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Youth Participation in National Planning Is Key to Good Governance

Africa has a vibrant, youthful population. However, the potential among this demographic has not yet been realized across the continent.

In countries like Uganda, policies do not respond to the concerns of younger citizens, even though they make up nearly 60% of the total electorate. Only 30% of Uganda’s parliament is under 35 years old despite 78% of the population fitting that age demographic. This is a problem not just relegated to Uganda.

There is minimal engagement on governance issues between the political elites and civic actors in other parts of Africa as well. For instance, most parliaments are largely dominated by political parties with limited representation of women, youth, and other marginalized groups, such as persons with disabilities. The lack of investment in youth welfare, protection, and gender equity reflects the low priority many governments attach to these issues when it comes to budget planning and implementation. In most countries, the idea of budgeting at the national level is seen as technical and has remained in the domain of economists and financial experts and is seen to have little to do with young people.

The African Youth Charter obliges state parties to, among other things, “facilitate the creation or strengthening of platforms for youth participation in decision-making at local, national, regional and continental levels of governance.” Aspiration 6 of Agenda 2063, The Africa We Want, emphasizes an Africa whose development is people-driven, especially its women and youth. The African Union has, through various structures and instruments, been working to amplify young people's voices and provide concrete plans of action for more youth inclusion in public service and governance.

Since 2010, the continent has experienced a series of positive changes because of youth-led activism demanding legitimate rights, particularly reforms in governance.1 In preparation for the 2021 national elections in Uganda, IRI implemented several activities with the youth which included voter education training, civil society activities such as registering to vote, advocacy work with community leaders, and volunteerism to mention but a few. This was done to encourage more participation among younger voters and candidates in the elections.

Globally, there is increasing recognition that young people not only have the right to decide how resources are allocated but that they also have valuable knowledge and viewpoints to establish good governance. For any country, budgets are extremely important as they act as instruments for implementing the provisions in the international, regional, and national conventions, leading to the promotion of citizen welfare. Better outcomes in any sector - for instance, in education, health, or rural development - depend not just on allocations, but also on actual execution and proper use of those allocations through social accountability. 

Youth, particularly young women, can involve themselves in participatory budgeting, public expenditure tracking, monitoring public service delivery, lobbying, and embarking on advocacy campaigns. Youth-led organizations, among other stakeholders, should step to the forefront and mobilize and organize young people and their organizations for progressive social change, by enhancing collective power to challenge unequal and unjust authority. A special focus on the empowerment of girls and women to meaningfully express themselves and actively participate in leadership and decision-making processes is necessary if we are to see their increased participation.

It is, therefore, applaudable that policymakers, the international community, and regional bodies create awareness about key issues in their countries and advocate for a more realistic budgeting process that meets the needs of the youth, underserved communities, and ensures adequate financing of inclusive public services. Now more than ever, youth leadership is expedient as countries seek to rebuild the momentum they lost during the COVID-19 pandemic. IRI recognizes the importance of good governance that incorporates youth voices and seeks to implement programming that bolsters the work of individuals developing such structures.

 

[1] “Railroads and Revolutions.” The Levant Express: The Arab Uprisings, Human Rights, and the Future of the Middle East, by MICHELINE R. ISHAY, Yale University Press, NEW HAVEN; LONDON, 2019, pp. 13–40. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctvmd854g.6. Accessed 12 May 2021.