For the longest we heard the phrase,’ The youth are leaders of tomorrow’ was replayed like a radio station jingle. In primary school it held a lot of promise. By high school we had gotten cynical and at college it was out rightly mocked. Tomorrow did arrive but all that remained was the same old and conservative political class. The face of Kenyan leadership has always been somewhat grandfatherly. A career in Kenyan politics began right after retirement from civil service in your mid fifties, matured in one’s 60s and with a little persistence and lots of luck, presidency would be deemed possible in your 70s. The Young Turks were men in their late 50s, many who had grandchildren.
Therefore to finally see a younger man sitting at the helm of the state is going to take some adjustment. President Uhuru Kenyatta is 51 and that is young comparatively. Kenya’s founding president Jomo Kenyatta was 71 when assumed office. Daniel Moi was 54 but he had being in the ranks for so long he had developed that conservative mzee’persona. The symbolic rungu he carried had old order written all over it. Mwai Kibaki was 71 and he looked very much his age. President Uhuru comes across as sharing the same youthful swag as world’s new crop of young leaders. Barrack Obama is 51, UK’s David Cameron is 46, Dmitry Medvedev the current Prime Minister of Russia is 47. In Africa, the youngest president so far is Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo who turns 42 in June, followed by Gambia’s AIDS curing Yahya Jammeh who is 47. Burundi’s Pierre Nkurunziza is 49. That makes President Uhuru Kenyatta the fourth youngest president in the continent.
Generally young leaders are always admired because they embody hope and represent radical change which is not necessarily a factor of age. Joseph Kabila has not revolutionised the DRC. Kim Jong-un of North Korea is 28 years old and his youthful trigger-happy antics are already a cause for concern. But having a youngish leader means that they can relate to majority concerns or so we hope. However, President Uhuru Kenyatta’s personal rise to prominence changes the ambition script and places a lot of performance pressure on youngsters busy goal setting. For all his enviable personal attributes, we cannot escape the fact that Uhuru Kenyatta is extremely wealthy and the closest thing we have to royal pedigree. Absolute wealth could absurdly become an imperative criterion for success and money, the reigning value standard for our young citizens. Suddenly merely owning two cars, a house in suburbs and a college fund for the tots will seem so mundane. To be taken seriously you may probably need to descend in a helicopter.
The high achiever standard in Kenya is way up there and it not enough to hold a prestigious office, you have to flash serious money to boot. It is the new leadership narrative in town. Call it the hustler generation if you will and the clarion call to leadership is wealth. Deputy President William Ruto, the self declared hustler is young and rich. Nairobi’s first senator Mike Mbuvi aka Sonko has risen to become the poster child of this new posse’ of the young, powerful and loaded. It does not seem as important to question what one has done to get rich. In the national psyche, if one does not have money, they cannot be of much use to the deprived masses. In the past, people expected leaders to accumulate wealth overtime but nowadays we are part of a generation that is more impressed by overnight sensations. Young people want it all and the means always justify the ends.
Therefore, Kenyan fourth president, his Excellency Uhuru Kenyatta has big role in managing this lopsided expectation. I sincerely hope he will find the wisdom needed to keep the country’s restless youth grounded. Time will tell.