I watched the outcome of the just-concluded Nigeria election in disbelief, my heart breaking for the millions of Nigerians whose hope for a fresh start have been dashed against the jagged edge of the status quo. That popular Labour Party candidate Peter Obi lost to the establishment must have felt like a slap to the face for Nigerian youth who came out to vote in their millions and dared to hope that maybe, finally, Nigeria was turning a corner. That they could get a president they believed in, and trusted to deliver much-needed reform.
All that organising, all that hope, all for nothing?
The story of Nigeria is the story of Kenya is the story of Africa. We’re all in it together.
It is so hard to be a young African today. It is especially frustrating to be a young African led by an old and out-of-touch political class which cannot relate to the reality of our lives today. When young Kenyans were accused of voter apathy in last year’s elections, nobody listened when we said that our boycott of the vote was as a result of the candidates presented to us. Nothing new to see, just the old guard, in shiny new uniforms, expecting us to believe they understand us and have our best interests at heart.
What do we have in common with people who were paid by the government to go to university, had jobs waiting for them before they even graduated, and whose salaries could afford them decent lives and comfortably buy them land and houses and cars?
What do we have in common with people whose formula for success was so simple? For them life was predictable. If you worked hard in school, you’d get a job right out of university, get married, have children and purchase a three bedroomed house outright to raise them in. Public schools delivered quality education, and hospitals could be relied on to have medicines and doctors. If you kept your head down and minded your business, you could expect to live well, retire at 60 and die with dignity.
We’re the generation of gig workers, working jobs that offer us no security, living with the constant fear that the carpet is about to be pulled from beneath our feet. These jobs are precarious and hard won, secured through sheer luck (and our mothers’ prayers), with employers that have us believing that health insurance is a perk you only earn after working diligently for one year – without falling sick, preferably. As for pensions? Lol. For us, none of the “golden handshakes” that defined our parents’ retirements. We hope that there will be something left to find at NSSF after they are done looting it.
We’re hanging on for dear life, trying to survive in a world that barely offers us anything. No wonder we don’t feel like adults, we have none of the things that have traditionally defined adulthood.
So when media runs headlines telling us Kenya is not headed in the right direction, it doesn’t sound like news, it is just a confirmation of what we already know to be true. The cost of food is through the roof, as is the cost of transport, and have you seen how much they are charging for electricity these days? As it always happens when rains fail, people are dying of hunger, and girls are being sold into marriage to secure food for their families.
Patients lie dying in hospital corridors as counties refuse to hire doctors, our schools are determined to crush the little spirit that’s left in this country’s children, and those who are lucky enough to make it through and graduate are holding placards on the side of the road begging for non-existent jobs. Not much works.
Yet, in the midst of all this chaos, politicians and clergy have decided that the country’s problem is “gayism”, because they cannot fathom that a Kenyan institution would see it fit to grant queer people much-needed protections in law, even if those protections are only the bare minimum that allow them the freedom to associate.
I wonder if the resulting public support for this harmful rhetoric against the LGBTQIA+ community in Kenya isn’t because of the systemic failures that we’re living through that have made us feel so small, that the only way we can feel big is by bullying minorities. We have been stepped on, so let’s find someone weaker to step on.
We are living through strange and difficult times. I don’t know how we’ll survive it. We watch young Nigerians mourn and we feel a kinship that only shared suffering can create. Africa is a sad, dysfunctional country.
But we’re still here, still alive, still organising, still trying.
Aluta Continua, comrades!