Clos­ing the youth ap­a­thy gap

Sunday Express - - LEADER - Michael A Asudi

WHEN the United Na­tions’ mem­ber coun­tries adopted the Sus­tain­able Devel­op­ment Goals two years ago, they com­mit­ted them­selves to re­duce sub­stan­tially “the pro­por­tion of youth not in em­ploy­ment, ed­u­ca­tion, or train­ing.” That com­mit­ment will be vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble to ful­fill, un­less po­lit­i­cal par­tic­i­pa­tion by young peo­ple in­creases con­sid­er­ably.

Young peo­ple are crit­i­cal to progress. As U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama put it in a 2015 speech in Nairobi, “no coun­try can achieve its full po­ten­tial un­less it draws on the tal­ents of all its peo­ple.” And youth now com­prise a large share of those peo­ple – 18 per cent of the world’s pop­u­la­tion, to be pre­cise. The share is even larger in much of the de­vel­op­ing world. The me­dian age of Africa’s pop­u­la­tion is just 19.5 years.

Given their num­bers, not to men­tion ris­ing ed­u­ca­tion and lit­er­acy rates, young peo­ple can make a world of dif­fer­ence, shap­ing po­lit­i­cal dis­course and elec­toral out­comes. But that re­quires them to be en­gaged and ac­tive.

In the United King­dom, most young peo­ple wish to re­main in the Euro­pean Union. As a Lord Ashcroft poll showed, 73 per cent of those aged 18-24, and 62 per cent of those aged 25-34, voted ac­cord­ingly in last year’s ref­er­en­dum. But most young Bri­tish did not ac­tu­ally show up to cast their votes, al­low­ing the UK’s older, pre­dom­i­nantly proBrexit co­horts to win the day.

Pre­sum­ably hav­ing learned their les­son from the Brexit ref­er­en­dum, young Bri­tons con­trib­uted to an un­ex­pected vic­tory for Labour in June’s snap gen­eral elec­tion. In Kenya’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, held last month, 51 per cent of reg­is­tered vot­ers were be­low the age of 35 years. Although the Supreme Court an­nulled the re­sults and or­dered a fresh vote, ow­ing to elec­toral ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties and il­le­gal­i­ties, large num­bers of young peo­ple are likely to turn out again.

Un­for­tu­nately, Kenya is the ex­cep­tion that proves the rule. Po­lit­i­cal ap­a­thy among young peo­ple, like that seen in the Brexit ref­er­en­dum, re­mains per­va­sive world­wide. In many re­gions of Africa, for ex­am­ple, young peo­ple are dis­il­lu­sioned with pol­i­tics, con­vinced that wealthy older peo­ple will al­ways pre­vail and ad­vance their own in­ter­ests, of­ten at the ex­pense of younger gen­er­a­tions.

This sense of dis­em­pow­er­ment is threat­en­ing to turn the de­vel­op­ing world’s youth bulge into a youth curse – with se­ri­ous po­ten­tial con­se­quences. The Arab Spring up­ris­ings, which led to vi­o­lence and in­sta­bil­ity in most af­fected coun­tries, were fu­elled largely by des­per­ate young peo­ple de­mand­ing rights and op­por­tu­ni­ties.

To avoid such out­comes, young peo­ple need to be part of their coun­tries’ po­lit­i­cal life, able to ad­vance their own vi­sion of the fu­ture. As young Kenyans re­peated dur­ing the re­cent elec­tion cam­paign, “If you are not at the table, you are on the menu.”

So what can be done to in­crease po­lit­i­cal aware­ness and par­tic­i­pa­tion among young peo­ple? In Kenya, gov­ern­ment ef­forts have fo­cused on the cre­ation of three in­sti­tu­tions: the Min­istry of Pub­lic Ser­vice, Youth, and Gen­der Af­fairs, the Youth En­ter­prise Devel­op­ment Fund, and the Na­tional Youth Coun­cil. Though some­what dys­func­tional, th­ese in­sti­tu­tions have helped to em­power Kenyan youth, driv­ing the high elec­tion turnout last month.

But per­haps the most ef­fec­tive ap­proach to clos­ing the ap­a­thy gap fo­cuses on ini­tia­tives led by young peo­ple them­selves. In Nige­ria, young peo­ple spear­headed the Not Too Young to Run cam­paign, which led to a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment low­er­ing the min­i­mum age for can­di­dates. Their suc­cess in­spired a global cam­paign to sup­port young peo­ple’s right to run for of­fice.

In Kenya, the youth-led Ji­ac­ti­vate – the name, which com­bines Swahili and English, means “Ac­ti­vate Your­self” – has sought to boost youth par­tic­i­pa­tion in pol­i­tics by high­light­ing the main is­sues af­fect­ing young peo­ple. Ji­ac­ti­vate, in which I am en­gaged as Na­tional Chair­per­son, aims to serve as a plat­form that am­pli­fies young Kenyans’ voices, of­fer­ing them eas­ier ways to take ac­tion.

To in­spire more such ini­tia­tives, there must be a de­lib­er­ate ef­fort to en­gage with youth in a way that sup­ports real po­lit­i­cal en­gage­ment, not to­kenism and empty rhetoric. To that end, the Or­gan­i­sa­tion of Africa Youth, of which I am co­or­di­na­tor, has not only worked with lo­cal youth groups and com­mu­nity net­works; it has also taken lessons from a GeoPoll sur­vey of 2,000 ur­ban and ru­ral Kenyan youth.

That sur­vey showed that, while 27 per cent of re­spon­dents had never en­gaged po­lit­i­cally, 26 per cent had at­tended an event and 34 per cent had posted on so­cial me­dia. More­over, 68 per cent of re­spon­dents said that they would par­tic­i­pate in po­lit­i­cal ac­tion only if they had ac­cess to a safe and trusted plat­form that would pro­tect them from vic­tim­iza­tion, in­tim­i­da­tion, or rep­ri­mand.

One les­son than can be drawn from th­ese data is the po­ten­tial value of so­cial me­dia, which, de­spite be­ing con­strained in many coun­tries dur­ing elec­tions, re­mains a po­tent tool to fa­cil­i­tate youth po­lit­i­cal en­gage­ment. For ex­am­ple, by cre­atively us­ing so­cial me­dia to col­lect, col­late, and am­plify young peo­ple’s pri­or­i­ties in the Kenyan elec­tions, Ji­ac­ti­vate helped spur their in­ter­est in pol­i­tics.

None­the­less, many Kenyans who were pop­u­lar on so­cial me­dia did not make much of an im­pact on the elec­tion’s out­come. Trans­lat­ing so­cial me­dia en­ergy into ef­fec­tive ac­tion in the real world re­mains a daunt­ing chal­lenge.

In­creas­ing youth in­volve­ment in pol­i­tics will re­quire sus­tained com­mit­ment and hard work. But, far from a de­ter­rent, this should serve as a pow­er­ful in­cen­tive to get started. No one is more af­fected by past, present, and fu­ture poli­cies than young peo­ple. They must take their seat at the table, not wait un­til one is of­fered. - Project Syn­di­cate

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Lesotho

© PressReader. All rights reserved.