Analyzing the role of youth in democratizing Africa

In celebrating International Day of Democracy, being located in Africa, and having a mandate to serve the African people, we as the African Democracy Forum (ADF) focus on the progress of democracy on the continent. Remaining mindful of the reality that Africa’s success is underpinned by the progress made with the implementation of democratic principles and values in every region.

With 200 million Africans falling into the youth demographic, Africa has an obligation towards it’s young people. In abiding by democratic values, we afford everyone equal opportunity and in that the platform is set for African youth to play their role. So what should this role be? In evaluating the African Union’s African Youth Charter, African youth are expected to become custodians of their own development, and in taking ownership of their future, African leaders should afford them that opportunity.

More often than not Gerontocracy is associated with Africa – in that we have political leaders who stay on in some instances for what seems time immemorial. In Uganda President Yoweri Museveni has been in power for the last 31 years, so the youth demographic there have known the governing of only one man and one political party.

The debate is ongoing as to whether or not the Constitution there will be amended allowing him to stand for re-election in 2021. But what does stand out about the debate has been the role of Civil Society taking to the streets in protest of this change, and the impact that this will have on Uganda. Civil Society comprises this youth demographic and they have been out in numbers, albeit that there has been much state opposition to their actions.

One thing is certain, Ugandans possess the tools with which to exercise their democratic right. And we hope that the government there will be mindful of this and recognize that governing is meeting the needs of the people that are governed and not to super impose yourself on a people.

In focusing on Uganda, youth should be mindful of their strength in numbers and the effects they can have on how they are governed and how a country is governed. As such, it is imperative that young people defend democracy, the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms. Because Africa is in need of young people able to create opportunities for themselves. Opportunities that can uplift a people, a country, a continent to make due on the vision for the future. A future where Africa does not lag behind, where the newspaper reports aren’t filled with what Africa is lacking but rather filled with how Africa has fortified itself. An Africa where other heads of state internationally do not conjure up names of non-existent African countries but take note of what Africa is doing and the beacon of hope that it is.

Democracy in Africa needs to be an action and not just something that we say we adhere to for the sake of saying. And in recognizing that democracy is universal, but that the dynamics are different for every country, we will find respect for the other and a realization that despite our differences we have the same goals in mind. Our failure to make self-determination accessible to all people in Africa will reverberate through the future and we will be held accountable. This makes International Day of Democracy so important as it is a time of stock taking for Africa, on how far we have come and how far we still have to go as a people and a continent in providing everyone access to the freedoms that they so rightfully deserve.   

Mikhaila Cupido Musoni is the Coordinator for the African Democracy Forum.