About the Author: María Otero is Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs. Under Secretary Otero oversees U.S. foreign policy on democracy, human rights, population, refugees, health, environment, trafficking in persons, and Tibetan issues. She also co-chairs the State Department's Youth Task Force.Shang. When I first heard this word in my discussions with a group of Kenyan youth leaders from the National Youth Forum (NYF) recently, I wondered to what they could be referring. Could it be a song? The latest technology? A new fad? No, one of the young people explained to me -- Shang is actually a slang language used by Kenyan youth and NYF members which combines English, Swahili and other dialects. It's one way these young people express themselves and bring together a diverse population.
The National Youth Forum is a network of youth organizations and individuals working to mobilize Kenyan youth on issues of good governance, and youth engagement and participation in the social, economic, and political development of their country. Young people from the group traveled fthroughout Kenya to participate in our discussion, and I was impressed as they told me about their work. The ten individuals I met with represented the diversity of NYF and how it brings together youth from different ethnic groups, religions, and regions of the country. During the summer, they organized a series of televised town halls about their country's constitutional referendum, which reached millions and helped contribute to a more inclusive political dialogue. After the referendum, they organized town halls around the country to meet with local young people, discuss their issues, and encourage grassroots participation to support implementation of the new constitution.
But their path has not been easy. One participant pointed out that more aggressive young people have tried to break up their meetings. NYF members try to turn this around and often have success in encouraging these naysayers to join their movement and become part of the solution. Kenya's new constitution is an encouraging step, but the young people I talked to know that it's up to them to help ensure that it is fully implemented. They see this as their moment to create a Kenyan identity for youth. As one participant put it: the youth are ready to serve, not to eat.
So as I think about Shang -- an inclusive language developed to help unify a diverse group of young people -- I am struck by what we can learn from these young leaders as they work to deepen Kenya's democracy and create greater opportunity for all Kenyans. We should all learn a little Shang.