In Kenya today, 20% of the population – more than 8 million people – are youths aged between 15 and 24. Over the next decade this demographic will grow rapidly, both in number and as a proportion of the population. Ultimately today’s Kenyan youth are the generation that will determine the success of the country by demanding and then setting new standards for government. Building new interest, knowledge, and a stronger relationship between this critical segment of the population and their government represents a huge opportunity for Kenya, especially as the 2017 national elections approach.
This is why Omidyar Network has invested in Well Told Story, an innovative, socially-oriented media research and production company based in Kenya and focused on the positive transformation of young people in Africa. In 2015 Well Told Story conducted an in-depth research study to explore the attitudes of young people to governance and democracy in Kenya and answer the question: how might we improve the engagement and participation of Kenyan youth in the activities of devolved government? To answer this question, they spoke to young people all over Kenya to understand what they were thinking and feeling two years after devolution transformed the way government works. Two months of youth-led debates, round-tables, one-on-one interviews and workshops followed across the country, looking at government through the eyes of young people – and at young people through the eyes of government. They began to see the emerging tensions that exist between the official world and the daily experiences of young Kenyans, and through their unique methods of getting inside the hearts and minds of young people, they provided a clear new perspective on youth and government that we hadn’t seen anywhere else.
Building on this research, Omidyar Network is supporting Well Told Story‘s work in reshaping the youth discourse on governance, participation, and transparency with a $1.1 million grant. Part of this engagement will happen via Shujaaz, a platform that uses comic books, radio shows, SMS, and social media to engage young people in a national conversation about issues that affect them. Shujaaz currently reaches 56% of Kenya's 15-24 year olds, or 4.7 million people.
The work will also include offline engagement with local government officials where the youth will share their priorities and begin to understand how local government works and how they can better articulate their issues and follow up on resolving them.
We expect that this project will go a long away towards both shedding more light on the perceptions of young Kenyans towards government and civic participation, and informing those at various levels of government on how to better engage young Kenyans in the political process. If indeed the future of the African continent is its youth, listening to and engaging young people is the best place to start.