The African Youth Charter specifies that “every young person shall have their right to social, economic, political and cultural development with due regard to their freedom and identity and in the equal enjoyment of the common heritage of mankind.” However this statement has induced reflection because youth issues have become political issues. Each year on International Youth Day celebration, we hear of the education and youth unemployment crisis, but as politicians use the youth to further their campaigns to elect, they fail to acknowledge many of the struggles young Africans face.
Despite the fact that young people (ages 18-30) constitute a fifth of the World’s population, they often find themselves marginalized from mainstream politics and decision making processes. Youth consider politics as a space for politically experienced men, and young women see themselves as politically disadvantaged in accumulating experience to run for office, although this is not the case in Rwanda. When asked why they think they are systematically marginalized, the majority of youth make reference to their age, limited opportunities, and wealth, which all project a lack of experience to make political decisions.
This marginalization from the decision making process has led the youth to feel hopeless about their future and inclusion in society. In countries where the governments are corrupt and have continuously oppressed, the youth have been involved in revolts and unrest. The Arab Spring is one such example.
On June 25, 2017 H.E Paul Kagame, during an interview with the Rwandan public broadcaster, RBA, stated that “youth should participate more and better. You (the youth) have to challenge yourself and ask what is my role, how can I play my part?”
In Rwanda, the youth constitute 70% of the population. This figure, Kagame said, is reason for youth to participate in leadership and forge a better future for Rwanda. The role of the government is to empower young people to achieve their potential; but having the skills and knowledge will only serve purpose when put to good use. “Participating in politics is taking responsibility to contribute to nation building. That’s why young people should be supported to engage. But most importantly engage more and better,” the President said.
A simple but essential question we need to ask ourselves is: why should youth participate in politics and what are the benefits of their involvement? Youth involvement will be of assistance in the shift from political to civic engagement, it will empower us to be better citizens, break the status quo, and create a sense of youth patriotism. After all, who can understand the youth better than other youth?
Today’s youth need real opportunities to participate in political processes and contribute to practical solutions that advance development. When given an opportunity to organize, voice their opinions, and play a meaningful role in political decision making, young people consistently demonstrate their willingness and ability to foster positive, lasting change. They also become more likely to demand and defend democracy, and gain a greater sense of belonging.
For Africa to achieve more youth participation in decision making processes, there is need to put in place policies and strategies that emphasize and enable youth to participate from the grassroots to the national level. We need to invite students and youth representatives of all kinds, to contribute and collaborate in order to discuss how to achieve optimum youth participation. Our leaders need to support young people and channel their energy to help them become political leaders and activists. Through youth participation programs, young people can build their skills and confidence while expressing their voices more effectively, building relationships with political leaders, and breaking down socio-cultural and institutional barriers to participation.
However, we must be at the heart of the 2018 African political agenda as young people’s involvement in politics will increase the quality of African democracy. National political parties need to significantly change their approaches in order to engage youth in the campaigns.
In concluding my article, allow me to quote Kofi Annan, he said “Young people should be at the forefront of global change and innovation. Empowered, they can be key agents for development and peace. If, however, they are left on society’s margins, all of us will be impoverished. Let us ensure that all young people have every opportunity to participate fully in the lives of their societies.”
About me: My name is Patrick Irakuzwa K. and I’m a Political science graduate from University of Rwanda (2013), with an interest in Peacebuilding, global governance and social media where I propagate my ideas for a better society. I am currently working as a Program officer at Never Again Rwanda. My email: email@example.com, Tel: +250788777969.