Over the next several months, the conversation around our sociopolitical issues will be based on the Building Bridges Initiative taskforce report launched last week.
Already, the media is awash with sentiments on the contents of the document. As expected, the politicos are dominating the debate, with their opinions being taken as gospel truth by their constituents and barefaced lies by detractors.
The advantage is that it is keeping the BBI debate alive. The downside is that the domination of the discourse by politicians is likely to muffle the voices of other stakeholders.
A key group is the youth who are being discouraged by certain factions from reading the document because “it does not serve their interests”.
But those who ignore this defeatist thinking and delve into the contents of the report will not only have the opportunity to critique it but also strategically position themselves to secure their interests.
The document also provides an opportunity for legal and policy reforms that the youth can latch on to enhance service delivery structures at the county and national levels.
Some of the key recommendations include the revitalisation of creativity and sports initiatives. The report suggests that the government, “makes serious efforts to coordinate, incentivise and drive the growth of the creative industries and sports, among other sectors in which young Kenyans show enormous potential and interest.’’
This has been a sticky point for many years where the legal and institutional frameworks appear not to provide young people with value for their time and talents. If pursued, better policies can be developed to boost youth involvement in sports, culture and creativity.
For instance, beyond the implementation of the school curriculum, could it be necessary to establish research and academic institutions that can produce more professionals in the medical, nutrition and innovation sectors?
Another recommendation is on taxation and entrepreneurship. The report suggests a seven-year tax holiday for youth-run businesses including technical support to young entrepreneurs to start and grow their businesses.
The government’s role is not so much to create direct employment as to foster an enabling environment in which citizens can maximise their potential. To what extent can the youth pursue this recommendation to make it part of the existing affirmative action policies?
Most controversial is the suggestion to nationalise betting companies. Borrowing from recent events in the betting industry, the report says young people have been on the receiving end of the betting boom.
There have been genuine concerns about young people being negatively affected by betting in one way or another. Some have lied and stole to feed the betting habit while others have drowned in debt and depression for losing huge amounts of money to the insatiable gambling machine.
The question is whether BBI’s recommendation on betting serves the interests of the youth or exacerbates an already dire situation. Does nationalising the betting industry address the underlying socio-economic challenges that accompany the vice?
What are other countries with nationalised betting structures doing to safeguard the social and mental welfare of their youth? What are the benefits of such nationalisation and how can the youth benefit from them?
Indeed, nothing is cast in stone and everyday presents an opportunity to make our environment and ourselves better. What might have worked yesterday may not necessarily be favourable today and that applies to laws, policies and cultures.
Contrary to some populist claims, the youth stand a chance of benefiting from the BBI report and the policy and constitutional review that may come out of it.
But this will only be possible if the youth assert their independence from vested political interests.