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Young men seeking handouts are a reason to weep

Following the confirmation of a new constitution, those who were ‘Yes’ are now cock-a-hoop about fresh beginnings, renewals and new dawns for Kenya.

But right there during the election process last week, something happened that should tell us the scale of the task ahead. There were press reports indicating that a large and rowdy group of youths in Lamu arrived at a polling station offering to vote, apparently for any side, if they were each given a few thousand shillings in cash.

I read that and wanted to weep, for all sorts of reasons.

First, let me address those young men. Not that they will be reading this column, or indeed anything else, but perhaps the message will get to them. If you were one of those youngsters, do you realise what you are doing to the rest of your life? You are consigning yourself to a dustbin labelled ‘Loser’. And there you will sit, probably until you leave the planet, because you just don’t get it.

The idea that you should be paid to vote – to exercise your own fundamental right as a citizen – is one of the most debilitating that I can think of. The constitutional debate was about YOUR future, not a theoretical abstraction. You were given the privilege to vote so that you have a say in your own tomorrow. If you don’t want to exercise that right – fair enough, stay at home. But please don’t expect someone else to pay you for being ridiculous. If at this age you are wandering around intoxicated seeking handouts and extorting money, then you are indeed finished. Your mind is already imprisoned by idiocy, and I fear it may never escape.

Second, allow me to direct a withering gaze at the parents, teachers and clergymen who are meant to shape and mould those young men. So, where are you, good men and women of society? The youth are in your care. It is your job to teach them the difference between right and wrong, to keep them away from life’s pitfalls, to instil the values that really matter: hard work, determination, enthusiasm and resilience. Where have all you exemplars and role models been – asleep under trees, or seeking your own handouts?

And lastly, before we judge individuals too harshly, let us look at the society around these young Kenyans. Why do young men all over Kenya (not just in Lamu) imagine that voting is a trick, a joke, an opportunity for trivial monetary gain? Because society has made it so, that’s why. Polls are indeed frivolous and frothy occasions devoid of meaning. Politicians do indeed buy votes rather than earn them. And generations of Kenyans have seen no change whatsoever no matter who is voted in or booted out. So let’s not be too surprised by those silly young men.

Who sets the example that suggests you should aim to use a temporary advantage to extort money from others? It comes from the very top. During the ‘cold war’ Kenya positioned itself as a ‘friend’ of the west – and extorted money and largesse for this ‘friendship’. It is doing the same these days by positioning itself as an ally against Islamist terrorism. And the message to China and the Middle East is clear: come get our resources and stake your claims – but throw in a little something for some of us in the process.

There is one simple fact that I wish everyone on the planet would absorb. Success comes from personal application, endeavour and perseverance. There are no entitlements, no free lunches, no easy rides. No one owes anyone else anything. To think you are entitled to something is to cripple your own mind for life. That is why the best medicine for anyone looking for a freebie is a short sharp kick that sends them out of the door.

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