The day started off pretty grey. The sort of weather that neither threatens 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’).
Context: Since 2013 – following the promulgation of the Constitution of Kenya, 2010 – Kenya has enjoyed (or suffered, depending on who you speak to) a dispersal (devolution) of governance systems and resources from the national to the county level. Meaning we now have 47 county governments, all functioning closer to their constituents and with the power and wherewithal to meet functions such as health, agriculture, commerce and infrastructure at a very specific county level and drive progress.
As for what a Devolution Conference is, to quote the concept note for the Fifth Annual Devolution Conference EXACTLY: The purpose of a Devolution Conference is to:
- To provide a forum for collaboration, cooperation and consultation in all matters related to devolution.
- To share experiences, challenges and lessons learnt in the last four (4) years and set clear targets for devolution for the next five (5) years.
- To celebrate the successes of devolution.
- To provide a platform for participants to identify opportunities for partnership.
The conference is organized by the Council of Governors and attended by a wide array of community stakeholders, from governance officials (including Presidents and Vice Presidents), to civil society organizations, to religious institutions, to academics, to development partners, private sector representatives, media and so on.
Basically, it’s a time for people from different counties to high five themselves for the strides they’ve made in the four short years since counties became a thing, and to mooch ideas for more opportunities off of each other ☺
Only problem is, these ‘community stakeholders’ aren’t exactly my age mates (I’m twenty-four). Therefore my ideas of growth and progress may not resemble theirs and thus may not be represented at this grand high-five-ation (story of advocacy, no?).
So someone (the National Youth Council and the Organization of African Youth) who shared my thoughts figured that it’s about time that the views, values and visions of young people are taken into account in tandem with those of older generations. Hence the debut of the Youth Pre-Devolution Conference, set to take place two days before THE Devolution Conference, in Kakamega County.
Back to MMUST, now.
YACT, through Kakamega-based youth-led organization Youth Alive! Kenya, had supported 100 youth advocates to be at the university 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 Youth Alive! Kenya, 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 the 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 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… ‘Declaration’. Much pomp and circumstance, duly noted *sheepish grin*. We felt the pomp and circumstance to be necessary, though, because, for four years, the participation of young folks in the planning of county affaires has been minimal, at best! To have county resources address the needs of ‘the youth’, the honest truth is that said ‘youth’ need to be at the table all the way from agenda/policy setting, to budgeting to implementation. That hasn’t been the case. The feeling right now is that we as young people almost need to consider ourselves a marginalised entity within society, organise ourselves accordingly, and drive our agenda onto the unsuspecting tables of our current decision makers, as eloquently and strategically as possible. Hence, declaration.
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 the Governor 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?