For Africa to achieve more youth participation in electoral processes, there is need to put in place mechanisms, policies and strategies that emphasise and enable them to participate from the grassroots to the national level.
The call was made in Kigali yesterday by the State Minister for socio-economic development Cyriaque Harerimana during a continental forum of African election management bodies that attracted participants from the African Union Commission, African electoral communities, youth representatives, among others.
Addressing the participants, Harerimana said that, in Rwanda, government looks at the country’s youth as partners in development and has made sure that they are involved at all-decision making levels.
“The National Strategy for Transformation is threefold; economic, social and governance. When we talk of governance, we are also referring to our youth and their participation in deciding the future of the country,” he said.
He gave an example of the just-concluded presidential elections in which over 45 per cent of the voters were youth.
He said the youth had been given a say in all electoral processes and have been an integral part of the process, mostly choosing to volunteer and in the process, significantly reducing the electoral budget.
Kenya’s Caren Wakoli, the executive director and founder, Emerging Leaders Foundation, underlined the importance of choosing good leaders.
“If you have good leaders, they will be mindful of the people, they will pass good policies, implement them well, involve the people and that will touch the lives of the woman, man and child in the community. If you have bad leaders, a corrupt government, there is going to be poor infrastructure, mothers will die while giving birth, and there will be no access to health care. Leadership is a matter of life and death,” she said.
She called for what she described as ideology-based politics whereby citizens debate real issues affecting real people. She also said that there was need for election management bodies to vet the candidates running for office to ensure that they are people with integrity.
“We need people who are willing to do the right thing and speak up whenever necessary,” she said.
The former Chairperson of the Independent National Electoral Commission of Nigeria, Prof. Attahiru Jega, told the participants that for African youths to be contributors to the continent’s sustainable development, it was important to positively and actively engage them.
“Engaging the youth does not necessarily mean to get them elected but also telling them where the country wants to be. The best future depends on how we prepare our children. When we prepare them for sustainable development from the beginning, way before they are youth, matters,” he said.
Africa is the most youthful continent with current estimates indicating that 65 per cent of its 1.2 billion population is below the age of 35 years while over 35 per cent of the youth fall between the ages of 15 and 35 years.
By 2020, it is projected that 3 out of 4 people in Africa will be 20 years old on average.