A working democracy for the youth, is a working democracy for all.

The third Summit for Democracy was held from 18th to 20th March 2024 at Seoul, South Korea under the theme of “Democracy for Future Generations” centering the voices of youth in advancing democratic ideals and turning the tide at a time when democracy is at a decline, globally. 

With half of the 7.9 billion global population being under 30, the future of democracy and its success highly depends on the buy-in and support among its youth. However, the current global representation of youth in political leadership is dismal. The United Nations shows that in a third of the countries, the eligibility for national Parliament starts at 25 years or older. However, only 1.65% parliamentarians around the world are in their 20s and 11.87% are in their 30s.  

In a panel discussion that our communication officer, Loise Mwakamba participated in, members of the civil society drawn from South Korea, Uganda, Kenya and Finland delved into the reasons for dissatisfaction with democracies among youth and the importance of education on democracy.

Among the main reasons why youth are dissatisfied with their governments is the broken social contract. In Kenya, this has manifested in different regimes over-promising and under-delivering on their commitments for youth. Case in point, addressing the high unemployment rates among youth was one of the immediate tasks the Kenya Kwanza Government set to undertake upon resuming office. However, 19 months on, the government is falling short of expectation among its largest demographic. Additionally, recent tax policies pose a threat to job safety if businesses put in place measures to stay afloat, a likely scenario in the coming months or years. 

Secondly, youth struggle with being taken seriously. Time after time, youth have been a critical unit to democracies. From advocating for citizens’ rights through advocacy, enhancing awareness civic awareness and mobilizing and supporting movements. However, youth have historically been viewed as a means to an end. Election campaigns have been evidence to this as was the case with the last Kenyan general elections that majorly ran on the back of the youth. By taking a glance at the manifestos of the presidential candidates from 2022, one can clearly see that numerous pledges were made that would be beneficial to young Kenyans. But the “promise to implementation” pipeline remains underwhelming. 

Thirdly, youth are grossly underrepresented in leadership. Youth encounter numerous hurdles in actively engaging in politics, one of them being the high cost of politics. The monetization of politics has locked out many willing youth from seeking out political seats making politics a preserve for senior and more resourced individuals.

To remedy some of these challenges, the panelists proposed a number of interventions. First, politics needs to be demonetized to encourage increased participation of youth and youth need to actively engage political parties, which are key vehicles to youth participation and representation. 

Secondly, intentional civic education needs to be undertaken jointly by governments, civil society, educators and the media. The disinterest among youth has been largely credited to this. Many seek an answer to “what’s in it for me” to see the value in taking part in political processes. Inculcating a culture of understanding Kenya’s political history from the formative stage could potentially create a deeper appreciation for the rights that we have and fuel the initiative to champion for these rights to be upheld and advanced. 

The voter apathy and poor voting choices witnessed in every election cycle could also be addressed by sustained civic education. Through understanding of constitutional mandates of the various political offices, citizens would be in a better position of not only holding leaders accountable but gauging candidates’ ability to execute these roles in future elections. Additionally, this could result in more youth being advocates for peaceful and transparent elections with a reality of numerous countries being thrown to chaos post-election. 

Finally, there has to be concerted efforts in utilizing technology for the good of democracy. This could encourage public participation in policy and law-making among youth who are more tech-savvy and connected to the internet. However, internet access challenges need to be addressed by governments to ensure that no one is left behind. 

To conclude the Summit, the Youth Cohort developed a number of commitments that serve actionable points and recommendations for participating governments to adopt as commitments, reforms and initiatives to improve youth rights and participation in their national contexts. They include prioritization of the youth voice in governance, supporting youth in government, supporting youth freedom of expression, promoting a culture of youth political participation and promoting a culture of human rights among youth. 

If taken up seriously, these could be a game changer and turn the tide for the youth in many democracies. From the melting pot of ideas at the Summit, it is certainly evident that young people care about their democracies and want them to work for them. 

If the issues that youth are interested in such as work rights, more employment opportunities and conducive environments for innovation and entrepreneurship, working health systems and freedom of expression are addressed, don’t all citizens stand to gain? 

Posted by Loise Mwakamba on April 5, 2024

Categories:  Summit for Democracy   Youth Leadership   Youth in Politics



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