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Youth Governance

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Youth and Governance

According to statistical data analyzed by the Standard Bank of South Africa, for every recorded hour Africa produces about 6,000 barrels of oil and 134 carats of Diamond.

The report further posits that ten years from today with the continuous rate of birth and growth as at today, Africa would have the youngest growing population, providing the human resource minds needed to maximize the opportunities inherent in the land”.

The need and the ability to harness these potentials will turn the African continent to the next hub for business opportunities, like was the case of the Asian Continent in the last three decades

Listening to these words from the Standard Bank of South Africa advert on television, it is continuously puzzling why there is not enough representation of the youth in governance. If these statements are true, then there is the need to establish a system where the voices of the future leaders of the country and the continent as a whole are heard.

So what are the reasons why there must be more youth participation in governance and we are not referring to those who say they are “youth” at the age of sixty-five? There are three major reasons why it is critical to have young people engage in the process of governance;

  • There is significant intrinsic value in upholding young people’s rights to participate in the decisions that will affect them today and in the future.
  • There is an instrumental value in young people’s engagement in the governance process, as their contributions can provide needed value in improving policies and programs that will affect their outcome in the future
  • The third is because we further increase the value of decision making when we let young people into the process of governance as there is continued reward in the development of the citizens who will play a role today in the overall development gains nationally and globally as such ensuring that they are more active and participate as adults in securing future improvements.

Engaging young people in national and global governance is critical: the world now has the largest generation aged 15-24 in history, making up a quarter of the world’s population (Pereznieto and Hamilton Harding, 2013), and almost 90% of these young women and men live in developing countries (UNICEF, 2012). The sustainability of any development effort, global or national, will therefore require their ownership, involvement and participation. Yet young people are generally excluded from decision-making and governance processes.

This needs to change.  

In order to understand the concept of youth and governance, it is important to clearly state what governance is – it refers to the processes through which the state exercises power and relationship between the state and its citizens.  In this context, participatory governance is one that refers to the processes and deliberations that the citizens engage in when discussing the distribution of public resources and decision making.

As a result of this, young people as citizens have relationships with the state and are entitled to hold the state and its decision makers accountable for their duties and performances. This goes without saying that the state should include young people in the decision making process especially those issues that affect their lives directly – Education, Health, and Fight against Corruption etc.

Young people’s participation refers to the way in which they voice their views and concerns, exercise their rights, and engage in dialogue with and influence decision-makers – that is, the way they engage as active citizens.

This involvement has intrinsic value in terms of respecting young people’s right to participate in decisions that affect them. But it also has instrumental value in the sense of the knowledge and credibility that young people bring to governance dialogues and their development as active citizens, today, and as participative adults in the future.

Where the state encourages active participation of young people in the governance process, it enables them to hold duty-bearers to account for their actions and also strengthen their relationships with the decision makers.

Young people can become powerful agents of change and active citizens at all levels of governance – locally and globally. Some examples include Argentina where budgeting schemes that involve young people at the municipal level have flourished. Also in Sierra Leone in 2012, 73% of the voting population of 2.7 million was between the age of 18 and 35.

As the examples suggest, young people can be actively engaged in promoting governance through a range of actions and at different levels. In doing so, young people can play different roles: they can be a target group (beneficiaries), collaborators in the initiative (partners), or initiators who ‘create’ governance space (leaders) – or a combination of these.

While actively engaging young people, it is necessary to continually remind policy-makers and practitioners of the need for sensitivity towards marginalized and excluded young voices – including those of girls and young women, ethnic minorities, young people with disabilities, or other excluded groups – to guarantee more equitable representation and a richer representation of young people that reflects the reality of their diversity.

As such, initiative developed by young people, or for young people supported by other actors, should consider the dimensions and potential of the youths to promote or inhibit the achievement of certain outcomes in different contexts.

  • Discriminatory social norms (such as negative attitudes and practices)
  • The types of space in which young people engage
  • The technical capacity and systemic constraints specific to young people’s participation
  • Gender dynamics
  • Opportunities and challenges around decentralization
  • Individual capacities that lead to collective change.

The presences of discriminatory social norms – including adults’ negative attitudes towards young people are a common feature which hinders young people’s participation in the governance processes. This highlights a key barrier to young people’s effective participation.

This issue appears in three circumstances:

  • With regards to cultural stereotypes regarding the potential value-added of young people in participatory processes
  • With regards to gender discrimination
  • With respect to concerns over the potential for violence by young people some of which include
    • Perception of aggressiveness
    • Perceptions of what young people can and should do

Considering the space in which young people engage, there are several points of entry into the governance processes. These spaces may be either ‘invited’ or ‘created’, as well as formal or informal. These distinctions refer to the level of ownership in participatory governance on the one hand, and a more structured versus unstructured approach on the other.

