For young people to make good leaders, character development is necessary

The National Youth Service showed their skills during their parade in Gilgil, County Nakuru on June 10, 2022. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Youth is a positive attribute. But positivity feeds on virtues. But many young people choose the school of vice. With a heavy vice, what was essentially good becomes stunted. A young population in a country is not good in itself but is only as good as what the systems feed it.

Solomon’s son – a young heir – had a great opportunity to rewrite history. The people gathered together and said to them “the Israel they want” imploring him: “Your father has imposed a heavy yoke on us, but now lighten the hard work and the heavy yoke he has imposed on us, and we will serve you. In young Rehoboam people saw hope. For them, the end of an era of oppression had come. They perceived him as new as someone to put the painful past behind them. His youth represented a person philosophically distant from his father. They knocked on the door of youth to open a chapter of freedom.

The elders articulated to Rehoboam the winning formula: “If today you will be the servant of these people and serve them and give them a favorable response, they will always be your servants. Seniors ask young people for emancipatory leadership. For Salomon, production came before people. The elders asked for a change in the formula and prayed for the centrality of the people. Often young people come with a raw sense of ambition and need to be rescued from self-centeredness. The elders hoped that Rehoboam had read his father’s Proverbs. Proverbs are themselves a school of virtue. Only wisdom can teach one the need not only to serve people, but to make their service an ambition.

For Solomon’s heir, the conversation was not about whether he would have power – the power was already assured. The question was how to execute assured power. The elders offered a formula for leadership: service breeds loyalty. As they offered their wisdom, the elders had a sad guess: that Rehoboam did not like his father’s oppressive style. They didn’t know he was an advanced version of his father. This is not far from our contemporary assumptions. We can hope for a new spirit in the young leaders to find that they are superior versions of the older elders. When we think they would have a distaste for the old ways, we can see that they are obsessed admirers of the old order.

Young does not necessarily mean detachment from the past. Here is the vision of the young people: “Now tell them: ‘My little finger is bigger than my father’s height. My father imposed a heavy yoke on you; I will make it even heavier. My father whipped you with whips; I will flog you with scorpions.” The fact that Rehoboam rejected the counsel of the elders and chose the path of his contemporaries points to the possibility that young could also signify a new level of vice.

Young people complained a lot about not advancing to certain levels of leadership due to a lack of experience. But even more than experience is character. Some of the youths were framed thoroughly by looters. Young as they are, they have taken the best of corruption. Before attaching hope to young people, it is essential to unearth under whose tutelage they have sat. Waiting for the freedom of young graduates from the school of vice is a wasted hope.

Next elections

Young people have registered in large numbers for political leadership at different levels in the upcoming elections. It is very commendable. But some of those we see on the billboards smiling and beaming with energy are “A” students of corruption. Such a lot, if elected, has the ability to give voters a tough five-year run, not because of their youth, but because they are vice-masters. Some have a vision not to seal Kenya’s holes but to deepen the existing one and even dig new ones.

A young population represents hope. A middle-aged population represents productivity. An elderly population represents a heritage. Metaphorically, each of these ages yearns for youth because each needs energy to reach and maintain their peak. In this respect, youth is the preserver of a population. Statistically, young people form the bulk of the population. It is therefore right that this statistical superiority is reflected in leadership positions both in terms of positions held and agendas.

For a long time, despite efforts to integrate young people into political leadership, older people remained the holders of high political office. The business world, driven by a philosophy of profitability, is more open and increasingly aware of the productivity of young people and gives them confidence by promoting them to very senior portfolios. As long as they prove to be profit-oriented, age is not a significant barrier to position. Politics, being more centered on power, finds it difficult to entrust power to young people. Interestingly, despite their reluctance to trust real young people with power, they claim the spirit of youth and even present themselves as “Young Turks”.

Many young people are often strategic fronts sponsored by older people to express their intentions. While some may say it’s cross-generational collaboration, the vice school is putting old words in new mouths, old thoughts in new minds, manifested in young politicians singing old songs without their own emerging narratives.

Some young champions used the age narrative as a basis. “Where are young people in the equation?” they ask. It’s a question of visibility. “Youth voices need to be heard. This is an advocacy perspective. You rarely hear “Youth leadership needs to be felt”. This is the capability perspective. It is essential that young people have meaningful leadership opportunities. But youth cannot be the singular qualifier. Youth must be accompanied by character. Truth be told, characterless youth is a disaster.


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