This was actually the first piece I wrote for Foresight for Development (originally published on their site), and I guess it was just me reacting to the ‘give me, give me’ attitude that we young people parade all over the place like we are entitled to certain things just because we are ‘young’.
If every young person had a pound each time we heard we deserved this, and that just because we make up a huge percentage of the population in Africa, we would all be very rich. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t last very long.
We would head right back to penury in a few weeks because a proverb says, “poverty, like palm oil, cannot help but soil every finger”. Another one says: “It is difficult to remain rich in the midst of poverty”. If the clamoring isn’t rising from the bottom to the top and if it is not all-inclusive, it won’t be very effective.
The calls for inclusion in decision-making in Africa, for the most part, are abstract. It is akin to seeking to fly where one has not first learned to walk steadily.
The rigor is largely misdirected. There are more people saying “give us” rather than people showing they are ready to ‘take it’. Even better people should be asking, “What can we do to help you give us”?
Truth is, young people (aged 15-25) make up a fifth of the world’s population, 20% more in developing countries than the 13% in developed countries. So, one would think that the demographic would not be ignored. But it is ignored, and for a number of reasons, including the age for electoral participation and political representation, a lack of capacity and knowledge about political laws and processes. Consider all of this before we start talking about the widely touted issues around financing, youth being seen as the problem rather than the solution, compulsory youth quotas, etc.
“A youth-friendly legal system is an important component of an environment that enables youth political participation. Among the most important elements are the minimum voting age to vote but also to run in elections” (Enhancing Youth Political Participation, UNDP 2012).
Now, I believe that while we must be grateful for the African Youth Charter, note that there are 54 individual countries that make up Africa. Individual here meaning that there are different languages, levels of literacy and Internet saturation, religions, socio-economic indices, policies and realities, and traditional/tribal leadership structures that affect the way young people see themselves. The way we see ourselves is a much bigger discussion that preceeds or should preceed the one about inclusion in the national/international decision-making process.
Africa can therefore not be seen as a homogenous unit. Therefore the African Union Commission would be stronger and more effective as an advocacy/pseudo-lobbying group, by pressing African governments to consider/adopt laws/charters developed by their young people.
Bringing this home to Nigeria, young people must therefore know their laws before demanding things the constitution does not provide for. For example, demanding (especially online) for a certain percentage of leadership is foolhardy, because the constitution stipulates the ages of 40, 35, and 30 if a person aspires to be president, senator, house of representatives/state house of assembly member, respectively.
This means that as a first step there must be an agreement on the definition of ‘youth’. Advocacy in this instance should then naturally focus on lowering the age of eligibility, rather than using social media for the blanket demand, #30percent or nothing.
Youth must also reject tokenism or quasi-representation without any influence. We must reject being used for photo opportunities or for the sake of participation but instead challenge our laws to provide significant quotas for youth and women representation.
To be able to do these, young people have to do a few things:
- We must come together and realize that chopping off an oak tree doesn’t start from celebrating a few branches that were knocked off by the wind. And so we must seek knowledge. We must show ourselves faithful in whatever little corners we find ourselves in; we must develop ourselves socially and intellectually.
- Youth (and youth organizations) must see themselves as complimentary units of one body rather than competition, and seek opportunities to harness the power of our numbers.
- We must see social media as a means to an end and not the end in itself, especially because of the circumstances surrounding Internet rates in Africa. We cannot base our campaigns solely online, like youth in Singapore with its national Internet and mobile penetration percentages of 84 and 137 respectively, can afford to do. What are we doing in our communities? How are we reaching the digitally excluded? Ben Rattray, founder and CEO of Change.org, said in a 2013 interview with NBC that, “when you marry petitions with social media, making petitions really personal and local, they have the incredible capacity to make a difference.” Our activism must go beyond signatures online and twiddling thumbs to actual influence in our local communities, if we want to be taken seriously.
Kofi Annan, Former Secretary-General of the United Nations said: “No one is born a good citizen; no nation is born a democracy. Rather, both are processes that continue to evolve over a lifetime. Young people must be included from birth. A society that cuts itself off from its youth severs its lifeline; it is condemned to bleed itself to death”.
We, in whose hands the future is to be entrusted, must be equipped and ready to cater for it.
P:S – I like guest writing. Let me know if you want me to write something for you/your organisation.
PPS – 85% of my external writing is paid for. The other 15% is free, depending on who/what it is for.