Young people are often accused of being detached from social realities that either affect them now, or will touch them in future.
Is this the case though? Five millennials share their thoughts on the disintegration of the family unit, escalating national debt, corruption, bad governance and alarming decline of morals within our social circles, topics that have recently dominated headlines.
Juliet is a third year student at Moi University studying Linguistics, Media and Communication. She is troubled about the state of the country’s economy. Nothing frustrates her more than the ever-increasing price of essential commodities.
“The economics of life as a university student is a tricky space to be. I have to spend my money sparingly, which means making lots of sacrifice,” Juliet begins.
“Adults imagine that a student’s life is all fun and games, but nothing could be further from the truth when Sh1,000 feels like Sh50. This leaves me and my friends with very few options on what to spend our money on.’’
‘‘During the three years I have been in university, the cost of living has skyrocketed, such that I am sometimes forced to borrow money. Every year, I have to cut down on my expenses to only what is necessary for survival.’’
Juliet, an adventurous person who is keen on travelling, has had to cut down on the number of times she engages in this favourite pastime. “The economy doesn’t allow it,” she explains. But inability to fund her most enjoyable activity is a much lesser worry than what awaits her after graduation.
‘‘The poor state of the economy means that jobs are less. As a media student, I often worry about what the future holds for me when media houses keep retrenching its employees every year instead of hiring. Occasionally, I cannot help feeling that my dream of working as a journalist might not come to pass,’’ she says.
This uncertainty of life after school has seen Juliet recast her net – she has even considered travelling abroad for further studies, which she feels might present her with more opportunities. If she got a job opportunity abroad, she would snap it up.
‘‘The difficulty of finding sustainable employment has been an eye-opener. I am now shifting my focus to other possibilities, including entrepreneurship.’’
Juliet once had political ambitions, and even vied for a post in the students’ council of Moi University. She is disappointed with the country’s political class though. Last year’s general elections gave Juliet her first opportunity to exercise her democratic right. Despite the excitement of voting for the first time, she is not proud of the choices she made.
‘‘A few months after the general elections, I came to my senses and realised that most of the decisions I made at the ballot were not necessarily my own, I had been influenced subconsciously by those around me to vote for certain candidates. I ended up using my voice to meet other people’s desires, which I regret to date,’’ she explains.
Does she feel hopeless about the situation she is in? Somehow, but she believes there is hope for a better tomorrow for Kenya’s young people.
‘‘It does scare me to think about where Kenya will be in the next five years if the current socio-economic and political environment persists. I believe though that it is not all gloom for us, we have the energy and freedom to make the right decisions for the generations that will come after us.’’
Graduate of political science from Moi University
Ayugi is a graduate of political science from Moi University. He disagrees with the assertion that young Kenyans like him are detached from the affairs of the country, saying that most of his peers are especially disillusioned by the unending politicking in the country. “Studies reveal that the happiest countries in the world, such as Finland, are the most stable politically and least corrupt. While politics is exciting, too much of it tends to wear people down,” he explains.
Ayugi argues that our leaders are to blame for the country’s lack of a moral compass, adding that the youth in Kenya lack role models in political, business and religious leaders, some of who are involved in serious malpractices.
“When the leaders we elected are tainted with marital scandals, corruption and theft, it paints a depressing picture of our country. It does not inspire youth to take up leadership – why would we when those we look up to are being dragged to court every day to answer to charges of corruption and other social ills?”
Rising cases of sexual exploitation, he says, is a manifestation of a country that is morally depraved.
‘‘There’s a lot of desperation among young people, which is forcing them to engage in illicit behaviour in an attempt to survive the turbulent economic times,’’ he argues.
Kenya’s youth, he says, are already overshadowed by a myriad of challenges ‘‘including crushing student debt’’ before they start out in life. ‘‘If you factor in the escalating national debt, it shows you just how economically disadvantaged we are. Frustration is setting in quickly, followed by depression. Life for Kenya’s millennials could not be harder.’’
He emphasises that inclusion of the youth in the affairs of the country, particularly in decision-making, is not an option anymore. It is a must-do. Kenya, he says, must invent new solutions to its string of challenges ‘‘otherwise we will remain stuck if we keep applying old approaches to solve problems in modern times,’’.
He adds, “It is disappointing when our young people have to leave the country to look for greener pastures elsewhere because our country is unable to provide these pastures. It hurts our pride as young Kenyans,’’ says Ayugi.
But that is far from what keeps him awake at night.
‘‘Research has shown that the current generation will not attain the life expectancy of their parents because of a combination of many factors, including higher stress levels. It is sad that despite being raised with the most comforts, we are going to die younger.”
His conclusion? Kenya needs to change track on how it deals with challenges that affect the youth.
‘‘We have to end empty talk and take action now.’’
For Steve, the country’s woes have their genesis in the breakdown of family values, what happens at the national stage, he says, is a reflection of ourselves.
He believes that mental illness could be the underlying cause of murders, homicides and other nerve-racking acts of violence that the media frequently reports.
‘‘Failure to manage stress leads to depression, which is then manifested in a carefree life,’’ he says, adding that stigma around mental illness has only made the situation worse.
