Youth convening: Listen to us and deliver on promises!
10 youth from 6 African countries demand their political leaders listen to their young populations and deliver on the democratic promises found in the African Charter for Democracy, Elections and Governance. The youth crafted their call for action at a convening in Lusaka, Zambia in december 2018 as part of an ambitious Pan-African and European partnership seeking to promote democratic values across the African continent.
"We, the East African Youth, call on our leaders!"
These young people are demanding their countries listen to their peoples. Especially to youth who want to get involved and shape the future. They are calling on their political leaders to deliver on their promises of democracy. For their politicians to stop meddling in elections. To let the media do their job without interference. In short: To ensure democratic societies for the benefit of all, across Africa.
They are 10 politically engaged youth from across 6 countries in East Africa, and they have convened in Lusaka, Zambia to craft a strong message to the political leadership in their countries: Implement the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (ACDEG) by establishing the necessary institutions and instilling the values of freedom, peace and democracy. The youth convening is happening at ActionAid’s Global Platform Zambia as part of a Pan-African - European partnership project to promote democratic values involving ActionAid as well as other civil society partners across 8 African countries.
Badru Juma Rajab works at the Youth of United Nations Association of Tanzania, a country which has neither signed nor ratified the ACDEG. He is here at the youth convening with especially one message: Youth-involvement.
“There is a lack of access to democratic debate and to voting. In schools, there is limited information about governance and elections. Young people are simply told, if they want to participate in political discussion ‘you must be in a party’. But young people don’t have a lot of faith in the political system and its politicians.”
Badru Juma Rajab’s words draw nods from around the room. Faith Norah Lukosi, Nairobi County Youth Senator for Youth Senate Kenya, sees the same challenges in her home country: The voice of the youth is not being heard:
“There is no real place for youth in politics. There is a great need for capacity-building to enable youth to participate.”
The voice of the youth is, in some respects, the voice of the people, as Africa has a population of more than 200 million aged 15 to 24, the youngest population in the world. A figure which trends indicate will double by 2045. Jonas Nudunguru takes this into account as he talks about the ACDEG. He interns at East African Civil Society Organisations’ Forum (EACSOF), where he is working on a legal analysis of the ACDEG in regard to the constitution of Tanzania.
“It has to be people-centered! Because it [the ACDEG - ed.] has to do, ultimately, with people’s lives,” Jonas Nudunguru says.
This is not the case today with politics, says Kharono Michelle Carol, Publicity Secretary for Kampala District at the National Youth Council of Uganda. The political system has forgotten the people, she says:
“Politicians are not advocating for us, but for themselves. The only difference between parliament and the local market is the buildings. In both places people are there to do business, nothing else.”
The youth here at the convening are ambitious. They call on their political leaders to be better at working together across borders. One issue that arises, for example, is refugees who have fled Burundu in the wake of political unrest and violent clashes in the past years. This must be a regional issue, reminds Primus Bahiigi, who is manager at ActionAid Ugandas Global Platform in Kampala.
“We cannot let people in Burundi die because of the principle of nation-state sovereignty, if we are to be an East African community. Issues like these are regional.”
Erasing divisions to work together
The issue of division, and of borders, keeps surfacing. Suleiman Makwita of Tanzania Youth Vision Association, an experienced political activist on ACDEG issues, chimes in to remind everyone of nation-state borders and their origins: “We cannot let borders created by colonialists divide us.”
But borders and nation-states are not the only thing creating division and hindering a stronger regional and continental push for democracy. Deep cultural issues hinder free, fair, and peaceful democratic processes, Faith Norah Lukosi argues.
“In Kenya, we have seen violence and killings leading up to elections. Often based on racial profiling of darker skin versus lighter skin. Or according to other ethnic or tribal divisions.”
It is clear within the room at Global Platform Zambia that this group of youth won’t let borders or ethnic divisions get between them. Instead they unite and put forth a message from all of them to their political leaders: It is time to step up, listen to the youth, and deliver the promises of the African Charter for Democracy, Elections and Governance.
And even with the many obstacles in their way, there is optimism among this group of engaged youth. Primus Bahiigi is not afraid to talk about chaning the world: “If we can get these messages through to the political leaders, East Africa would be a better place.”