KAMPALA – Young people remain an integral part of the democracy of our country. Their numerical and demographic strength continues to be ignored and paid attention to by many stakeholders in the politics and goverance of our country. Many forget that this numerical strength can cause a shift in governance. The role of the youth in mobilising?society and demanding to contribute to decision-making processes are always overlooked yet such demands will not only affect the lives of youth but the nation at large. Through all this their actions transforms policies and makes institutions more accountable.
For a very long time young people have complained and contested against exclusion and alienation, as the majority of them are denied opportunities in political parties, civil society and other sectors for lack of exeprience.
Majority of the young people are faced with challenges of uncertain future characterised by persistent poverty, unemployment, inequality, exploitation and violence. All these forces have an effect on their self-esteem, self-identity, their sense of belonging and their ability to appreciate being fully part of a promised dream of freedom in a democracy promised by President Museveni in his ten-point programme.
The upcoming general elections of 2021, presents a big opportunity for the young people to use their numerical strength cause an impact in the politics, governance and democracy of the country. Despite the delays by the Government of Uganda to ratify the African Charter on Elections and Governance, the youth can still cause a shift through their participation in the upcoming elections. The 2021 general election will perhaps answer how much young people can offer through their civic and political engagement.
The incumbent government has been accused of using the country’s voter registration process to silence young voters ahead of next year’s general elections. An estimated one million first-time voters is going to miss out on voting in the next election cycle which violates their constitutional right to vote as enshrined under Article 59 of the constitution.
Uganda is among the countries with the world’s youngest populaces. It is estimated that 78% of the entire population is below the age of 35 and the average being 17. This means that such a young population is able to determine the direction of the politics, governance and democracy of the country if they meaningfully and actively participate in the upcoming election.
Political analysts predict that there is likely to be a decline in level of participation by youth in the upcoming elections. This is attributed to the frustration of the youth with the state’s failure to provide them with desirable prospects. Their daily struggles to secure decent employment, afford education and provide for their families are some of the reasons likely to affect heir participation in civic responsibilities. Moreover, most of them seem to have low levels of trust in politicians, their parties and, at some level, local government. The imminent use of digital campaigns as suggested by the Electoral Commission in the upcoming elections is likely to affect voter turnup among the youth especially those who cannot access digital platforms to get information.
Civil Society Organisations have played in big role in ensuring that young people reclaim platforms to speak out about and voice their frustrations with an environment that seems to reinforce the structure and systemic oppression that has prevented them from enjoying the promised prospects of a democracy.
Against this background, it is important to note that society does not mistake young people’s dissatisfaction with the state and other arms of the public sector for apathy. The youth may be alienated from contemporary Uganda political culture, but they are seeking platforms to make their voices heard and be involved as legitimate and respected decision-makers in society.
In recognising young people as agents of change in a democracy, society needs to explore new ways to involve them because the traditional welfarist approach has failed. This approach does not recognise the youth as a key contributor to policy decision-making processes.
Instead, a developmental approach is needed. This approach recognises young people’s agency and acknowledges them as legitimate stakeholders with equal voice. This approach advocates for young people’s voices to be heard and for their legitimate participation in nation-building to be recognised.
Civil society in particular must ensure that young people are meaningfully and actively involved in democratic projects if it is to be truly inclusive. Society must acknowledge that the voice of young is integral to our democracy and thus must not be silenced, for the youth are agents of change in our democracy.
The writer is a Lawyer and Advocacy and Communications personnel at Youth Line Forum