Unemployed and also excluded, youth can be a source of disruption

Former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan once said; “Young people are not only the leaders of tomorrow; they can play a leading role in the development of their communities today.” Let us hope that their good works today blossom into lifelong commitments that will benefit all the world’s people. Today’s youth are more connected to the world. Youth engagement in public life has direct economic, political, social, and cultural implications. Recent evidence shows positive interrelationship between their active citizen engagement and economic outcomes.

To benefit from young people’s capabilities, communities must ensure opportunities for the youth to be engaged in development processes. Failure to do so can lead to the exclusion and marginalisation of youth while depriving communities of their energy, dynamism and innovativeness. There is need to set up youth incubation centres to promote the development of a critical, active, responsible society.

While youth can form the most energetic and innovative segment of the population, if unemployed and excluded, they can be a source of social disruption. Doors must remain open to youth participation in socio-economic development processes, civic engagement, political and governance participation. Without inclusive institutions, formal institutions for political engagement we will continue to marginalise youth from civic engagement and discourage them from actively participating in their communities. Despite their numbers, today’s youth are socially and politically marginalised.

Social problems

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Traditionally, youth are viewed as part of the problem. Youth have not been successfully integrated into civil society and decision-making frameworks. Youth are most vulnerable to social problems, with almost no voice in governance. This has enormous negative implication to the country and communities. Young women are doubly disadvantaged.

The active, informed and voluntary involvement of young people in decision-making and the life of their communities, both locally and nationally is fundamental.  Participation means work with and by people, not merely work for them. The human rights approach to development acknowledges that youth have the right to participation, including under 18 years old who have the right “to express views freely in all matters affecting [them], the views…being given due weight in accordance with [their] age and maturity” (Convention on the rights of the Child 1989, Article 12).

In its programming, International Center for Policy and Conflict sees and engages youth as bedrock assets in inclusive participatory development, especially in policy formulation, planning and participatory budgeting processes. The country must seize the opportunity created by devolution. Youth must be as part of solution rather than part of the problem because they have vast potential for contribution to communities untapped.

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Promoting ownership

Youth are drivers of core drivers of economic development. Creation of work opportunities can turn current wasted productive capacity into positive force for development, especially at the county level.  Youth need to be empowered to participate in decisions affecting their livelihoods.Youth are critical resources making an impact in communities today.

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Youth as participants in development have made impact in that: it strengthens young people’s abilities to meet their own needs, prevents/reduces vulnerabilities to political, economic and social instabilities; builds young people’s commitment to solutions, promoting ownership and sustainability of interventions, and enables the exercise of citizenship, promoting learning, empowerment and greater control.

What needs to be done to escalate youth active participation? First, recognize youth as leaders in their communities and emphasise youth capacity and interest in contributing in the full spectrum of decision-making on policy decisions that affect their lives both at national and county levels. Second, adopt open and inclusive youth-led participatory development approach, ensuring that it draws upon their energy, creativity and skills to create positive change and implicitly values young people as an asset for society. Young people’s ownership of the strategy will be a key determinant for its success.

Third, expanding and broadening the base of youth civic engagement must be prioritised and supported. Greater civic engagement is a pathway towards public governance reform and more equitable development in the region as it is believed to decrease the likelihood of involvement in violent and extremist groups; build stronger social and civic values that are essential foundations for good governance and employability peaceful co-existence. Finally, youth engagement in public life does not take place in a vacuum. On the contrary, their participation and involvement will be shaped by, and need the opportunities provided by the broader ecosystem of rules, laws, institutions, policies and practices

Mr Wainaina is Executive Director, International Centre for Policy and Conflict

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