Empower youth to participate in our democracy

Movement for Defense of Democracy(MDD) youth leaders sing a solidarity song during a press conference to address the media on high cost of living, at Chester House on February 9, 2023. [Jenipher Wachie, Standard]

As we celebrate the International Day of Democracy this year, Kenyans should reflect on the critical role young people play in advancing and strengthening democracy, not just here but across Africa.

We must empower and accompany young women and men on their journey towards meaningful, dignified, and impactful participation in governance, economy, and public affairs at all levels of society.

This year’s theme for the International Day of Democracy, “Empowering the next generation,” resonates deeply as a young Kenyan. It underscores the importance of recognising young people as the current and future custodians of democracy.

In a world where democracies face multifaceted challenges, from misinformation and populism to climate crisis destabilisation, we must create environments where young voices are not just heard but genuinely count.

Our 2010 Constitution marked a turning point in our history, devolving power and responsibilities from the national government to 47 elected county governments. The primary objective of decentralisation was to promote democratic and accountable exercise of power, recognise diversity, and enhance people’s participation in decisions affecting them.

Building democratic, accountable, and inclusive systems and institutions is essential to increasing trust between citizens and leaders, transforming communities, and achieving sustainable development.

Recent research by Emerging Leaders Foundation-Africa in five counties on effectiveness of youth-led social accountability mechanisms in enhancing citizen participation and accountability in implementing County Integrated Development Plans (CIDPs) in Kenya had interesting findings.

The research showed county governments have established strategies and frameworks to support public participation. However, young people lack access to this information, hindering their effective engagement.

Technology, such as online media, was identified as a way to increase young people’s reach and participation. However, mistrust between youth and government officials, exacerbated by past interactions and misinformation, remains a challenge.

Organisations, national and county governments, and civil societies should collaborate and create opportunities and platforms for youth engagement. Counties must ensure public participation is fully embedded in governance. This is the only way to ensure citizens’ voices are heard. 

Still, let us remember that democracy is not a passive exercise; it requires the active engagement of all citizens, especially the next generation.

ELF-Africa is walking this path with young people, and we invite governments, civil society organisations, and the international community to join us in this crucial endeavour. Empowering the next generation is not just a theme; it’s a call to action, a call for a stronger, more inclusive democracy that benefits everyone, everywhere. Together, we can make it a reality.

The writer is an officer at Emerging Leaders Foundation – Africa. @Edward_Kalya