Youth on Kenyan coast excluded
The local communities on the coast in Kenya feel marginalized – politically, socially and economically. This has helped destabilize the region and violence has occurred between different groups. The indigenous people on the coast have been subjected to historical injustices and they lack access to resources such as water and land. Poverty is widespread and unemployment, especially youth-unemployment is high. They are also excluded from political life and decision making. According to a survey from 2013 the people in the coastal areas were the only group who felt that their situation had become worse, compared to 2007. It is clear that the coastal region is facing great challenges.
There are reasons to believe that there will be progress on these issues. The Kenyan election in 2013 was on the whole a peaceful election, also on the coast. The fear that Kenya would be drawn into a new crisis of post electoral violence and killings did not materialize. This reflects an improved confidence in political institutions. The voter turnout on the coast is generally low, but in the latest election it was higher than it had ever been before.
A great possibility for improvement lies with the new Kenyan constitution, which was accepted in a referendum in 2010. With the new constitution Kenya is developing a more decentralized political system. The county assemblies play an important role in bringing responsibilities and tasks to a regional and local level. When political decision making takes place closer to the communities it increases the chance that their interests will be taken into account. Thus, inherent in the constitution lies a possibility for a recognition of the rights of the indigenous people. Moreover, the constitution highlights the importance of recognizing the rights of minorities in Kenya, including the formal recognition of historical injustices. It is therefore important that the constitution will be put into practice and that the county assemblies respond to the local communities’ challenges and needs.
Part of this challenge is also the possibility for closer dialogue with the indigenous people. This will help Kenya continue on the path towards a consultative form of democracy, in contrast to an electoral democracy. This development has constitutional backing. The ability to listen to the locals’ challenges and needs would be an important mechanism in this process. Another is the capability to hold the politicians accountable, also in-between elections. This requires an improvement in the relationship and communications between politicians represented in the county assemblies and the indigenous communities.
The people on the coast feel politically and socially excluded, but the window of opportunity for change is there. It is important that this opportunity is recognized and utilized. This requires hard work and dedication.