It took Nerima Wako, 27, a six-year stint in the US for her to appreciate Kenya. She came face to face with the misconceptions that abound about Kenya and as she demystified the myths, she got a clear understanding of her beloved country. It’s here she realised that the Kenyan youth were missing out in politics and vowed to change that once she got back into the country. She talks to LILY RONOH-WAWERU on roping in young Kenyans into politics.
What were you doing in the US?
Studying. I got a scholarship immediately after completing high school to study journalism and sociology at a university in Alabama. After completing my undergraduate degree, I proceeded for a Masters degree in public administration.
How was the experience?
Eye-opening. Alabama is majorly a white-only state and studying there as an African meant I was a person of interest. We were only four Kenyans in the university and we constantly had to deal with questions related to Kenya and Africa. The more explaining I had to do, the more I got to understand Kenya and the more passionate I grew about my country.
Is that why you came back?
When I applied for the scholarship, I wrote that I would want to return to Kenya immediately after completing my studies and use the skills I had attained to develop my country.
It was thus a question of when and not if. However, my vision for Kenya had changed. When I left for the US, my dream was to go study journalism and come back home and practice it.
By the time I was coming back, the Kenyan youth were on my mind. I noted there was disconnect between the youth and politics. See, the Kenyan youth are ambitious, energetic and raring to go on everything else but politics and it is a point of concern.
For one to flourish, you need a stable country. The youth therefore need to play an active role in politics.
How are you addressing that?
Together with a group of friends hungry to get the youth into mainstream politics, I started a non-governmental organisation – Siasa Place – that offers a platform for the youth to discuss politics.
Through Siasa Place, we spur the youth through education to pay attention to what is going on around them.
Many young people have no idea what the constitution is all about and are thus losing out on many opportunities. At Siasa Place, we encourage the youth to interrogate how the system works.
This month we are rolling out a programme called Scrap Journal where we will have 47 youth from 47 counties trained on how to write. Their role would be to follow the campaign trail from now up to the election period so as to understand how the youth are engaging with the politicians.
You correctly said that the youth are disinterested in politics. What inspires you?
I am hopeful for Africa’s future generation. Someone once said that we do not inherit the earth from our ancestors but we borrow it for our children.
However, I feel we are exploiting what we have and we will have nothing to give our children. And that’s the problem with Africa; we only think about now and not the future. Politics runs the world and if we are to change things, then proper politics is essential.
Any role models?
I draw inspiration from the late Patrice Lumumba of Congo who at the age of 34 became a prime minister. His young age notwithstanding, he was able to unite a country with over 300 tribes.
It was then that the spirit of Pan-Africanism was emerging and we took pride at being Africans. For some reason, we have lost that spirit of brotherhood and without it, we become vulnerable to rest of the world.
If given an opportunity to be the president of Kenya, what changes would you make?
I would ensure that children get access to quality education, housing and food.
I believe once a child has the necessities and you inspire them to be who they aspire to be, then you will be building a healthy nation. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks hence it is wise to invest in our children.
Would you run for an elective post one day?
Not really. I see myself playing an advisory role. I am ready to work with forward-thinking and visionary politicians.
As we move towards the elections next year, there are lots of noises from every corner and we sound like a lost people. I pray for nationhood so that we are able to interrogate people objectively and develop ideological and issue-based politics.
On women, we need to be courageous, go for elective positions and support one another. I would also like to change the stereotype among young women that you have to be beautiful, a socialite or dress in a particular way in order to make it or to be noticed.