Mobilizing Africa’s Youth for Political Change

By Published On: 8th April 2024

Against the backdrop of significant political shifts and recent and emerging popular coups across the continent, 2024 stands as an important year for Africa, with 19 countries gearing up for presidential and general elections. These elections occur against the backdrop of recent popular coups in countries such as Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Guinea. Unfortunately, these coups have set back the democratic progress that the continent had previously achieved. Therefore, the upcoming elections in this year present a crucial opportunity to rekindle citizens’ confidence in democracy, and the youth have a key role to play in this.

Of particular significance is the impact these elections will have on Africa’s largest demographic group: the youth. According to the latest Afrobarometer data, young people are more likely than their elders to express dissatisfaction with democracy, mistrust elected leaders, and consider military intervention against abusive leaders. Despite this, the youth’s influence on national politics remains limited. There’s a prevailing sense that traditional politics and representative democracy fail to resonate with younger cohorts, who often feel alienated from political processes.

It is concerning that youth also register a higher percentage of dissatisfaction with the functioning of democracy in their respective countries, especially at a time when democratic values seem to be diminishing across the continent. This dissatisfaction is compounded by issues such as unemployment, which ranks as one of the biggest challenges facing young people, followed by concerns about economic management and healthcare. Moreover, a worrying trend emerges as a majority of youth express support for military intervention when elected leaders abuse their power. Additionally, African governments receive poor ratings from the youth for their efforts in job creation, further exacerbating concerns. While in previous years, many African politicians have utilized the youth’s voting clout for their own political agendas, thereby exploiting Africa’s youth through the political process and making them susceptible to manipulation, particularly in electoral violence. This year’s elections are pivotal for African youth to redefine themselves in the electoral process.

The participation of young people in these elections is paramount if they are to alter this narrative and elect leaders who will address their most pressing needs. Despite data indicating lower rates of political engagement among youth compared to their elders, it’s crucial for them to engage fully in all stages of the electoral process and ensure their voices are heard. Youth involvement can take various forms: as electoral contestants, administrators, and voters. Given the size of the youth constituency in Africa, it’s imperative that they no longer remain on the periphery of the democratic process but instead take a leading role in shaping the continent’s future.

In a continent grappling with peace and security challenges, the participation of youth in electoral processes is essential for long-term stability and peace. Article 11 of the African Youth Charter underscores the right of young people to participate in all aspects of society. It outlines measures that States Parties should take to promote active youth participation, including ensuring their presence in decision-making bodies, facilitating platforms for involvement at all levels of governance, ensuring equal access for young men and women, prioritizing policies for marginalized youth, providing access to information, professionalizing youth work, supporting youth organizations, promoting voluntarism, and including youth representatives in relevant meetings. These measures aim to empower young people, increase their awareness of their rights and opportunities, and enhance their participation in civic life. By embracing these principles and actively involving young people, African nations can build a more inclusive and prosperous future for all.

The rise of technology plays a profound role and influence on the political attitudes of young Africans, offering a conduit to bolster democratic governance through citizen involvement. In a notable development last year, the Office of the African Union Youth Envoy unveiled the “Make Africa Digital” (M.A.D) Campaign across seven countries in Africa. Spearheaded by Ms. Chido Mpemba, the African Union Youth Envoy, the campaign advocates for digital transformation and bridging the digital divide for African youth. The African Union Youth Envoy champions policies and political commitments aimed at amplifying the rights and participation of youth in decision-making processes, marking a significant milestone as the youngest member of the Cabinet of the Chairperson, appointed by H.E Moussa Faki Mahamat.

Recognizing the pivotal role of youth in both electoral processes and national development endeavours, the African Union Commission, through the Political Affairs, Peace & Security Department, in a joint initiative with the African Governance Architecture (AGA) Secretariat, and the African Union Youth Envoy will this year host a continent-wide training aimed at youth participation in electoral processes. To harness the immense potential of youth across the electoral spectrum, encompassing roles as voters, candidates, and electoral officials, it is imperative for electoral frameworks to proactively capacitate young people through robust civic engagement mechanisms. Equipped with requisite tools such as education and access to credible information, young people can unlock their full potential and engage substantively in the socio-political discourse at the national level.

In the current year, the African Union sets ambitious targets to increase the participation of young people in election observations. The integration of young people into electoral observation mechanisms serves as a purpose to bolster youth engagement and fortify their capacities within the electoral domain. Furthermore, this endeavour underscores the imperative of fostering a more inclusive and participatory electoral landscape, thereby nurturing a generation of politically astute and actively engaged citizens.

Chido Cleopatra Mpemba Special Envoy for Youth at the African Union Commission (AUC)

Nyasha Mcbride Mpani Project Leader Data for Governance Alliance Project at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation based in Cape Town.


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