The African Union emphasizes enhanced youth participation in political and electoral processes on the continent

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Kigali, 11 November 2017 – The fourth annual continental forum on Election Management Bodies, has ended in Kigali, Rwanda with the recognition of the youth as a critical asset in electoral processes in Africa.

The two-day forum, discussed electoral best practices and solutions to electoral management challenges on the continent.

“These elections evidently offer significant opportunities to young Africans so that they bear the full weight to have an influence on governance processes. However, with the exception of a number of countries, the participation of young people in democratic processes is just limited to voting during elections,” H.E Ambassador Minata Samate Cessouma, the Commissioner for Political Affairs, at the Addis Ababa based African Union Commission told participants at the forum, which opened on Thursday.

“And even in these cases, the participation of young people in political processes is extremely low and even lower than that of the elderly,” she added, echoing previous concerns regarding the marginalization of youth in the democratic processes.

Somalia, which concluded its elections in February 2017 with the inauguration of a new President, was represented at the forum. A team from the country’s National Independent Electoral Commission (NIEC), led by its Chairperson Ms. Halima Ismail Ibrahim, found the forum useful in articulating electoral issues. The team which was facilitated to the Kigali forum by the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), derived important learnings from other countries’ electoral experiences, as Somalia country prepares for the 2020/2021 one-person-one-vote.

“In 2016, we had an indirect election. It was not an election of one-person-one-vote. But it was consensus built by agreement. An election like that. And really, women and youth organized themselves and the civil society, and other members from society were supporting them. We have seen the results because out of 275 MPs, 74 are youth now. So, they have the numbers,” Ms. Halima said, emphasizing Somalia’s resolve on youth participation in the country’s decision making processes.

Ms. Halima appealed to the African Union to provide support to the NIEC, in the implementation of its five-year strategic plan; and electoral training for its officials, ahead of the planned universal suffrage.

Dr. Dahir Jibreel, the NIEC Secretary-General, reiterated the importance of youth participation in electoral processes in Africa, to stem rebellion. He explained that in Somalia, a section of the youth is being used as a “tool for violence” by extremist group Al-Shabaab.

“‘Al-Shabaab’ in Arabic means ‘youth.’ When youth are not engaged in constructive things, when youth are not part of the process, when youth are not employed, when youth are not in good schools, this is what can happen,” Dr. Dahir stated.

He stressed that in Somalia’s situation, “youth involvement in politics, in elections, in employment, in opportunities” was critical.

Such elaborate involvement of the youth requires massive civic education according to Dr. Dahir.  “It’s a heavy problem for the National Independent Electoral Commission. And it’s a heavy problem for Somalia in general, to make sure that these youths get involved in the elections of 2020. And we are creating a huge outreach programme on civic education, including creating a national curriculum that will be taught in the schools all the way to the universities,” he remarked.

Due to their demographic advantage, the African Union recognizes the role the youth can play in contributing to transformative electoral and political processes in Africa. Presently, more than 65 percent of Africa’s 1.2 billion population is aged below 35 years. Additionally, by 2020, it is projected that 3 out of every 4 people in Africa will be 20 years old.

In recognition of the youth’s potential in shaping the political and socio-economic development of Africa, the African Union Heads of State and Government declared 2017 the year of “Harnessing the Demographic Dividend through Investments in Youth.”

The African Union therefore encourages youth involvement in decision making processes by among others, rooting for the promotion of young candidates for elective positions and removing barriers that make youth vulnerable during elections.

Prof. Attahiru Jega, the former Chairperson of the Independent National Electoral Commission of Nigeria, who delivered a keynote address at the forum, noted that Africa’s youthful population needs to be harnessed, and challenges facing them such as lack of education, high levels of unemployment and exclusion from political processes addressed.

Mr. Robert Gerenge, the Principal Advisor for the Election Management Bodies, within the Department of Political Affairs in the African Union Commission, said African Union’s support to Somalia is within the context of peacekeeping under AMISOM, where the African Union has a mandate to promote stability in Somalia, and support the restoration and promotion of democracy in the country.

“We know that there is so much to be done in Somalia because it is a country that is in the embryonic stage of building it’s democracy. The Electoral Commission is still weak and needs a lot of support. And the African Union has a mandate within Article 18 of the African Charter for Democracy, Elections and Governance to provide this support and it offers opportunity for member states including Somalia to request any form of electoral assistance,” Mr. Gerenge noted.

“It is within this prism that we are collaborating with the National Electoral Commission of Somalia,” he further explained.

The Kigali forum was held under the theme, “Harnessing the demographic dividend through enhanced youth participation in electoral processes in Africa”.