How African Adult Politicians Have Kept the Youth in the Peripheries of Governance Processes
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Youth participation is fast gaining prominence in discourses of democratic governance, with confidence growing that the inclusion of young leaders in governance structures can enhance the quality of service delivery, especially for the youth. It is widely becoming clear that adults cannot represent the best interests of young people, and democracy works better the more inclusive a polity becomes in representing diverse interests of population segments. This study explored the factors that inhibit youth participation in democratic governance, using in–depth interviews, reviews of related researches and mini–workshops with young political activists trained by Mandela Institute for Development Studies (MINDS). It confirmed that youth participation was low in all eight sampled countries – Nigeria, Senegal, Tunisia, Morocco, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa and Zimbabwe. Youth aged 18–25, young women, youth with disabilities and urban youth were found to be disinterested in elections, while rural youth were reported to be more active in electoral processes, albeit from an uninformed position because of their generally low educational profile. Pursuit of formal employment, which may involve out– migration, is one of the factors that divert youth attention from governance processes. This is worsened by a stereotyped adult belief that youths cannot lead adults. Patriarchal social norms prevent young women from conceiving political career plans while, worse, youth with disability are confined to the home in the misinformed belief that they cannot help themselves. Further, youth feel that governance processes are generally too formalized to capture their interest, as they prefer edutainment activities and online engagements via social media. Use of the social media was found to be highly favorable to young people because of the confidentiality that it guarantees, which enables them to freely express their views without fear of victimization and/or intimidation. The research recommends capacity building of young people through strengthened civil society organizations (CSO) to build a mass of youth who aspire to become today’s leaders. It further recommends the reform of governance processes and structures to be more youth– friendly, disability–sensitive and accommodative of female youth. Apart from so doing adults will continue to dominate governance structures, yet failing to represent the interests of young people who nonetheless constitute more than half of the continent’s population.