By Bob G. Kisiki
Uganda held the long-awaited village Local council (LC) elections. Many years had elapsed without the elections being held; first, over financial but later, over legitimacy reasons. The vacuum this lapse created cannot be over emphasised; so, when ultimately the Electoral Commission announced that the elections would be held, there was a collective sigh of relief across the nation. However, even with all the intervening years, we showed that we have learnt nothing. The usual bickering based on political parties happened; with the “normal” mess prior to, during and after the polls.
What one would have expected that the elections are used to right the wrongs that have bedevilled the country over time, especially at grassroot level did not happen; we instead witnessed an election that promoted the same evils, weaknesses and problems. One such problem is the continued ignoring of young people in the democratic process. Of course, many will jump out with the claim that there are youth councils and a youth representative in Parliament, as well as a youth representative on the village council, but, we all know that these are mere political postures, which have nothing to do with actual promotion of youth development and leadership.
But, in a country whose population is over 70% youth; in a country where young people are always in the news for such reasons as aggravated robbery; defilement; rape; kidnap with intent to murder, etc; it would have been prudent for our leaders to utilise this election to encourage young people to take a more central stance and begin to engage their fellow youth in managing their society.
Young people are usually overlooked when it comes to participation in political and other forms of leadership, besides using them as agents of more adult contenders. This is detrimental, because it denies the nation an opportunity to tap into the many strengths young people would bring on board if they were allowed at the centre of the leadership circle.
Young people are more energetic, have more fresh ideas and, all factors remaining constant, have a longer time to keep around than their older counterparts. Consider when the current crop of senior leaders first began to engage in the civic matters of their country. Going by what they themselves have said and written, this was way back in the early-to-mid 20th century. To date, they are at the cradle of Ugandan politics and leadership. If the adults of those days had ring-fenced political and civic leadership; shooing off the youth, where would these people be?
In Uganda, where young people have been allowed to participate in the politics of their country, it has been as “activists”; which in many [African] countries is a euphemism for rogues or lumpens who beat up opponents and disrupt order. After they have done this, they are then discarded; at best with a reward of some form of crumbs or other, but never with a significant role that allows them to directly influence the goings-on in the country. This brings to mind what one senior politician was quoted to have said about a certain group of people in Uganda; that they were political condoms, after being used, they are discarded in the loo.
This is exactly what has been happening with the youth; used and then relegated to some insignificant place where their ideas and energy cannot benefit the nation. Even where they are given a fairly significant position that would allow them to influence decisions, they lack the guidance their seniors should have given them, with the result that they end up taking reckless steps that show them as failures. Their older counterparts love this, because it legitimises their insistence on keeping around, with the reason that the young people don’t know what to do. Youths sometimes have better ideas and are better role models for their peers. When the young people see some of the evils that have prevailed in the country for generations, they can’t help attributing them to the older generation.
They would like, therefore, to be allowed room to try their hand at managing the human and other resources of their country. This is their home; the place where their children are going to grow up and probably live all their lives. This is a place where, even if they should go somewhere else and work; they are bound to return to. Ultimately, this is their cradle land. Their home. The presence of young people in leadership positions benefits all people; not just the youth. The Inter-Parliamentary Union reports that people between the ages of 20 and 44 make up 57% of the world’s voting age population, but only 26% of the world’s MPs. Young people under 30 represent only 1.9% of the world’s MPs, and more than 80% of the world’s parliaments have no MPs aged under 30. But go to any political rally, you would be hard pressed to raise a busful of the aged in attendance.
All the chanting; all the dancing; all the mobilisation… young people will be at the centre of it. On voting day, it will be young people standing guard over the voting and counting process; watching menacingly as electoral officials go about their work. It is young people you will see carry the eventual (elderly) winner shoulder high, or riot, if one side feels that they have been cheated or sidelined. It is usually the young people.
Why? Because they know that they have a big stake in the affairs of this country. Because they have waited for long to be admitted (which in itself is even an unfair usage) to the leadership table.
With an almost entirely elderly leadership core, it is barely logical to anticipate that the issues that affect the youth most will be prioritised. By young people engaging in political leadership, it increases their engagement in civic roles, which is greater than political engagement. Civic engagement includes service to the community through involvement in health, education, agriculture and probably charity work. These are the things that benefit society. You can talk GDP and all those other things citizens hear their leaders quote, but, what actually makes a difference in their lives is the quality of education and health; involvement in successful agricultural practices and being there for those who are in need.
If young people are enabled to do this, there will hardly be cause for them to engage in illicit activities. If adults so wish, they can keep in the background as advisers, but let the youth lead. Politicians claim to be champions of youth empowerment, but when the opportunity comes to harness youths to take up leadership positions, they sideline them. This recent LC election was the perfect opportunity to change this trend, but going by what happened, I reiterate, we have barely learnt our lesson…
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