For many decades, young people in Kenya have remained at the periphery of decision-making processes and excluded from participation in democratic processes. The Oslo Center’s programme established three Youth Assemblies with structures in all the villages and wards in three counties. These Assemblies have provided a platform for young people to constructively engage with policy makers in order to integrate perspectives and priorities. This empowers young people to take a role as civic watchdogs, by monitoring and tracking governmental implementation of development projects and demand better service delivery.
The programme has enhanced young people’s capacity to influence policy and the legislative agenda in their communities. Its success is built on the convergence between capacity of the youth developed, structured and consistent support combined with buy-in and political goodwill. The factors include, but are not limited to:
A legal framework that fixes youth inclusion in law.
Local, youth-led ownership of the programme, driven with technical support from the Oslo Center.
A structure, approach and processes for youth assemblies that focus on constructive input to policy design, implementation and oversight.
Long-term, consistent capacity building, technical support establishing community and governance actors’ trust at sub-national and national level, demystifying conservative perspectives on how youth adds value
Continuous collaboration and development through
policy dialogue for youth to be responsible citizens for public good.
Youth have been largely peripheral in political and socioeconomic affairs in Kenya, lacking a platform where they could engage and drive their agenda and challenges. Youth inclusion in governance processes was disorganised, disjointed, ad-hoc and at best, tokenistic. Those in urban centres and those closer to authorities were more likely to enjoy greater access and support, while less-privileged youth remain peripheral.
The programme’s goal was to increase youth participation in advocating for transparency, accountability and integrity in public service delivery in the three counties of Kenya. The approach was to establish a platform for local dialogue through inclusive, constructive and consultative processes, identify areas of concern for youth, and develop policy proposals and recommendations for
The Youth Assembly’s operational approach relies on its policy cycle. This method provides an avenue for inclusive, participatory, constructive and meaningful engagement between youth, sub-national and national policy makers, service providers and relevant actors. They can address their challenges through this bottom-up approach.
The ‘Barazas’ are youth-led consultative forums at grassroots level addressing policy and administrative gaps and redress proposals.
House business, standing committee and cabinet sittings entail audit and verification of the information and data from the Barazas and the generation of reports.
Plenary sessions are whole-house deliberations on these reports, which conclude with the adoption of youth policy proposals that the youth will subsequently advocate toward their government to adopt.
A platform to drive the youth agenda
The establishment of three youth assemblies helped identify the challenges facing youth and the subsequent lobbying and advocacy work required. The Assemblies engaged young people in various wards through Barazas. The areas of concerns identified – and the information collected – is used to develop policy interventions deliberated in plenary. The plenaries provide an avenue for the youth leadership to discuss and develop policies and resolutions, which are then forwarded to the respective sub-national or national governments for action.
Enhanced advocacy through policy change
The youth in the three counties have improved awareness among peers of the need to identify challenges and provide policy recommendations for adoption and implementation by the government. They advocated for, and achieved, enactment of the National Kenyan Blue Economy Policy Framework, with recommendations incorporating youth employment quotas in blue and ocean resources.
The Lamu Youth Assembly petitioned to amend the 2019 county bursary fund bill, advocating expanded access and eligibility criteria for students from poorer backgrounds in pursuit of higher learning – an affirmative action measure designed to reverse decades of systemic marginalisation.
The Kwale Youth Assembly, through its integration and involvement in the Community Development Agreement Committee, has advocated for an empowerment fund for young people, women and persons with disabilities. In addition, the Assembly and other key stakeholders combined to advocate for full implementation of mining and royalties’ laws, which will reap major dividends for the community once enforced.
Youth Assemblies as a leadership incubation hub
The main goal of the Youth Assembly was to strengthen capacity and increase the participation of youth in policy contribution, transparency, accountability and integrity advocacy in service delivery by offering alternative leadership perspective
Youth Assemblies as a channel to amplify the voices of the communities
The Youth Assemblies in Lamu and Kwale counties conducted their first-ever political debates during the campaign period in the run up to the August 2022 general elections, with technical assistance from the Oslo Center. This provided a platform for constructive and robust debate on policy priorities as a matter of public interest. This was a departure from earlier electoral cycles, in that it allowed youth from outside the political class to discuss the challenges faced by citizens. This established a baseline for the electorate to reward or sanction the political class in subsequent elections.
Youth as agents of peace before, during and after elections
The phenomenon of electoral violence in Kenya has been exacerbated by ethnic politics. This violence has seen loss of life and livelihoods, destruction of property, and an economic slow-down. As observed in the 2007-2008 post-election violence, young people are both the main perpetrators and victims, misused by the political class. As 2022 was an electoral year in Kenya, the progressive platform offered by the Youth Assemblies in Kwale and Lamu played a critical role in promoting peace.