Despite the different ways in which young people’s participation in governance processes occurs, such initiatives can achieve positive results if their actions and external support recognize the relative advantages and disadvantages of ‘invited’ versus ‘created’ spaces, as well as pathways between the two.

In the area of technical and systemic constraints to young people being in the governance process, engagement in participatory governance through organized groups must overcome several structural capacity issues to have lasting impact, including managing membership, maintaining learning and accountability mechanisms within the group, and engaging with financial issues.

Such administrative and technical matters are by no means unique to young people’s initiatives; many of these constraints are also relevant for adult groups promoting good governance. However, young people are unique in two respects:

  • They face multiple exclusionary factors based on their specific capabilities relative to adults. Some of these factors include limited technical knowledge, limited experience in engaging with authority, poor communication skills etc.
  • In terms of interactions with the community and authorities, young people are often excluded because of perceptions of their intrinsic lack of experience. This means that they may not be given credibility, with authorities not seeing their potential to add value in governance dialogues.

The issue of gender also plays a major role in the participation of young people in governance. The ability of girls and young women to participate in initiatives was often constrained by barriers at the household level arising from domestic and care burdens, discriminatory social norms regarding female mobility, and negative views about the appropriateness of their involvement in political issues or legal frameworks.

Another limiting factor is that despite there being generally favorable gender policies at the national level in most countries, their implementation does not adequately consider the rights, needs and interests of women and girls.

Another issue to consider is that which surrounds decentralization. The form and extent of decentralization varies across contexts, depending on the process of bargaining that take place between local and national government bodies. This fundamentally political process produces a diverse set of administrative and fiscal institutional arrangements that have important implications for the form and extent of young people’s inclusion and participation in governance processes.

These implications often include new opportunities for young people to engage, based on the following

  • Local entry points
  • Timing and wider social change
  • Urban bias

Ultimately, decentralization offers several opportunities for greater participation of young people in governance processes – particularly if opportunities are seized early on, and the decentralization policy itself recognizes an enhanced role for young people.

Facilitating channels for young people to be involved in governance dialogues requires working on their individual capacities, as well as those of duty-bearers. This broadens the issue of civic empowerment beyond the governance agenda and provides opportunities to engage other policy and practitioner audiences. For example; where there is a strong connection between improved governance and enhanced individual or group capacities can be made – “such as in the area of basic services or economic empowerment programs – these can be used to forge new ways of working with young people.

Young men and women still face major obstacles in relation to active and meaningful participation. This underlines the need for commitments from local and national authorities and governments to actively engage (and enable engagement from) youth, to foster an environment of active citizenship.

The need to raise the scope and visibility of young people in discussions of governance and accountability has become extremely relevant. The association of local and national levels of advocacy and participation of young people with the various emerging regional and global mechanisms and means of implementing this will be instrumental to building a robust and effective governance system.

In order to support young people participation in the governance process, the following should be considered.

  • Increasing their capabilities and political empowerment – by increasing their technical knowledge, developing their skills to engage with adults etc.
  • The need to provide the enabling economic, social and legal empowerment of young people.
  • It is critical to develop the capacity of government institutions to meaningfully engage young people on governance and to facilitate their participation.
  • A community of practice for young people and practitioners working on governance and accountability should be created
  • The revolution of information technology presents enormous opportunities for the participation and greater involvement of young people in governance and accountability.
  • With the advancement of ICTs, it is critical that local government institutions are given the necessary software (and related training) to make use of them to engage with young people and overcome the detrimental effects of urban bias.
  • Tailored gender-sensitive measures are needed to facilitate the engagement of girls and young women in participatory governance, as this can lead to transformation in gendered social norms by legitimizing young women’s engagement in decision-making arenas
  • Ensure that young people are provided with opportunities to participate in governance processes alongside adults.
  • More robust monitoring and evaluation of young people’s participation in governance should be undertaken in order to develop a more standardized, comprehensive and communicable body of evidence regarding the forms and functions of engagement that young people use with public actors, including an analysis of the challenges they face, how these have been overcome, and what they have achieved.
  • A standalone goal on governance should be included, with specific reference to the engagement of young people in order to provide support for investment in and facilitation of young people’s participation in governance processes at the national and local levels.

In conclusion, there are high expectations of the government by the people which are bordered around honesty, accountability, and responsiveness to the needs of the people.  This is because

“No one is born a good citizen; no nation is born a democracy. Rather, both are processes that continue to evolve over a lifetime. Young people must be included from birth. A society that cuts itself off from its youth severs its lifeline; it is condemned to bleed to death”.

— Kofi Annan, Former Secretary-General of the United Nations

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