnieO) citizens at the moment, have been conditioned into thinking we’re “global citizens” by a system that has minimalised almost all of Africa from the big blue-and-green ball. We, the privileged, sheltered citizens were largely unaffected by the violence, so much so that we can barely remember it. We, the heavily-invested-in, apathetic young citizens are supposed to be “tomorrow’s leaders”.
When my belated interest in Kenya was born, I would get angry at the classmates who said they would leave for school and never come back. As the levels of tension and fear increase today, I sort of see why anybody who has a chance to leave would leave. Unfortunately, they don’t. They want to stay away for all the, if I may, wrong reasons. On a somewhat related note, I know of several people in the country, Kenyan and foreign, who have plans to leave the country around March 4th for fear of not being so lucky as to be spared this time around.
Unfortunately, I will not be in Kenya in March 2013—I am still “one of them”. Still, I registered as a voter in the (naïve) hope that something would come out of this. I have been ridiculously excited to have a voice in this, albeit a tiny one. I am equally mortified that I might not be able to.
Except, perhaps I can. I’m not sure how many Kenyans abroad will read this. I’m even less sure how many young Kenyans abroad will. I just want to put it out there to the ones who do—talk to people. Talk to your friends still in Kenya, even the ones planning to leave. Talk to your relatives. Open that e-mail and do some serious convincing. Learn about your country because even if you may not think so, your future interests lie here. Know who Ferdinand Waititu and the MRC are. Talk about Kenya for what she is: a place of great beauty and potential, yes, but astounding corruption and alarming disenfranchisement. Make innovative use of the millions of shillings going into your education. You may not have felt the effects of the PEV and its aftermath but millions of Kenyans did, and they need as much help as you can give.
And pray. Pray, pray, pray. #PrayforKenya isn’t just another Twitter hashtag.