Steve argues that the fast-paced life in the 21st century has further fuelled the breakdown of the social fabric, observing that young people are out of their depth in the face of the demands of modern life.
‘‘There is so much pressure from all directions on millennials. We are required to go to school, graduate, get a job and settle down as soon as possible. There is minimal attention to our well-being. With the dizzying levels of competition in all spheres of life we have to put up with, this race eventually wears people down, turning them into social wrecks,’’ he argues.
As a result, he adds, parents spend less time with their children, leaving them to their own devices.
‘‘No one has sat me down to talk to me about relationships and the pitfalls involved. I have had to figure things out on my own. I am lucky things have worked out for me so far,’’ he says.
On illicit sexual relationships, Steve is of the view that the society does not condemn such acts until tragedy happens.
‘‘Sexual misconduct in this country is denounced half-heartedly, which has somehow contributed to its escalation since it is considered normal.”
According to him, the society’s skewed measure of success has thrust Kenyans into a dangerous race of pursuing riches at whatever cost.
‘‘The assumption is that the richer you get, the happier you become. People amass wealth but end up feeling empty because it fails to give them the satisfaction they have spent years chasing.’’
Romona was in her teenage when her parents separated a couple of years ago. She therefore knows the consequences that come with a broken family.
‘‘Life became harder as my mother struggled to provide for my four sisters and I,’’ narrates Romona, a fourth year student of interior design at the University of Nairobi. Her parents’ separation made her distrustful.
‘‘I have very serious trust issues when it comes to relationships because I am scared of making the mistake of dating the wrong person and regretting it later,’’ she says, pointing out that many of her peers too find it difficult to trust, especially in their relationships.
She is careful about who she lets into her personal space, and especially keeps men who drink alcohol at arm’s length.
She attributes the disintegration of families and relationships to greed.
‘‘Some of my friends believe that only those who are naïve are loyal to one partner – those with multiple partners are considered cool. This mindset prevents one from pursuing a purposeful relationship that is anchored on honesty. Greed to have several partners is what defines relationships these days,’’ she says.
The advent of technology has confined normal conversations to the backburner, she observes, as people now prefer to share their problems on social media to discussing them with close relatives or seeking professional help. This breakdown in communication is also to blame for wanting family relationships, according to Romona.
“Many people bottle up problems because they are afraid of being judged by family and friends. By the time someone decides to hack their child or parent to death, they have suffered internally for a long time,’’ she argues.
She may not have a family of her own yet, but as a Christian, Romona believes that if couples built their relationship on the foundation of Christian values, embraced constant communication and nurtured responsibility in their children, the family institution would be cushioned from the free fall it is going through today.
‘‘One is compelled to look for peace and fulfilment elsewhere when their relationship fails to provide these qualities. This leads to infidelity. But when you cultivate the best out of your partner, you become happier and more fulfilled in your relationship,’’ she reasons.
Have her circumstances altered her attitude towards marriage? No, she says. It has only made her belief in the family unit stronger. ‘‘I am not a pessimist, but I now understand that happily ever after is a fantasy. Marriage and relationships have challenges that must be dealt with for happiness to prevail.”
Judith is a mother of one, a four-year-old girl. She is especially concerned about the rising cases of gruesome murders of women, which she believes have a direct correlation to the decline in our society’s moral values and disregard for human life.
‘‘In this country, it seems easier to kill than it is to convict a suspected murderer,’’ she says, adding that this emboldens would-be murderers.
She also wonders why the media gives prominence to stories of young women who engage in transactional sexual relationships with older rich men, arguing that this “sanitises the socialite syndrome”.
‘‘Such stories (of young women in affairs with older men purely for monetary gain) give the wrong definition of success and sets a bad precedence to schoolgirls, who wonder why they have to work hard to earn an honest living.”
She adds that young people’s perception of success has been shaped by such coverage. Why then, Judith wonders, would a young woman work to earn her own money when she has seen that all she needs is a sponsor to bankroll her lavish lifestyle?
Judith has friends who have been romantically involved with older men, and from what she has observed, such relationships assure only momentary gratification and often come with a heavy cost.
The depth of corruption in the country worries her too, and she fears what kind of future awaits her daughter.
‘‘How selfish can someone be to steal money meant for the healthcare of poor people and children? The level of greed and self-centredness among those we have entrusted our welfare is nauseating. That corruption scandals and theft of public resources are a permanent feature in the news makes me worry about the future of my child.’’ Judith believes that the remedy for decaying morals lies in the restoration of respect for human life as well as discipline. ‘‘Telling more stories of people who have succeeded through putting in work and honesty will help to reshape the thinking of young people and future generations on what constitutes success. Youth need to be inspired to embrace principles of hard work, discipline and focus in pursuit of their chosen careers and acquisition of skills,’’ she says. On raising a morally upright child, she believes that leading by example is the surest bet for parents like herself.
‘‘I am very careful about what I say or do because my daughter is watching me and taking notes. Understandably, I may not have control over what she learns from her interaction with friends at school or in the neighbourhood, but I can provide a solid moral foundation at home.”