LUCIA AYIELA is a digital activist who advocates for social justice, public accountability and the rule of law. She is the Executive Director of The Umma Action, a youth-led and youth-focused organisation seeking to boldly and imaginatively catalyse civic agency and leadership among young people. She is also the Secretary-General of the Ukweli Party. Lucia is a bold and courageous Pan-African, with a love for reading and podcasting. She believes that activism is a citizenship duty and hopes more Kenyans can sign up and advocate for a better society that works for all. She is currently focused on digital civic engagement and reimagining socio-economic capacity strengthening options for young people. She spoke to RASNA WARAH about issues that concern and frustrate Kenyan youth and what can be done to make leadership in Kenya more accountable.
Q. A recent video of you challenging President William Ruto to keep his election campaign promises went viral. What prompted you to put up such a daring video?
I identify as an active citizen and I believe that it is my constitutional duty to hold my government accountable. Recently the Finance Bill 2023 passed in Parliament and was assented to law by the president despite public outcry against some clauses in the Bill. This made it very clear that the people we elected to represent our will are not listening to us.
This administration campaigned on the promise of economic emancipation for all Kenyans, and burdening Kenyans with heavy taxes goes against their campaign promises. I felt a strong urge to point out this administration’s lies and to call out their hypocrisy so they can know that Kenyans are watching their actions and weighing them against their words and we will hold them accountable and take necessary measures to recall them if there is a need to.
Q.Were you in any way afraid or threatened after the video was released?
Fortunately, I have not been threatened in any way and my life is not in danger currently. I was only cyberbullied by some people who felt that I was too critical of the president. However, as a vocal active citizen, I am aware of the risks that come with what I do and being threatened is one of them. I have built a community around me that I can run to should I ever be threatened or be in danger.
Q.Kenyan youth are often accused of being too complacent or too easily swayed by politicians. The so-called “hustlers” are used during elections and then dumped by the very people they voted for once they are elected. There is no youth-led movement that has successfully challenged the old establishment. On the contrary, progressive young people like the activist Boniface Mwangi, who ran on an Ukweli Party ticket in 2017, are rejected at the ballot box. Why do you think that is?
The political apathy or complacency among Kenyan youth is intentional and systematic. For a long time, young, empowered, strong and informed youth populations have always been a threat to any establishment, hence the need to pacify young people. Kenyan youth never engage with their elected leaders in their formative education years. In fact, engaging in anything that might be considered political while still in school, including institutions of higher learning, is frowned upon and highly discouraged. We grow up not knowing our constitutional responsibilities, how they influence our political choices and how our political choices affect our daily lives. This provides an opportunity for politicians to exploit our ideas and abuse our labour. There is a need for political education from a young age being included in our education system to enhance good governance and public accountability.
Q.You host a podcast called The Umma Action. Why did you start it and what impact do you think it is having on Kenyan society?
In late 2019, out of frustration, I made a video ranting on the irony of how our security services mete out violence on us yet they take an oath to serve and protect. The activist Mutemi wa Kiama, who became a mentor, came across it and shared the video on his social media platforms. The video went viral. Realising that social media was a platform I could use to vocalise my frustrations and question the administration, I kept doing short videos on various issues on governance and corruption. After a while, I felt that short 3–4-minute videos were not enough to break down complex narratives around governance and leadership, so in order to normalise conversations around governance and public accountability I started The Umma Action podcast, which is on YouTube and Spotify.
Q.What kind of leadership do you envisage for Kenya and how can we as a country ensure that future leadership is responsive to the problems facing young people?
I envision a service leadership that is based on the foundations of patriotism, national unity, sharing and devolution of power, rule of law, democracy, participation and centrality of the people, human dignity, equity, inclusiveness, human rights, non-discrimination, integrity, transparency and accountability, material development of our people, equality and social justice, as decreed in our 2010 Constitution. In order to get a leadership that responds to youth challenges, we have to reconsider how we select and elect our political leaders. We have to elect leaders based on their integrity, performance track record and accessibility rather than voting along popular political parties and the highest bidders.