Another International Youth Day is around the corner. Nineteen years ago, next week, the United Nation’s General Assembly endorsed a recommendation made in Lisbon, Portugal, the previous year that August 12 should be nominated the International Youth Day. In a sense, the 1998 and 1999 focus on young people was not anything new. For, already, in 1985 the UN marked what it called the International Year of the Youth.
In the manner of speaking, the world has gone through 33 solid years of some kind of collective focus on what we may want to call the Youth Agenda. It is instructive that the 1985 celebration of young people came in the wake of the carnival that was the first UN Decade for Women in Nairobi. Two demographics that have traditionally been marginalised, therefore, were in prominent focus. It is questionable, however, that the world has progressively addressed these demographics.
The Youth Agenda remains a footnote in virtually all spheres of life, except in oppressive circles where the young take the brunt of everything harmful. And yet, put together, young people and women make up more than 70 per cent of the global population. Women constitute just about half of the population of the world. Even if we were to divide the male population equally between the youth and non-youth, adult men remain miserably outnumbered by the rest put together. Yet the world seems to belong to adult males. This poses serious questions for humankind, ahead of August 12.
The 2018 Youth Celebrations are themed “Safe Spaces for Youth.” The theme recognises that the world has steadily deteriorated into a theatre of abuse of young people. Here in Africa, young people are cannon fodder for violence loving politicians. Africa has had more than its fair share of child soldiers, from Uganda to Sierra Leone and from Angola to Western Sahara – the home of Africa’s most forgotten war.
The DRC and the Central African Republic have done unconscionable injustice to the African child. Rwanda, Burundi, Guinea, Mali, Liberia, South Sudan, Somalia – and you could go on and on – these countries have debauched the youth. Children have been robbed of their childhood. They have had guns thrust into their hands and sent out to kill other children, who have not offended them.
Even in relatively peaceful countries like Kenya, you often hear politicians talking with violent authority.“Our community will not accept this or that,” they say, threatening everyone with unspecified harmful action. The ellipsis is that they have “armies” of young people whom they can indoctrinate, radicalise and send out to kill, or be killed. The spaces are extremely unsafe for children who must fight wars they know little – often nothing – about.
Violent engagement aside, other concerns continue to make living unsafe for the young. You are not safe when hunger stalks you. Nor are you safe when unemployment and grim poverty stare you in the eye. The trend throughout the continent is to encourage young people to become job creators rather than job seekers. This is a noble thing to do, if it will be well planned and coordinated. To its credit, the present government in Kenya has created the Youth Enterprise Fund and attempted to create avenues for youth participation in public procurement. The nobility, however, suffers a major setback when corrupt individuals masquerade as youth and cart away billions of shillings that would have, otherwise, created genuine opportunities for young people.
The abuse under the National Youth Service has been particularly disheartening. How cruel could a people be to their children? We live in a country where universities fall over one another advertising their academic programmes and boasting over the numbers of graduates they have produced. Few, however, bother about the destiny of their graduates. The universities have become money-minting machines, just like pork rolling mills. Their focus is on revenue generation and nothing more. Someone must save the youth.
But who will save the young in societies that have steadily been engulfed in the spirit of hyenaism? Safe spaces are about health, quality education and the ability to be just young and happy. They are about freedom from fear gangs, drugs and sundry dangerous substances. Above all, they are about knowing that you matter and that you can be listened to. Your opinion counts. You can contribute to decisions on your life today as a pathway to your life tomorrow.
Young people must claim their space. To do this, they must rise up to embrace helpful values. In the political space they will reject the role of cannon fodder and accepting to be footnotes in political parties. Yet the transformation that they need will be realised more easily through mature organisation and mobilisation within the parties rather than through uproarious conduct.
They have the numbers and both the national and party constitutions in their favour. Nothing stops them from organising to dominate political party leadership positions. Further to this, nothing stops them from mobilising through political parties to become the majority in all elected positions in the country.
Yet, this is easier said than done, for they are beneficiaries of wrong models and practices. The thuggish culture and that of handouts dominate politics. Even youth accept that they must organise and mobilise in gangster fashion. They believe that they must give and receive handouts as passports to leadership. A conscious paradigm shift is of the greatest essence, led by a remnant seed of the older generations and a fresh crop of young people who believe in themselves.
- The writer is a strategic public communications adviser. [email protected]