East African young people: claiming their positions as leaders

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East African young people: claiming their positions as leaders

November 25th, 2019

“Gatherings like the YouLead summit are great as they give youth a platform to learn from those who have the experience and each other, but youth should not wait for things to be done for them: If they want to have a place in governance, they have the numbers, and if they want to change policy, they should use either their voting power, organisational power or power of intellect.” – Andrew Mwenda, Ugandan journalist.

Young people make up more than half the population of the East African Community. At WFD, we believe in their power – and recognise their right – to shape the actions and policies taken at every level of government, so they are truly represented.

To support this objective,WFD supported the 2019 YouLead summit – the largest youth leadership gathering in East Africa – which seeks to enable young people to be more meaningfully involved in the implementation and tracking of the region’s sustainable development goals.

This year’s summit took place in Arusha, Tanzania, and brought together over 300 young people from Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, South Sudan, Rwanda and Burundi under the theme ‘Youth at the crossroads: Migration, Participation and Access to opportunities.’

Since 2017, young people from across East Africa have been taking part in the YouLead summit, which aims to provide a space to amplify youth voices in key regional governance and development processes within the framework of the East African Community’s regional integration agenda.

The summit was organised by MS Training Centre for Development Cooperation with support from Westminster Foundation for Democracy, Action Aid, Faraja Africa Foundation, and Restless Development, among others.

While giving his opening remarks, Hon. Martin Ngoga, the Speaker of the East African Legislative Assembly emphasised that leadership positions will not give young people power, if they do not demand it.

Also present at the summit were representatives from youth-led organisations, entrepreneurs and youth leaders who reiterated the importance of young people’s engagement in politics and that leadership is never given but rather taken. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the young people to rise up and begin setting the course and direction of the East Africa they want, and this cannot be done unless the youth stop asking to be given but rather claim their rightful position as East Africa’s leaders.

According to the 2018 Inter-Parliamentary Union report on Youth Participation in National Parliaments, only two percent of young people under 30 are MPs around the world. With the current youth bulge across the world and in East African alone where over 70%of the population is below the age of 30, there is need for more youthful and youth representation in governance.

During a debate on whether young people in East Africa are ready to take up elective positions, analysts all under the age of 30 highlighted some challenges to youth participation in politics such as the high cost of politics, shrinking civic and political space, patronage and socio-cultural discrimination.

It was also argued that young people should not focus solely on elective politics but look at the wider governance spectrum. There was a unanimous agreement that youth leadership is needed in the civil society, business, manufacturing and production sectors, religious and cultural arenas and anywhere because elective positions are very few, yet leadership positions in the governance spectrum are plenty.

At the end of the three-day summit, young people made commitments to create platforms where those interested in governance can be mentored. They also pledged to participate as candidates in the next general elections in their countries as a way of ensuring that young people have a stronger voice in governance.

Having seen so many young people from across East Africa come together at the YouLead summit and passionately debate the policies of their countries and their direction of travel, it is plain for all to see that they care deeply about politics.

This is crucial and is a positive sign for the future. In the words of Hon Adeke Anna Ebaju MP:

“Politics should be the concern of every young person because it determines their access to resources, it determines the opportunities they will have to make a difference in their lives. It will determine everything that will enable them succeed.” 


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