Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Awino Okech, "Africa’s liberation: Rethinking youth in the 21st Century," Pambazuka News, July 14, 2008.

I question whether we can fully rely on our young people (women and men alike) to re-invent the nature of politics, governance and leadership on this continent when they have bought into what our fore bearers have sanctioned as how politics and liberation needs to be conducted and won.

In the run up to the "Ending Impunity on Sexual and Gender Based Violence [SGBV]: A Pan Africa Conference" in Nairobi, which will begin on the 21st of July 2008 and end on the 23rd, Pambazuka News is featuring a number of excellent papers which will be presented there.

Awino Okech, a feminist researcher and activist living in Nairobi, edits the special issue and in this essay takes a critical look at the role of youth.

On the eve of the Pan African Conference on Sexual and Gender Based violence that ACORD and seven other like minded partners [1] deemed necessary in order to re-mobilize energies on ending impunity on SGBV, I would like to engage with the subject through a slightly different lens. The question of violence against women has been a constant pre-occupation of mine; professionally, academically and in the personal space. Perhaps my re-engagement with it was more vivid during the recent post election crisis in Kenya not because the experience unparalleled other contexts but because this was my home and as a woman this became a real fear for me in ways that it never had been before. I would like to concern myself with the young people; those popularly referred to as youth whose Africa’s future is said to rest with.

On the 25th of May 2008, a number of like minded organizations [2] came together in Nairobi to commemorate Africa liberation day. I was requested to contribute to the discussions through a speech on Africa’s liberation and youth. It serves to reason that on this day (and thereafter), a day that we are aptly reminded crystallized the youthful nature of our continent, given that most of our independence leaders were in their thirties, we should take time to problematise this category called youth and what hope or vision it holds for this continent.

I find ‘youth’ a particularly difficult subject to engage with, despite the fact that the UN officially considers me to fall within this category. This difficulty arises due to the transitional nature of the term youth and its very constituency. Further, the connotations of youth particularly in my context (Kenya) are unsavory to say the least. The term youth has for a very long time been used to refer to unruly groups of young men, mobilized by politicians to bully, steal and harass their opponents often in the run up to elections. These outfits then morph into vigilante groups, who in the absence of quick money and a job description linked to elections find alternative ways to exist and this comes in the form of thuggery.

This is an experience that is not unique to Kenya. Whilst conducting my graduate research in peri-urban Cape Town or what are popularly referred to as the Cape Flats, this is an assertion that often emerged. The emergence of American styled male gangs in this context, with territories, symbols and codes cannot be disconnected from historical, economic and social factors of South Africa. Gangs in Manenberg, the context I was working in were seen as extensions of vigilante groups that were established during the apartheid era to make the country ungovernable; a strategy to break the regime. Gangs, vigilante groups or whatever we want to describe them as, then become an expression of social cohesion in peripheral communities and are an integral aspect of both the cultural and economic reproduction of personhood (See Salo. 2005).

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