Since arriving in Nakuru, hardly a day has passed without reference to politics; Kenyans seem to discuss it with a level of zeal reserved in Britain exclusively for the weather. Hailing from the politically passive environment of post-Thatcherite Britain, I am astounded by this level of political engagement – both amongst the young men I work with and within the wider youth community – and can’t help but draw parallels between their political enthusiasm and their dedicated approach towards the business methods we are covering on the programme.
On Wednesday, I spent the day visiting the businesses of members of Perfectors/ Investors, a group of five male businessmen in their twenties, with professions ranging from IT to events management to farming. The main topic of conversation throughout the day was, of course, political, as we discussed their various commitments and experiences. The group’s level of political engagement is evident even in their nicknames; one member, Philip, is referred to exclusively by the title ‘Mr. President’, by grace of his leadership of the local youth group. In the last election, Philip ran for his local MP seat, placing a narrow second at a margin of just 700 votes. Another member of the group, Enoch, ran a similar campaign in his constituency, losing out at 3700 votes to the victor’s 4100.
In the evening, the Fellows attended a presentation delivered by Mike Gitone, a local youth ambassador and PA to the Nakuru County Governor. By providence or coincidence, the day’s activities seemed to complement one another on the topic of youth politicisation. Mike’s presentation highlighted the high level of political activity in the county’s youth through discussion of the post-election violence of ’07/’08 and local attempts at reconciliation and youth empowerment. The core of Mike’s presentation spoke of identifying the main causes for such violence, citing reasons such as lack of identity, social worth and bargaining power as deeply entrenched issues within Kenyan society.
Mike aspires to create a sense of identity and purpose in the youth, particularly through group work and by identifying the causes of the post-election violence and other problems with societal perceptions of young people in Nakuru county. To summarise he is keen to empower young people in Nakuru. I believe tangents can be seen between these aims and those of Balloon Kenya. Whilst one intends to change the face of the youth in Kenya through strong independent identity and political empowerment, the other inspires change through confidence in personal business ability and increased bargaining power. Both address the issues identified by Mike: they are different solutions to the same problem.
But the tangents between business and politics in a Kenyan context extend even further than that. Talking to Enoch about his campaign translated directly to some of the business concepts we have covered in the previous weeks. He told me about his competitor who, after spending 1.3 million ksh (some of which was allegedly used to bribe voters), attained only 700 votes. In the context of Kenyan society, where financial and political corruption is said to be commonplace and in the aftermath of the ’07/’08 violence so exacerbated by youth poverty that young men and women could be persuaded to kill for as little as 200ksh, this resistance (although only at a localised level) is incredibly encouraging and speaks volumes for the initiatives being put into practice by youth workers such as Mike. It both demonstrates a grassroots change in the self-worth and collective power of young Kenyan citizens and recalls the concept of customer desirability. In politics, as in business, the customer is key. Whether your product is a pair of shoes or an insincere politician, with all that capital in the world you cannot sell a product that nobody wants.
This pocketed example epitomises Mike’s ambition to reassert a sense of purpose, identity and self-assurance in the Nakuru county youth. The success of his ideology in this instance inspires faith both in the gradual improvement of the Kenyan political system and in the power of the Balloon Kenya programme to attain similar successes in a business and entrepreneurial context. Looking at this observation of political engagement from a business perspective has changed the way I interact with my group. If we think of teaching, or facilitating, as a problem, then it seems the solution is to find a common language through which to translate the curriculum we at Balloon Kenya are trying to impart. Knowledge is transferable, and this experience has taught me that the best medium through which to communicate it is passion. Whether it be politics, entrepreneurialism or the arts, passion is the key to success. Fortunately, passion is something that both our Fellows and our programme participants have plenty of.
Written By Aisling Cregan, 2013 Fellow