How does the youth perceive democracy given the history of general elections in the post-colonial city of Nairobi, Kenya?

Kenya has had a tumultuous history with general elections. In a country with 42 ethnic tribes, post-election ethnic based violence has been witnessed in both the 2007 and 2017 general elections. After the first round of general elections in 2017, the Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling for the nullification of the results and fresh Presidential elections were conducted on the 26th of October 2017. This makes Kenya the third country in the world and the first in Africa to nullify a Presidential election (Tubei 2017).

With ’67% of all voting-age citizens in Kenya being young people below the age of 35 (Kenya National Youth Charter 2012, 12) the youth form an integral part of the voting population. The purpose of this study is to explore the main research question: How does the youth perceive democracy given the history of general elections in post-colonial Nairobi, Kenya? Majority of the academic research surrounding Kenyan elections and democracy is quantitative in nature and is centered on ethnicity and politics. There is a gap in qualitative literature on the relationship between young people and issues surrounding democracy within a post-colonial framework.

This research adopts the theoretical lenses of post-colonialism and constructivism. The use of qualitative semi-structured interviews is done to understand the ways in which young people construct their realities and understandings of democracy and how this affects their participation. This thesis suggests that although the youth remain generally optimistic about democracy, young people believe that democracy is not equally available to all citizens. The negative perceptions of the way in which democracy functions are influenced by concerns such as power grabs, the lack of inclusivity in decision making, the lack of accountability and transparency during general elections and semi-functioning media control.

This research also finds that young people have adopted the use of coded language such as ‘we’ and ‘them’ which is reminiscent of colonial language, to negotiate sensitive conversations on democracy and politics, ethnicity, generational gaps and media. Analyzing this through a constructivist lense. This can be used as a tool of empowerment or a method of ethnic polarization.