This article recognizes that youths are social public actors with their own conceptualizations and lived experience, multiplex identities and community standings; though not homogeneous. Therefore, it is intractable to provide a clear cut definition of youth that would depict the lived experience of all youths in general.
Democracy and Youths:
There is an in general reluctance by youths’ activists on the continent of Africa to associate themselves with politics due to lack of trust in their current elected leaders. Also, there is a perception among youths in Africa that politicians are dishonest, corrupt, and that politics is bad.
The political system in Africa is mostly democratic in nature as it is controlled by the impact of international forces and a number of African feudal aristocrats, political leaders, bureaucrats and organizations. Democratic elections in Africa for the most part, are changing actors but same old scripts, and enormous corruption. Moreover, without youths’ participation and representation, democratic society could be undermined, because for democracy to function well all parts of society must be included. It’s time to stop castigating youth and instead try to understand and evaluate with compassion why disengaging is often their duck position.
Young people are frequently less engaged in the overall political processes across the continent, and young people feel that they have little opportunity to participate in politics, but their role in democratic process is totally important. Therefore, lack of political efficacy of youth has influenced their behavior towards politics. As such, they have insufficient trust in political parties, governments, and politicians. When young people are disenfranchised or less engaged from political processes, a significant portion of the population has little or no voice or influence in decisions that affect them. This leads to consequences undermining of democratic systems. Young people are not only participating less than adults, but their levels of contribution are declining at a more rapid rate. African youths are less likely to vote in national elections, engage in public behavior or sign up others in raising an issue, compared to their elders.
The role of youths in nation-building is more important than anyone might think. In other words, the brains and work of the youth will take Africa on the right lane to success. AU also acknowledged the importance of investing in young people by adopting the African Youth Charter about 12 years ago and later declared 2009 to 2018 the “African Youth Decade.” It developed an action plan to empower youth and promote their participation in politics as events in many African countries and various surveys, have shown, plans to get more youth elected to political office have not been translated into action, and it is a clear evidence that the participation of young people in formal, institutional political processes is low when compared to older citizens across the continent.
Youths are the building blocks of any country, and it is a well-known reality that the youth of any country is a prodigious asset. They are indeed the future of the country and should be represented at every level. In other words, the participation and representation of youths will take the continent on the pathway of success. Young people participation at every level of the development process will enhance their capacity and provide the needed experience for the future growing responsibilities.
Most youth initiatives on the continent, however, appear to be more about given jobs and good education than partaking in the opinionated political system, plus representation. According to the United nation development programme (UNDP), youths are sociologically described as young individuals transitioning from adolescence to adulthood. The focus on youth, in terms of their engagement in the political arena, is a relatively new priority but extremely timely, particularly in light of recent events and democratic transitions in the continent. Africa has the youngest population globally, with people under the age of 35 years accounting for nearly 70% of the total population.
This young demographic in Africa holds an enormous quantity of energy that can be used in addressing the continent's many social, cultural, financial, political and ideological challenges. The effectiveness with which the continent will deploy policies, and structures for youths engagement, and participation in political processes will largely determines whether the growing number of youths will have a positive or a negative impact on democracy. This is because only young people can set up the pathway for the attainment of equal rights which is still not in practice in many parts of Africa, and put an end to corruption and bribery.
According to the UNDP some countries in the continent have resorted to affirmative action to ensure youth are represented, Uganda reserves five seats in its parliament for youth representatives. In Kenya, 12 parliamentary seats are reserved for representatives to be nominated by political parties to represent special interests, including youth, people with disabilities and workers. In Rwanda, the National Youth Council elects two members to the chamber of deputies, and in Morocco, the election law includes 30 seats reserved for candidates under the age of 40 years. All of these present an enormous opportunity for young people to get actively involved in social, and political issues. As patriotic citizens, their participation will help in promoting national integration, and serving as brimming rivers for empowering the masses in expressing solidarity.
Youths As Double Edged Sword:
Youths have a vital role in the political arenas in Africa. They need to be adequately represented in political institutions, processes, and decision-making, and particularly in elections. Young people must know their rights and be given the necessary knowledge and capacity to participate in a meaningful way at all levels. This will subsequently lead to strengthening political structure. Youths are double-edged swords for the continent. While it is true that youth can spur innovation, creativity, social change, economic growth, and enterprise all of which enhance development, if young people are not well managed, and involved into political representations it can fuel instability, violent protest, and conflict. When there are obstacles to participating in formal, institutionalized political processes, young people can rapidly feel disempowered. And, youths often tend to believe that their voices are not been heard, and they are not being taken seriously despite their sensitivity to the demands for social equity and justice, which often leads to youths’ involvement in freedom or independence struggles, mobilizing and campaigning against autocratic governments, and championing opposition to virtual forms of democratic governments.
Youth protests have contributed to changing national leaders, and governments in many African countries over the past years. Early in 2019, Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika was ousted following months of youth-led street demonstrations. Around the same time, in April, Sudan youths-led revolution and thousands filled the streets of Khartoum demanding a civilian government, and that protest caused the removal of President Omar al-Bashir. Media reports on streets of these demonstrations routinely highlight the active presence of youth at the helm of these political and social discontents across the continent.
All of these protests were the result of a dangerous combination of a lack of job opportunities, poor economic growth, lack of youth representation, and involvement in decision making. In many African countries, youths are not given opportunities to prove themselves with the excuse that they are not sufficiently experienced to participate actively in the governance of the country. Almost all the major political parties on the continent seem to be functioning under the monopoly of old leaders. In parts of Africa where youths are afforded the opportunity to participate in politics, young people continue to demonstrate the transformational value they can bring to governance. In countries such as Mali, South Sudan, Liberia, and the Central African Republic, young people have become human rights observers, and civil society activists, and countries such as Burundi, Central African Republic and Gabon, young people were active in voicing their discontent over a variety of issues, including free and fair elections.
Africa desperately needs young leaders who are energetic, enthusiastic, morally sound and diligent. The youth of modern day Africa are aware of the problems facing our various countries and the continent at large. Given a chance they would be willing to change the political condition of the continent for the better, and our development will proceed much faster if we have more young torchbearers to light the way. I am also not saying that old people should leave the political scene. Old people should realize that they must make way for younger people to take control of the activities, but again as Franz Fanon predicted, as a generation, they seem to be discovering their historical mission and seeking ways to fulfil it.
Prinston Anthony Sieh Moosh Nimene is a Liberian and a master candidate at Cavendish University Uganda, studying international relations and diplomacy.