In less than two weeks on October 8, my name will be on the ballot for senator in Migori County, Kenya. This particular by-election has not garnered much attention outside of the local media, but the stakes are high and the situation I’m facing as a young candidate represents a microcosm of modern-day Kenya.
My campaign platform, Telo mar Ojende, which in the local Luo dialect translates to “youth leadership,” is premised on raising the voices of the marginalized, the left behind and those yearning for a brighter and more hopeful future. Having been born right here in Migori, I represent the majority of my constituency and my country, one of the youngest in the world.
Too often in Kenya, Big Man politics and the power exercised by those in elected office turns to abuse, rather than to caring for the needs and aspirations of those who queue to vote. Corruption in Migori — and in the country writ large — remains rife. The lack of jobs training and employment remains woefully low, as does education and access to food and basic services. So too does the embrace of the future, including the digital economy and high-tech services. Through my campaign, I hope to move past our challenges and the issues that divide us by building a courageous and inclusive youth wave that will alter Kenya’s political landscape for generations to come. In Migori County alone, 50% of the population is below the age of 14 and the 48% between the ages of 15 and 64 have mostly known failed leadership, a poverty of mind and spirit.
The true cornerstone of my campaign message is ensuring peace in Migori County. Sadly, the violence that I have been forced to endure is not an isolated incident, but has become commonplace in Kenya, particularly around election time. Last year, for example, our country’s main ICT officer at the electoral commission was murdered in cold blood; a case that remains unsolved to this day. Similarly, the deputy chief justice’s driver was shot just weeks before the hearing of a momentous election petition.
In Migori County specifically — a region with a history of political violence — my campaign staff have been repeatedly attacked and my vehicles destroyed as recently as last week. These actions are unacceptable. We must collectively say “enough is enough,” regardless of political, tribal, or ethnic affiliation. We are all in this together as Kenyans. And it will take all of us to build a better Migori and a better Kenya.
Here in Migori, on October 8, it will be of paramount importance for the election to be free from violence and intimidation. Let us make our citizens, and indeed the world, proud of our democratic institutions. Given Kenya’s recent troubles, we need to start from the grassroots with young people boldly leading the way. If we can get the situation right in Migori, or at least improve on past electoral exercises, then that bodes well for future elections at the national level.
I hope that you will stand with me, and with thousands of my local constituents who are rightfully demanding a better future, regardless of who wins. We deserve it.
Eddy Oketch is a candidate for the Migori County Senate seat in Kenya. He is an alumnus of the African Leadership Academy, Trinity College and Yale University.
DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of Vanguard Africa or the Vanguard Africa Foundation.