A child who is not embraced by his village, will burn it down to feel its warmth. This sobering African proverb carries with it such potent wisdom. It paints a vivid picture of the consequences of neglecting the young. Our nation is currently at a crossroads where we must quickly decide that our narrative bears no credence to this saying.

In 2010, a series of anti-government protests, uprising and armed rebellions spread across the Middle East in what was later known as the Arab Spring. These protests began in Tunisia and later spread to neighboring countries like Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain. At the helm of these demonstrations were the youth; up in arms protesting the existing structures of bad governance and low standards of living. Regrettably, as is commonplace with uprisings, the demonstrations descended into acts of violence, paving way for anarchy. These nations were riddled with insurgencies, militia wars, civil wars and extremes of coups. Millions of people were displaced with countless lives lost. Up to date, only the uprising in Tunisia has resulted in a transition to constitutional democratic governance.

At the heart of these revolts was the utter dissatisfaction of the youth with the sordid state of affairs in their nations. Long-standing issues such as high unemployment, abject poverty and authoritarianism drove the young people to the streets. The uprisings were birthed from a place of dire frustration and fatigue. Their cries fell on deaf ears. They were not being heard. So they stopped crying and acted out in desperation. It is therefore petrifying to admit that the sorrowful tune of their cries is in almost every way akin to those of the youth right here in Kenya. In the words of English writer Aldous Huxley, that men do not learn from history, is the most important lesson from history. One would not be mistaken to assert that we as a country are convicted by his words.

Our youth still grapple with the perennial headache that is unemployment, with the current rate as per the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics standing at 11.5%. This is, however, in conflict with UNDP’s figure of 39.1%. Although there is still debate over the statistical inferences behind this data, no one disputes that the paucity of jobs still remains a perpetual menace. What’s more disheartening now is the fact that even with university degrees, one is still damned to roam the streets in search of a job. Masters and PhD holders alike still flock to queue for jobs that have got nothing to do with their years of training. Young people with postgraduate degrees even take to social media requesting for retweets in search of work. We have created a society where we sharpen our tools just to watch them rust in the shed. Something must change.

If you teach a man to fish but deny him a boat, he will eventually learn to fish from your coat. The integrity of any civilization rests solely on the premise that each individual’s needs are met and taken care of. Once its subjects are reduced to exist purely for the purpose of survival, the dignity of civility is quickly substituted for a ‘dog eat dog’ mentality.  In the eyes of such people, crime is almost always an inescapable eventuality rather than a sinister alternative. This explains why the number of gang violence reports have been on the rise. We are now witnessing the advent of teenagers and children as young as nine years joining local gangs and engaging in robbery with violence. Residents of Kayole area have been harassed by the gang known as Gaza that is famous for conscripting primary school children into their ranks. It’s not too long ago either that Mombasa residents raised alarm over a nefarious youth gang that was terrorizing the public using knives to commit acts of violence.

Meanwhile, cases of unlawful killing by the police in their pursuit to curb crime continues to increase. Last year, a group of NGOs like Transparency International Kenya, Amnesty International and Independent Medico-Legal Unit (IMLU), formed an online platform dubbed ‘Missing Voices’ to consolidate data on extrajudicial killings. As of now, the website had 285 people listed as being executed by police since the beginning of last year. Are we not sending out the message to our young people that their lives are meaningless and fickle?

Just over eight years ago, Tunisian fruit vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in a bitter one-man protest outside a government office against the government. This is the aftermath; living becomes so hard that death becomes alluringly attractive. All the hopelessness and frustration plunges the youth into nihilism. Their cynicism makes them ripe candidates for radicalization because they feel they have nothing left to lose, including their lives. This should cause us to pause and critically reflect. What does it say of our society when the most vile of men have learned how to tap the energy of our young people better than we can? That they would make a more compelling case to steal, kill and destroy than we would to love, build and grow invites shame to our society. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., those who love peace must learn to organize as effectively as those who love war.

We cannot harness the promise and potential young people possess if we continue to stifle them. Our country continues to grow younger and younger every year with a bulging increase in the population of the youth. If we do not offer them a seat at the table, they will eat elsewhere or end up eating us alive. Nairobi Senator Hon. Johnson Sakaja echoed these sentiments recently on the floor of the Senate. “The youth are the trustees of our country’s posterity; and we do not want a generation that is growing up in this country that is trying to get even.” Our village must never burn at the very hands of our sons and daughters. Our narrative must change, and the change must start now. We must love our children and embrace our youth while we still can. For it is better to build strong children than to repair broken men.