Kenya: We’ve made being youth a crime

By Boniface Mwangi

My heart goes out to the families who lost loved ones during the senseless DusitD2 terror attack. And to those still nursing wounds, I wish you a quick recovery.

Our nation is traumatised, and we need to have an honest conversation about why we are a frequent target of these attacks. Kenyan troops have been fighting in Somalia for eight years. Over 1,000 soldiers have died, many more maimed, but their sacrifice was in vain. No one, apart from their families, remembers them. It is a great honour to die for your country but pointless to die for no cause. Our presence in Somalia has no exit strategy. The soldiers are on an indefinite ghost-chasing mission.

The troops have been called out by the UN for colluding with al Shabaab to smuggle sugar and charcoal. The truth is, while the infantry is not involved in the smuggling, their bosses are. The generals, and their political benefactors are conducting business in Somalia. They acquire tenders to supply our troops with food, water, fuel and ammunition.

A Kenyan MP held a press conference a few years ago to say he had a list of terrorist funders. That a politician and his Northeastern cartel ran a contraband smuggling ring from Kismayo to Kenya. They also helped Somali warlords invest money in Kenya. Terrorists have hit Kenya many times and a number of the people who have carried out the attacks were either Kenyan or led by Kenyans.

Young, desperate Kenyans who feel they have no stake in the country have been radicalised. Unless you’re rich or famous, your life is of no value. Youth in Nairobi’s ghettos are hunted by police and put down like rabid dogs. We have outdated colonial laws that allow police to arrest you for ‘loitering’, not carrying an ID, being drunk and disorderly, dumping, etc. All these offences are used by police to extort and detain young people.

When young people take to the streets to protest injustices, they’re teargassed, beaten and sometimes shot dead. When they go to the streets to take pictures, they’re arrested and accused of shooting pornography. When parents fail to teach their children values and high school children are found in bars, police are called instead of the school counsellor.

We have criminalised being youth. Killer cops under the direction of the Director of Criminal Investigations and Inspector General are allowed to execute suspects. It is only economically disadvantaged suspects who are executed. Suspicion alone is enough to get you killed. Young men coming of age in the ghettos of Nairobi cannot wear bling because the police arrest and kill young people who wear bling or are ‘too smart’ Even the way you’re dressed can get you killed.

Our neighbourhoods have no playgrounds, no social centres, no public libraries, mainly because most of the grounds where they would have been located have been grabbed. Food prices are controlled by cartels. Public transport is run by cartels. Our water gets rationed, because cartels own water supply trucks.

In a country where majority of the people are dishonest and where young people think that corruption isn’t bad if you don’t get caught, it is very easy for someone to become radicalised. A terror outfit like al Shabaab offers comradeship and a misguided sense of belonging that Kenya sadly doesn’t offer many young people. Our associations revolve around tribe, drinking groups, betting and WhatsApp groups.

What can we do? Those with money can support grassroots and neighbourhood groups working to make their community better. Those with time, volunteer and work with young people and give them hope. Change will not come without risks, and we must take those risks to get a better Kenya.

We need to direct our anger to the political class and demand better. We must work together or perish as fools. If we don’t change our ways, our young men will keep joining gangs and terrorist groups. The political class will keep working with terrorists, and soon we will not have a country. We must all decide at a personal level what our contribution to nation building will be to forge a better Kenya for our children and all those who will come after us.

Source The Star