THERE IS NEED TO UNDERSTAND THE OBSTACLES TO YOUTH PARTICIPATION
The African continent is witnessing a youth bulge, a phenomenon that could have huge ramifications on various spheres of the continent. According to the African Union, about 60% of the total population of Africa is below the age of 24 years and over 35% are between the ages of 15 and 35 years, making Africa, the continent with the youngest population. Yet, youth’s participation and influence on their county’s politics remains dismal, with data on voter turnout from various countries suggesting that young voters tend to participate less in polls compared to older citizens. Therefore, there is an urgent need to understand the obstacles to youth participation which will ultimately inform the solutions that will help prevent instability, conflict and violence that could be fueled by youth who have no sense of ownership for their country.
With respect to an escalating young population, exacerbated by deteriorating public service delivery, mounting poverty and unemployment, there has been a massive movement of Africans especially young people to Europe in a desperate search for employment opportunities and better standards of living. Unfortunately, many of them have lost their lives at sea, like in 2016, the deadliest year on record with 5,096 deaths at sea. Young people take these risky and dangerous journeys because they feel like they don’t have a choice but to flee the appalling situation in their home countries. A few of those that have stayed are a potential source of social and political instability or have already staged rebellions against their governments which has led to civic unrest, worse still, joined terrorist groups.
It has become a trend for a large cohort of young people not finding employment and unable to earn a satisfactory income, which requires policies that will foster investment that will trigger employment growth. You can’t expect meaningful participation from a hungry and destitute person or one who has lost confidence in a government that doesn’t cater to his/her needs like finding a decent job and plan for their future. In 2009, African leaders met to resolve the youth unemployment issue, declaring 2009–2018 the “African Youth Decade” emphasizing the need to address both unemployment and underemployment. Two years later, they convened again to promise the “creation of safe, decent and competitive employment opportunities for young people.” Although, some African governments made efforts to match words with action, there is still need for all leaders to sing to the same tune and the requirement for “stronger job-creation mechanisms, paying attention to the migration of youth to urban areas.
Also, young people are often excluded or overlooked as political candidates. Politics is typically regarded as a space for politically experienced, thus young people are systematically marginalized because of their young age, limited opportunities, and projected lack of experience. How will they gain the experience if we don’t engage them, claiming that they are leaders of tomorrow, they need to first today. Young people need leadership opportunities to be able to gain experience and fulfill their potential. Many young people in Africa look for political opportunities or try to create opportunities for participation, only to find their ideas resisted or rejected. But in the absence of such opportunities, they are more likely to find other avenues of expressing frustration and form alternative groups to feel a sense of belonging.
There are many reasons why young people don’t participate in politics, but if we understand them according to the different cultural, social, political and economic aspects in a given country, we will be able to adopt the best solutions that will give a lasting remedy to the obstacles for generations to come.
The writer is the Executive Director at Never Again Rwanda. Never Again Rwanda is a Peace Building and social Justice Organization based in Kigali. He can be reached via Joseph@neveragainrwanda.org