As the debate rages over the latest grand corruption scandals, not many people have paid attention to how graft is destroying our youth. Let me tell you about what I see happening to my fellow young Kenyans, the biggest victims of looting. Earlier this year, there was a lot of hullabaloo about the Kenya Youth Survey that found that 50 per cent of youth would take part in corruption if they got the opportunity.

The reaction to this was a typical reflection of how the youth are treated in Kenya: talked down to and scolded, but not heard. Personally, I was surprised that more youth did not want to participate in corruption. In a corrupt nation, how else can they succeed?

Being young in Kenya is filled with unique challenges. The youth are constantly bombarded by wealth and all its trappings. On my way to the Nairobi central business district, I pass no less than five billboards advertising homes that range from Sh20 to Sh80 million. If I am lucky, I might see an advert for a shamba in a neighbouring county going for Sh10 million. But even that we cannot afford. Those posters tease us, show us a world we will never achieve through legal means. They insult us, make us feel worthless.

You see, 70 per cent of us are unemployed, loitering at home or in the streets, a burden to everyone, including ourselves. Most of the other 30 per cent is underemployed, overqualified, and underpaid (I know of waiters at restaurants with engineering degrees). What a waste! We work hard, but corruption is working harder to keep us down. In the words of Donald Trump, the system is rigged.

With such a gloomy picture, corruption seems like a viable alternative. From when we are small, we are conditioned to accept that corruption is how things are done. And the evidence in all the corruption cases in Kenya has shown that the end justifies the means. As long as you can pay, then you are left alone to play.

The problem is that most young people will never even get the opportunity to play. So we are left at the bottom, eating the scraps. Corruption hurts us because we do not participate in the eating, but the allure of landing that big deal makes us ignore all the signs that tell us we are bound to lose if we try.

We are, however, left holding the bill. As the youth, we feel the effects of corruption in very direct and cruel ways. When the National Youth Service scandal hit the parastatal, it eliminated the earning potential of millions of youths.

When we read about the tenderprenuers who get paid the same day they invoice, we lament the countless youths who have gone bankrupt supplying government departments that take years to pay them. When the government sets up funds to help the youth, it is almost impossible for us to gain access to them because, in actual fact, they are reserved for the masters of corruption, who are certainly not the youth.

As the national debt rises, my children and I will pay for the largesse in government. It is our young businesses that are most vulnerable to a poor economic climate. It is us who will have to deal with the legacy of institutions eroded by corruption.

So, what can the youth do about it? We can start by demanding that the rule of law be applied to all. We need to demand meritocracy because that is our best hope of lifting millions of youth, and the country, into middle-income status.

As the biggest demographic group in the country, we will benefit the most from good governance. It is time we asked for more representation in national and local governments. If we make up 60 per cent of the population, then we should also make up 60 per cent of the civil service.

We can only achieve these goals if we unite to find a solution. Only when we have one strong unified voice will we have a say in our future.

The events of the past few weeks should be a catalyst for the youth to demand better. Because, as Gautama Buddha said, “No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.”

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