I (Lisa) had the pleasure of accompanying the new East African Institute programs manager, Soraiya Shah, to The 8th Annual National Secondary Schools Student Leaders Conference. The theme of the event was “Re-evaluating Value Systems for Social Transformation” and we attended to discuss statistics found in the EAI Kenyan Youth Survey. 1500 student leaders from different schools all over Kenya showed up for the opportunity to learn what it means to be an un-compromised leader and recognize the power they have to shape the country.
The Kenyan youth survey revealed that 80% of the population is under the age of 35, 40% of youth (18-35) stated they would only vote for a candidate that would give them a bribe and 50% believe that it doesn’t matter how one makes money as long as they don’t wind up in jail. These attitudes are not only shown in the statistics but reflected in behaviors. In 2015 there was an exam scandal in which 5000 Kenyan youth had their test results cancelled due to cheating. It was found that this cheating was supported by major figures in their life; teachers, police, and parents were all recognized to play roles in this event. The theme of this conference was not a decision made out of interest but of necessity.
Kenya is a youthful country and they hold more power than is often recognized. An objective of this conference was to empower youth to seek out justice rather than being participants in a corrupt system. Soraiya used this forum to have the attendees reflect on how corruption directly affects their future. The lack of jobs once they have graduated and the absence of public services due to the depletion of funds could be the reality if nothing changes. She encouraged them to use the opportunity in this conference to ask difficult questions that demand real answers. Reminding the youth that they are capable of creating change if they demand to be heard.
I saw the result of this encouragement on day 1 of the conference when I returned for day 3. The youth leaders had the chance to ask questions to a representative from the publisher that creates their syllabuses and textbooks. The speaker was responding to their questions with answers that didn’t fully encompass what she was being asked. One of the youth stood up and responded ” Miss I am sorry but you lie to us, please” and requested more comprehensive answers. The students shared genuine concern over the lack of equal opportunity in school due to the state of their books. Their frustration could be felt through out the auditorium and it showed through the caliber of the questions they were asking.
The East African Institute wants to use the information found in the youth survey to not only create awareness of this crisis of integrity but to also foster a shared responsibility among youth to set a new ethical standard. I was happy to be a part of an event that opened the floor for young leaders to challenge, contradict, and question people in positions of power.
“Tell me what are the prevailing sentiments that occupy the minds of your young men, and I will tell you what is to be the character of the next generation”. – Edmund Burke