Young Citizen’s Participation in Leadership Today: Where is the Youth Power?
It is not always true that when one wins others must lose. The widely held mentality of ‘there must be winners and losers in every situation’ is archaic and must be dealt with. What about win-win? On this very note, I want to relay my discontentment with the exclusion of the youth in leadership and high-level decision making, not only in my own country but also a plague to my beloved African Continent. Uganda is one of the countries with the most youthful population where over 78% of the population are below 30 years, a treasure which has neither been harnessed nor fully utilized, but with the majority of influential leadership positions occupied by the so-called ‘grandfathers.’ The youth have been kept at the fringes of the decision making and have not enjoyed full participation in their own governance, except by serving as a puddle from which those who have benefited from political benefaction find their conduit to sustain their political dominance.
Who wins and who loses?
There is now a struggle for space in leadership and governance between the old and young people who do not see themselves as compeers. More often than not, the latter have been underprivileged in this struggle and have not accomplished much as per their capabilities. The reasons are obvious; they have been labelled amateurs, inexperienced, inefficient, naïve and others of the sort by those who are purportedly well-versed with the continuum of power. As if that has not been enough, in this struggle for space those with power have set limits which have kept the young people from even slithering close to ‘self-governance.’ These include setting higher thresholds in terms of money for candidate registration for political and leadership positions such as Presidency, Member of Parliament, District Chairpersons and among others. This has been coupled with clienteles and vote buying during the electoral processes only benefiting those that have accumulated a mass of wealth as the beneficiaries of the political patronage.
The aforementioned status quo has subsequently created winners and losers which I have always referred to as the ‘unfair political economy.’ Why is it hard to have a win-win situation? I mean we need to remove entirely the barriers to youth participation in leadership and political engagement so as have some wins for the youth. This does not mean that we shall exclude the “omniscient thought-leaders” who had a privilege to be born before us to vie for leadership positions, absolutely not. I rather propose that we increase the odds for the youth to fully exercise their political rights. More importantly, increasing the chances of young women to lead and govern. I am so cognizant of the fact that women and girls have for long been alienated from such positions yet their contribution to our society is indispensable. As we ruminate more about youth participation, at any point in time we should always cogitate about the dire need for having young women fully involved.
I have been in discussions where fellow young people argue that the youth should not expect to earn leadership or governance spaces from ‘a silver plate.’ Some in their arguments posit that the youth are too lazy to take up the positions and that no one is willing to offer such spaces freely. I feel these are the young people who have been fully indoctrinated into the philosophies and idiosyncrasies of those of the mind that a young person is a neophyte or greenhorn when it comes to leadership with an intention of sidelining them. In my opinion, it is wrong to assume that to have a meaningful youth political engagement it has to be a fight by young against the old folks— it is possible for the youth to engage in leadership through legitimate processes. It has been evident on the African continent that those who took over power through forceful means, especially the so-called revolutionaries who were the youth then, have eventually clung into power relegating the youth of this present age to the peripheries. The lesson we should take from this is that in most of the cases if power is taken forcefully, peaceful transitions face resistance if at all they happen.
The hope for youth participation
I have no doubt that if we take seriously the instruments that call upon governments to ensure youth participation, both at national and international levels, it will become a reality. A case in point is the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (ACDEG) which under Article 31(1) and (2) enjoins State Parties to promote the participation of social groups with special needs, including the youth and people with disabilities, in the governance process. The Uganda National Youth Policy which advocates for mobilization of resources to promote youth participation and integration in the mainstream of national development.
What do we do?
Going forward, as young people, we need to push for the implementation of policies and laws that give us the power such as the above mentioned and this is the legitimate way to participate in leadership and governance. I don’t believe in the fallacy that the youth are not empowered because being youthful itself is power. ‘The youth are not empowered’ has been used as a tool to tactfully isolate them as they search for the empowerment. All that is needed is to discover the youth power and take lead. I also have a radical thought that we need to go beyond a mere affirmative action for the youth and opt for proportional representation in leadership and governance basing on the demographic dimensions.