Youth & Politics: worlds apart in Africa’s success story
Botswana’s eleventh session of parliament has just ended. Political parties are gearing up for national elections. As promises are being made, I am reminded of how history shows that many of these are often unfulfilled. There is a sudden surge of youth-oriented opportunities from the state – reflecting how the majority is often lured into the promise of prosperity over a few months every five years just before elections. In many of these state-driven youth empowerment programs, there is little impact. Grants or funds are disbursed in time for voting periods, with little support in ensuring youth proposals can contribute in a meaningful way to the nation’s productivity and their own livelihoods. The high levels of unemployment reflect a system that thrives in depriving youth sustainable opportunities.
This election is believed to be the most unpredictable and competitive since independence. This is attributed to an incrementally stronger opposition and two newly established political parties with one backed by the former president and a paramount chief, who stepped down less than two years ago due to the two term limit. These options have certainly dominated public discourse, yet we remain with unmet voter registration targets. This can be attributed to other related issues such as delays in corruption related persecutions, gross income inequality, inadequate service delivery and various form of violence plaguing the country.
More importantly, the options to choose from all have serious shortcomings. There is little credibility in manifestos, the caliber of leadership and the critical thinking of how the country can progress in a challenging geopolitical and human rights era. Young people remain disenfranchised due to a lack of ecosystem to support the Arts, underemployment if employed, unemployment if not in learning environments and structural barriers to meaningful participation in the economy and community. There is a clear social impediment in excluding young people in decision making spaces, traditional, municipal and national across all sectors. Solutions to these challenges certainly do not lie in the political promises presented today. Nor do they lie in those that occupy the higher echelons of public, private and civil society. This is simply because young people are not a part of deliberations and decisions in these spaces.
The tokenism of one representative, voluntary advisory committees and quota provisions are not adequate. Given that they exist and challenges persist; the most practical solution is in ensuring that young people are meaningfully engaged through employment. It is only when they are given the chance to occupy spaces of bureaucracy, information and implementation that sustainable solutions can be achieved. There are inherent perspectives of privilege, ways of working and socialization that current leaders have today. These might have been critical and useful for the challenges of yesterday, still possibly for today – however there is a clear need for young people’s voices and visibility to be included. Representation safeguards the needs of those who will have what’s left of governance, environment and development. If they are not engaged now, there might not be anything left for them to salvage or prosper in.