Virtually everyone knows the name of Africa’s oldest president, but little or no attention is given to many of the continent’s young leaders and parliamentarians, such as Yvonne Khamati.
In 2001, aged of 21, Khamati made history by becoming the youngest person to be elected in the executive committee of the political party, Ford Kenya. Back when she was just 17, she had served as the international coordinator of the world youth organisation on climate change, engaging world leaders on climate change, at the tail end of the 20th century – long before the phenomenon became a buzzword. By the time she was 22, she became the youngest person to have been appointed to the East African Parliament.
In May 2007, at 24, she was appointed ambassador and permanent representative of Kenya to Ethiopia. This automatically qualified her as the youngest envoy ever in Kenya and the whole of Africa in this era, and only second to Salim Salim of Zanzibar, who was appointed ambassador to United Nations at 22 in the 1970s. Africa’s youngest member of parliament is Proscovia Oromait, who was elected into the Ugandan parliament as a university student at 19, and has been there from 2012 till date.
Oromait, Africa’s youngest MP
At only 28 years, Khamati is now Kenya’s head of Chancery and deputy permanent representative of the Kenya Mission to the United Nations Office in Nairobi. In an interview with Osasu Igbinedion of The Osasu Show, Khamati spoke on how Nigerian youth can also take their place in a political landscape where the constitution stands as a barrier between youths and political power. “I know that there are many young and progressive people in the Nigerian parliament and I would hope also at the gubernatorial level,” she said.
“Those young people that are in those positions are the people young people should reach out to help them draft the bills that will go to parliament. “We had the same issue in Kenya where to run for president one must be 35 but our question was if am old enough to vote, I am old enough to run for office and that was changed but it was changed during our constitutional review process where we engaged and we read. “You know young people sometimes, we don’t like the hard path; we want microwave solutions where everything is done ready to eat meal. Yet in Nigeria I know you guys love pounded yam and Eba so you know the whole procedures of getting real food here takes hard work, commitment and it doesn’t happen overnight.”
Explaining her ordeal in the first Kenyan election she contested, Khamati said: “I actual went for an office, a national office, elective for parliament in Nairobi where I lost very badly and I was beaten up, beaten in the polls and beaten up physically and hospitalised because the election ground at that time was very hard especially for a young woman without thugs and the experience in the city, that has changed quite a bit.
“Later on I was nominated to the East Africa parliament, I was 22 years old, making me easily the youngest at that time.”
Khamati holds a diploma in sociology and criminology from the University of Nairobi, Kenya, and a master of arts in counselling psychology from the American World University.