Abductions, extrajudicial killings, and an idea whose time has come

“In times of rapid change, experience could be your worst enemy.” With the ongoing Gen Z protests in Kenya, could this be the problem we are facing in our politics? Spoken by industrialist J Paul Getty in the mid-20th Century and typically associated with business, the goings-on in Kenya’s political landscape would appear to show the quote is not limited to business. Let’s see 3 ways how. Walk with me.

First though, context. Kenya is experiencing a political upheaval driven by a new generation unburdened by traditional constraints. Generation Z, those born between the late 1990s and early 2010s, are leveraging their unique perspectives and digital savviness to instigate significant change. According to a study by the United Nations, 75% of Kenya’s population is under 35, and this demographic is increasingly disillusioned with the old guard’s approach to governance.

1. Denial of born of Complacency-Gen Z protests in Kenya

The problem of rapid change is that it tends to find incumbents complacent. Incumbents reason thus: “It’s been working for decades; it will work now. Why fix it? Ignore all the neon lights screaming that we should. They’ll flicker out.” Only, they don’t.  (This complacency anchors them to the past and we see it a lot in our program MAGNETIC: Retaining today’s promiscuous customer)

Now then. In 2007, with a billon customers in tow, Nokia was the leading mobile phone company in the world. But the world wasn’t particularly enamoured by the hardware (a rectangle with a screen) so much as the continually evolving interactive emerging software. Apple’s iPhone and Android addressed this. And Nokia missed that boat, never to recover.

Propelled by their innovative use of social media and grassroots organizing, Gen Z understand that the old ways of campaigning—endless rallies and patronage networks— are less effective in a digitally connected world. By contrast, older politicians who’ve relied on their decades of experience find themselves out of touch with the electorate’s evolving demands.

“We co-evolve with our tools. We change out tools and our tools change us” Jeff Bezos Executive Chairman Amazon once shared in in an interview. And I add, “The Kenyan politician has seemingly not evolved with the evolving (digital) tools.”

2. Goliath didn’t see David coming – he ignored him

About 30 years ago, Safaricom was a small department in larger Telkom, which no one really paid any attention too. ‘Don’t bother with the? They can go independent. We are Telkom. The only ‘phone series provider in Kenya.’ When the switch to digital was imminent, giant media houses in Kenya believing, “We’re too big to fail,” despite operating an analogue signal, responded thus: “We can’t be switched off. What will Kenyans watch?” Today Telkom is a shadow of its former self, Safaricom is the leading company in East Africa by market valuation, and that valuation comprises 40% of the entire NSE. As for the media houses, they were switched off and to date most are struggling because they got on the digital train several stations too late. 

Read: Are Kenyan Banks and Media Houses Too Big to Fail?

Now the Kenyan government still believes that the unrest is a Gen Z problem. “They are our children,” it keeps saying of the Gen Z protests in Kenya. In fact, the initial reaction to the protest was, as MP Kimani Ichung’wah dismissed, that this was posh politics. “These are children of the middle class here in Nairobi…They do not understand the problem of rural Kenyans for whom this Finance Bill is supposed to help.” A week later, whole day protests mobilised exclusively on social media, powered by #totalshutdownke, erupted across 37 of 47 counties in Kenya and culminated with the breaching of Parliament. It is estimated that 25 MILLION Kenyans came out to protest. Even far-flung counties like Turkana and Samburu stood up to be counted.

Goliath dismissed, ridiculed David, and so, never saw the pebble coming. The problem is not, “Our children.” The problem is Gen Z and Millennials. And it’s their parents, the Gen X, and Baby Boomer grandparents, that have suffered in silence for decades and are only too happy to support their fearless and tribeless children and grandchildren. The punitive finance bill 2024 was merely the powder keg that ignited the revolution.

The problem is that 75% of the population has had it! ENOUGH! Enough of an increasingly oppressive tax regime, sucking oxygen out of an already suffocating standard of living, and led by a blatantly corrupt leadership (glamourized thieves) brazen in flaunting their nouveau riche excesses. Enough of oppression. Enough of the poor governance, indifference and insensitivity. The problem is Kenyans. Not a small section of the population that, “Arrive in an Uber, holding an iPhone and stop at KFC to eat minofu (pieces of chicken).”

3. The Perils of Clinging to Experience in Gen Z protests in Kenya

“Having experience means you are an expert of the past.” (Vidia Mooneegan in his TED Talk). While experience can be a valuable asset, in times of rapid change, it can also become a liability. While experience can provide valuable insights, it can also be a barrier to innovation in times of rapid change. Globally, industries and political landscapes are being reshaped by those willing to challenge conventional wisdom.

Therefore, politicians who rely solely on their past experiences may find themselves out of touch with the current realities and aspirations of the younger generation, and so risk obsolescence. The old playbook of abductions, cosmetic changes, delaying tactics in the name of commissions of inquiries or task forces, bribery, hiring goons to cause mayhem and so justify excessive use of force, muzzling the press, shutting down the internet, self-serving harambees (fundraisers), assassinations, peddling unending lies, changing constitutionally set terms to stay in power longer, and extra judicial killings to silence dissent, that worked in the past are often ill-suited to address the unique challenges and opportunities presented by a rapidly evolving political environment.

A striking example is the rise of digital activism and peaceful demonstrations. Traditional politicians may struggle to grasp the full impact of social media campaigns, online movements, and organized peaceful protests. In contrast, the tribeless, party-less, and leaderless Gen Z effortlessly leverages these platforms to mobilize support and bring attention to critical issues.


Kenya stands at the crossroads of a transformative era, driven by the dynamism of its youth. In a rapidly changing world, experience can indeed be a double-edged sword. The challenges posed by peaceful demonstrations, abductions, and extrajudicial killings require not just seasoned judgment but also fresh perspectives and innovative solutions. In both politics and business, the willingness to embrace change and challenge the status quo is proving to be a decisive factor for success.

The government’s ‘this wind will blow over soon response’, including rejecting the finance bill 2024 under duress, continues to demonstrate that even in politics, in times of rapid change, experience could indeed be your worst enemy.

What do you think?

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