This past week, President Uhuru Kenyatta appointed nonagenarian ‘Uncle’ Moody Awori to the Sports, Art and Social Development Board. This Board will manage a fund that will enable young people to benefit from sporting activities and other social services.
This appointment raised a furore on social media especially among young people, whose biggest grouse was that there are enough young people who can be appointed to run this important fund.
This round of condemnation on social media seems to have caught the president’s eye.
“You put yourself in my shoes and you see the way people have been stealing money, you have no choice but trust an old man to take care of that money,” he said, according to media reports.
This is not the first time the President has accused the youth of being corrupt and unable to run important government functions.
A few weeks ago, he accused young people of clamouring for state jobs and then messing up when given opportunities.
He indicated that compared to older people, the youth were unable to achieve much in such positions.
One can easily understand the President’s frustration that leads him to make such statements in public.
He may be surrounded by young people who have a sense of entitlement and expect to make quick riches from government positions.
The youth around him may have been brought up in a culture where there are no consequences for taking shortcuts or for stealing public funds.
They may have been steeped in an environment in which the corrupt are rewarded and those that stick to the straight and narrow stagnate and end up wallowing in want.
It therefore makes sense that these young people surrounding the President would leave him in no doubt that the only thing they are good at is stealing public money and engaging in conspicuous consumption.
Appointing a 91-year old to run a fund for the youth would therefore make perfect sense in such a setting.
On the contrary, the reality is that the young people close to the president do not represent the youth of Kenya.
The youth of Kenya are spending the meagre resources available to them improving themselves in order to participate meaningfully in this economy.
Many of these highly qualified Kenyans are constantly seeking job opportunities in order to earn an honest living.
Many young people are borrowing money to pay for higher education or skills enhancement, and it is inconceivable that these are the same entitled, thieving youth the president refers to regularly every time he denigrates youth and praises old age.
It is my opinion that entrenching the idea that young people are irredeemably corrupt will have the effect of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Youth appointed to positions of responsibility will feel abnormal if they do the right thing and achieve beyond their employers’ expectations.
They will feel obligated to steal and engage in corrupt practices in order to conform to the public expectation.
If we are serious about involving young people in national development, we must search the length and breadth of this great republic, and identify upright young men and women to appoint into public office. These will be the true face of Kenyan youth.
Atwoli is Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Dean, Moi University School of Medicine.