One of the oldest political cliches of this country is “The youth are the leaders of tomorrow”. It is said over and over again but no one ever sees it actualized at a time when they are young. Invariably, by the time any person gets to a position of leadership, they are old and the cliché fulfills itself to them ironically.

In the old Kenya, which we are about to change on November 21, 2005, the saying that we are the leaders of tomorrow means that we have to wait for tomorrow when we are old and then only are we entitled to participate in building of the future of the country. The proposed new constitution is the first and only emphatic official statement that I have seen that recognizes the crucial role of the youth in this country. And it impresses me for several reasons.

Firstly, the recognition of the youth is done by the Bill of Rights. It is placed under the chapter that is titled ‘Fundamental Rights and Freedoms’. This means that the issue of the youth is no longer some empty sounding policy statement but a right that can be fought for and enforced. And it is not just granted to the youth generally but to each of them personally.

Secondly, the articles that secure the rights of the youth begins with a very strongly worded statement about the place of the youth in this country. Article 40 (1) states: “The youth constitute an integral part of society and are entitled to enjoy all the rights and freedoms set out in the Bill of Rights, taking into account their unique needs.”

The article does not just recognize the importance of the youth, but also the necessity to always consider their “unique needs” when securing their rights. This would mean for instance that when implementing the right against discrimination under Article 37, one must, when dealing with the youth, take into consideration their needs and the fact that they are an integral part of the society. Article 37 says that the state shall not directly or indirectly discriminate against any person on any ground. For young people, it means that their age will no longer be a liability to their aspirations.

Article 40 then goes further to impose a duty on the government to promote the youth. Sub-Article (2) says: “The state shall take legislative and other measures, including but not limited to affirmative action policies and programmes to promote the welfare of the youth”. Affirmative action means that the state must have policies that are tailored at specifically favoring the youth. For instance, the state must reserve a particular number of jobs in the civil service for young people. The young people in Kenya are used to seeing advertisements that say “those under 35 need not apply”. Now they should be ready to see “anyone more than 30 years old need not apply”. A good example of affirmative action is the advertisements we have been seeing of jobs in South Sudan. They say “For South Sudanese nationals only”. When people have been discriminated against for a long time, affirmative action is used to promote them. It works by treating them specially and giving them opportunities that would otherwise not be open to them. This is a first in Kenya and a golden opportunity for the youth to put their agenda forward.

Other rights guaranteed specifically for the youth are the access to quality and relevant education and training, participation in governance, access to gainful employment, freedom of association, protection from any culture, custom, tradition or practice that undermines the dignity of the youth or their quality of life, and the right to a life free from discrimination, exploitation or abuse.

It is now for young people to decide whether they will seize the day and usher in a new era in their agenda or sit back and let their destiny remain in the hands of others. If the youth want to be taken seriously by the rest of the country, they must wake up on November 21, 2005 and go and vote YES. Otherwise, they will remain the leaders of a tomorrow that will never come.