Young Cit­i­zen’s Par­tic­i­pa­tion in Lead­er­ship To­day: Where is the Youth Power?

By: Godfrey Mwesigye

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.