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Will US feel for young presidents spill over to Kenya?

Posted by African Press International on December 29, 2008

Quest for a young Kenyan



In Summary

  • Barring an Obama-type upset where a young, relatively unknown candidate will emerge from obscurity to win the presidency, one of these leaders will be Kenyas next President. Citizens aged below 35 years are at least 60 per cent of the population. They were largely locked out of the top brass in the recent party elections. Will the millions of young voters use their ballot power to tip the scales in 2012?

The possibility that Kenya will have a youthful President at the next election appears more uncertain with the line-up that has filed papers at the office of the Registrar of Political Parties.

Barring an Obama-type upset, where a leader will emerge from obscurity to capture the imagination of a majority of voters in a break from tradition, the shape of things to come will be directed by seven personalities, who are party leaders.

Most of the top leaders who have been unveiled by their political parties as potential presidential candidates in the next General Election have declared that the country was ready for a young president.

Inspired by the election of 47-year-old Barack Obama as the US President last month, the politicians, who are now chairpersons or deputy leaders of their parties, argue that it is time Kenyans embraced a generational change and voted into office a young person.

The leaders cite the high number of MPs below the age of 40 who won their seats in the last General Election as a sign of changing times. They suggested that voters could settle for a leader who is young, arguing that Mr Daniel arap Moi was 54 years when he took over power. But just how young is young?

Those who have so far staked a claim to the presidency are Prime Minister Raila Odinga, Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka, and Deputy Prime ministers Uhuru Kenyatta and Musalia Mudavadi. Others are Cabinet ministers Martha Karua, George Saitoti and William Ruto.

They are likely to run for high office themselves or marshall support for other candidates as the race shapes up and dependent on the character the new constitution assumes.

Igembe South MP Mithika Linturi introduced a motion seeking to set the presidential age limit at 65 years.

Backers of the motion, mainly youthful MPs supporting the formation of the grand opposition in Parliament, argue that old politicians are responsible for the ills facing the country.

Mr Odinga has repeatedly said that he favours a parliamentary system of government with a PM who holds executive powers.

He also favours devolution of power to the regions. On the other hand, some MPs allied to Mr Musyoka appear to favour a system where executive power remains with the President who is voted through a universal suffrage system.

Mr Odinga, who will be 67 years in 2012, last week retained his seat as the ODM party leader and is expected to vie for the presidency for the third time.

In the last elections, he put up a spirited campaign for State House on an ODM ticket, but saw his hopes fade with the disputed presidential election result. The Electoral Commission of Kenya declared Mr Kibaki the winner, sparking a wave of violence that was only brought to an end by the intervention of the international community through former UN secretary general Kofi Annan.

Mr Musyoka, Mr Mudavadi, Ms Karua and Mr Ruto said the youth were the majority voters and were not tied down by factors of tribalism, class and regions.

While describing young presidents as inspirational, Mr Musyoka argued that the ideas and policies of an individual candidate were the best determinants of a leader.

There are young presidents who are very inspirational worldwide just as there are old presidents who are very successful. What Kenyans require is a servant leader who will demystify State House by pursuing policies that connect directly with the ordinary person, he told the Sunday Nation on the phone.

The VP, who will be 59 in 2012, said he was proud of the historic achievements of Mr Obama, who is set to be sworn into office as the first black US President on January 20, 2009.

The ODM Kenya leader is expected to take a second stab at the highest political office in the land in the next polls. In the last elections, he was third after Mr Kibaki and Mr Odinga.

Mr Mudavadi, the Local Government minister, said the election of Mr Obama had inspired a lot of youthful politicians who were ready to join the fray and fight for the presidency.

The deputy PM said Kenya had in the past elected young leaders. He was referring to former President Moi who became Head of State at 54 years in 1978.

The election of Barack Obama has definitely given a lot of inspiration to youthful politicians and voters. I can see them (voters) going for a youthful person. They would want to have a president they can readily relate with, said the Sabatia MP, who will be 52 years in 2012.

Mr Mudavadi, who was Mr Odingas running mate in the 2007 elections, was recently elected ODM deputy party leader and is expected to go for the presidency in 2012.

There are lots of expectations along that line. If Obama performs well as president, this will definitely encourage youthful leadership. This is an issue that we must not lose sight of, he said.

Prof Saitoti, who will be 67 years in 2012, thinks the youth cannot be ignored because they are expected to play a huge role in the next elections. PNU, he added, will offer them an opportunity to play their role.

Ms Karua said youthful leaders were taking over power the world over and argued that Kenyan voters had shown they were ready to influence generational change in political leadership.

Kenya is changing with the rest of the world and now it is the young generation that is calling the shots. The next president is expected to be a youthful person. I expect Kenyas next president to be much younger, she said.

The Narc Kenya chairperson, who has declared her interest in the presidency and will be 55 in 2012, said that even 24-year-olds were now being elected as MPs.

I entered Parliament at the age of 35 years when it was dominated by octogenarians but, today, we have MPs who are as young as 24 years, she said.

Mr Ruto, the Agriculture minister, said Kenya was ripe for a young president because a majority of the population was below 45 years and it was such a leader who could identify with their needs. He said that the last General Election was a preamble to what will happen in the 2012 elections.

In 2012, the youth will not only come out to vote, but to vote for one of their own, the minister said.

The election of Obama, he said, had shown that it was possible to break away with the traditional prejudices of ethnicity, religion and colour.

The Eldoret North MP, who will be 46 years in 2012 and was last week elected the ODM deputy party leader, said the influence of money on politics was fast losing relevance.

The last elections are a clear example that you can bribe voters but they will vote for whoever they have decided, to vote for, he said.

Also expected to run are Mr Kenyatta, the Kanu chairman, who will be 51 years in 2012. Former Kenya National Commission on Human Rights chairman Maina Kiai also believes Kenya was ready for a young president, citing Mr Obamas election as US president.


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