Why Do Young People Feel Ignored by Politicians?
Insights from the Common Futures Conversations Survey
This post is part of a series reflecting on the results of the Common Futures Conversations (CFC) Youth Survey conducted in January 2019. We asked young people from 13 countries across Africa and Europe a range of questions about the level of their political engagement. When asked to indicate how much attention they paid to politics, these were the results. (Fig. 13)
However, when asked if they felt politicians in their country listened to them, they indicated that they felt overlooked. (Fig. 16)
We asked four of the young people involved in helping develop the survey for their views on why young people, who are engaged in politics, feel ignored by their politicians. Read the responses below which have been edited for clarity.
Martha Chilongoshi — Zambia
I think the problem is that although youth are increasingly engaging in politics, the spaces where they can express their political views in a meaningful way and demand action from politicians don’t exist. So young people are not heard, because we continue to only be able to speak from outside the structures of power.
The few among us who have successfully ran for a political position are often swallowed up by a ‘system’ of patronage and self-service. It’s no longer enough to ‘just be heard’ by politicians: young people need to actively create alternative spaces for driving our own agenda.
Social media has already helped boost engagement, but in the next decade or so, young people are going to have to do more to really have an impact. To solve this, young people need to become our own critical mass and educate ourselves about our current political systems and structures. We will also need to focus a lot of our energy on the civic education processes to increase meaningful participation. This would require that we no longer see ourselves as passive recipients of decisions and goodwill from elderly politicians but more as organizers and drivers of political spaces and ultimately function as organs of the state. I think we have a great opportunity to initiate that kind of dialogue on the CFC platform once it’s in effect.
Helena Craig — UK
In the UK, a major issue is the lack of age representation in parliaments. Most parliamentary roles are held by individuals over the age of 35. Few, if any, young adults aged 18–34 are represented physically in the national parliament. The lack of proportional representation has prevented young people from identifying with their representative, and as a result are more disengaged with politics. This has led to an unfortunate apathy affecting the youth who feel disengaged with the political processes but are perhaps ‘political’ in other ways such as by voicing views online, in an arguably more ‘comfortable’ environment, or by joining debating clubs.
There is also a detrimental lack of political education in primary and secondary schools throughout the UK. This has no doubt caused apathy among youth. Unfortunately, there is also limited capacity for young people to communicate their concerns with their representatives in a productive way. The problem facing young people is not necessarily disengagement with politics but rather a lack of engagement with the current political system and an absence of representation.
Eden Habte — Ethiopia
In Ethiopia, amidst a strong political, social and institutional crisis, it has become commonplace to observe strong political involvement among young people. In Ethiopia, young people have been demanding economic reconstruction, better functioning institutions and more progressive sustainable development policies. But, unfortunately, none of these demands have been addressed by the government. This is because the government is refusing to take responsibility for the current state of affairs in the country and is shifting the blame onto the previous administration’s pitfalls. As a result, politicians have not prioritized the issues that are important to young people, and young people believe their demands are not priorities to the current government. Young people do not believe their voices are being heard and have lost faith in the political process.
Ouatatchin Kone — Cote D’Ivoire
Despite what older generations say, I believe young people are very active in politics today. The survey results are indicative of this. Young people want to have their voices heard and play a key role in national and international decision-making. However, to facilitate more youth involvement, political systems must be transformed both in terms of structure and how they engage with young people. In the case of my country, Cote D’Ivoire, there is no promotion of youth engagement in our traditional political structures. There is also no youth representation in government. In parliament, only 8.8 per cent of elected officials are under 40 years old. As a result, while young people are engaged in advocacy work and bringing innovative policy solutions to politicians, their suggestions are rarely implemented or taken on board because the avenues for their involvement do not exist. I think this is a big reason why the youth feel disappointed and frustrated.
I also think that in many countries, young people feel that they are only used during election campaigns for their votes and in demonstrations as human shields by politicians. Once elected, many politicians do not keep the promises they made and pursue a more self-serving agenda. So, the distrust that youth have for politicians is understandable.
This is the third of six blog posts exploring some of the insights from the 2019 Common Futures Conversations Youth Survey.
The Common Futures Conversations project is developing an online platform to facilitate dialogue between young people and policymakers in Africa and Europe. For more information, please visit the website.
Common Futures Conversations is a collaboration between Chatham House and Robert Bosch Stiftung.