The region cannot attain the democratic maturity in the electoral process that it so much desires without the active participation of the youth. It is evident that youth participation in regional political processes is still lower than that of their elders, particularly in terms of voting.
According to a survey conducted by Afro barometer in 36 African countries between 2014 and 2015, 66 per cent of 18-35-year-old respondents voted in elections, compared to 79 per cent of citizens above the age of 35.
Although most regional partner states are making commendable strides as far as integrating the youth in the political process is concerned, a lot still needs to be done. In the just-concluded Kenyan elections, a 23-year-old university student was elected to parliament, while the opposition party nominated a 24-year-old woman to the Senate.
The regional partner should emulate Kenya and bring in more youth to positions of governance and decision making.
Unfortunately, most of the regional partner states, and indeed the African continent as a whole, have misused the youth in the electoral process. Most of them have been used to advance the cause of the older generation and sometimes are used by selfish leaders to cause violence during the electioneering period.
The region must realize that engaging young people in politics is critical to safeguarding and strengthening democracy in the region. With an estimated 1.2 billion people aged 15-24 on the planet, justice and democratic legitimacy demand more than a token youth presence in parliament.
Indeed, people between the ages of 20 and 44 make up 57 per cent of the world’s voting-age population but only 26 per cent of the world’s MPs.
It is unfortunate that the youths across the region have been repeatedly used as instruments of violence: they have participated actively in destructive anti-social behaviours such as violent demonstrations, intra and inter political party fighting and other politically motivated violence, ritual killings, kidnapping and hostage taking, arson and cult-related violence.
During the three-month Rwandan genocide, which lasted from 7 April to 4 July 1994 and in which over 1 million people were left dead, the youth were active in killing their peers, innocent women and children. It is estimated that an average of 10,000 people were killed daily during that period.
The youth were instrumental, too, in the post-election violence that followed the disputed 2007/2008 presidential election in Kenya. The loss of lives, destruction of property, mass eviction of persons, rape and defilement of women and children that brought Kenyan economy of to its knees was largely blamed on the youth.
It is unfortunate that the political elites have always convinced the youths that violent confrontation at elections to ensure the victory of candidates from their ethnic communities or religions is a struggle in their favour and is necessary to stop marginalisation or other forms of socio-economic discrimination.
It is no wonder, then, that most youths – especially those who are desperately needy – have problems when it comes to making decisions. This largely explains why some politicians capitalise on the weaknesses of youths and involve them in destructive anti-social behaviours.
More often than not, government intervention policies and structures towards tackling the problems of unemployment and poverty among the youth are ill-motivated and poorly packaged, serving as mere palliatives.
More often, these interventionist instruments are not effective enough. Moreover, poverty eradication programmes tend to be elitist and out of the reach of needy youth.
The funds allocated for youth empowerment programmes, for instance, are out of the reach of very poor rural youth and those residing in urban slums.
To successfully involve the youth in the political process – especially the electoral process – the region must commit itself to empowering the youth both intellectually and financially.
Massive enlightenment programmes spearheaded by non-governmental organisations, especially those involved in human rights issues, must be conducted across the region.
This is why forums such as the one conducted by the Regional Youth Consultations Forum, in collaboration with Regional Economic Communities as members of the African Governance Architecture and the East African Community Secretariat, must be done more frequently.
They also must embrace the youth from rural areas and slums, not just the elite youth from well-to-do families and tertiary educational levels.
East African News Agency