Youth Governance, Opportunities and Challenges presented by the 2021 General Elections.

The involvement of youth in political processes in Africa has become more important than ever before, considering the fact that over 70% of its population is young (less than 29 years). The country Uganda presents one of the world’s youngest populations with a study in 2015 reporting it to be second to Niger, with a median age of 15.9. Uganda’s latest population census in 2014 places 81.3% of the total population under the age of 35 years, and 20.6% of the population between 15 and 24 years. In terms of electoral input, the youth contributed nearly half of the registered voters with approximately 6.4 million youth (18-30 years).

Fast forward to 2020, the figures have no doubt risen as we head towards the 2021 general elections. This therefore speaks volumes concerning the urgent need for young people to participate fully in their governance; with the absolute integration of young women, rural youth, youth lacking basic education, young people not in employment in the process of youth governance in light of the 2021 General elections in Uganda. At a global level, international frameworks such as the UN (SDGs) and UN Resolution 2050 on Youth, Peace and security acknowledge the positive role young people can and should play in this regard.

These therefore present the youth of Uganda with numerous opportunities to participate in their own governance in light of the 2021 General election. I wish to discuss the opportunities presented to the youth by the forthcoming elections in threefold; youth as voters; youth as electoral contestants and youth as election officials.

Youth as voters.

Article 1 of the 1995 Constitution3 provides that “All power belongs to the people who
shall exercise their sovereignty in accordance with the constitution” and that “the people shall express their will and consent on who shall govern them and how they should be governed through regular, free and fair elections of their representatives or referenda”. This is the mandate that the 1995 Constitution of Uganda vests on the youth, who occupy a vast majority of the population as illustrated above as long
as they comply with requirements and procedure demanded by the Electoral commission regarding registration and participation.

Youth as electoral contestants.

In every civilized democracy, power belongs to the people. However, not every person can make individual decisions on all issues concerning them. So they elect leaders who
represent them and make decisions on their behalf. The Ugandan political space presents various levels and positions through which the youth can participate in the general elections and consequently in the governance of their people. First and foremost, at the national level, there is an elective position for the Office of the President which is open to any Ugandan adult. His or her election is by universal adult
suffrage and secret ballot. Secondly, at constituency level, a youth can be elected to represent their constituency. There are 215 constituencies in Uganda and in addition to that, a woman member of Parliament represents each district. Also, various interest groups such as the youth and persons with
disabilities together with workers all send their representatives to Parliament. This also presents an opportunity for the youth to contest at constituency level. Thirdly, at Local government level. Some of the elective positions here include the Chairperson, the Councillor and also a woman to represent one or more of the electoral areas. Furthermore, positions also exist for interest groups to send at least two representatives and one of which must be a woman. Fourthly, at administrative units level which present an elective position for the Chairperson at the village, parish and county levels. The aforementioned therefore provide a pool of elective positions for young Ugandans of majority age to participate in the governance of themselves and that of their people/electorate.

Youth as election officials.

The election process organized by the Electoral commission of Uganda involves a vast array of exercises or activities that require a formidable workforce to execute. This therefore presents an opportunity to young Ugandans to participate in different capacities before, during and after the election of leaders and these include working as; Returning officers and Assistant Returning officers, District Registrars and their assistants, Polling day Officials, Registration Officials, Display Officials, Parish Tribunal, Voter Educators, Issuance Officials, supervisors and other positions presented by the commission. Furthermore outside the commission’s jurisdiction, young people can also work within the political parties of their interest as polling agents to help monitor the electoral processes and safeguard its sanctity.

A busy polling station in Mpigi District (Central Uganda) during the 2016 General Elections. Amidst election activities as above, exist numerous opportunities for youth to actively participate in their democratic processes.

The 2021 General elections, as illustrated above therefore presentsa vast array of opportunities for the youth in Uganda to see them participate either directly or indirectly
in youth governance in the country. It should, however, be noted that certain looming challenges also present themselves leaving young men and women in the country to express very low levels of trust in government than other age sets and majority of young adults have disengaged themselves from participating in politics. They, however,
prefer passive participation through civil society organizations and community based projects that present pathways towards a more equitable development as they help building stronger social and civil values that are essential foundations for good governance, peaceful co-existence and youth
employability. This is mainly because of the streamlining of the youth at national level of leadership. There has been minimal integration of young people within the organizational structure of government and a very vivid example of that is the Cabinet of Uganda whose positions are being held by a majority
of persons over 50 years of age.

Another challenge that is likely to be faced by the youth ahead of the 2021 elections, particularly those that wish to contest for elective positions is the high costs involved. These range from aspects such as nomination fees down to having to suffer the consequences of commercialization of politics, with the lack of finance regulations making it difficult for young people to pursue a political career. Nomination
fees for the position of Member of Parliament in Uganda today is about UGX 10 million. This poses a big challenge for many young people who have already been economically marginalized or excluded because of their inability to find sustainable jobs or sources of income.

The biggest of all challenges could be the lack of access to basic knowledge about political processes or procedures. This cuts through pre, during and post the electoral events. Young people are grappling with understanding the complexities of democratic societies and formal political processes. The UN 2016
global youth report shows that nearly 53% of young graduates say they always vote in national elections in comparison with about 44% of all 18 to 29 year olds. Other groups often likely to lack the required knowledge to participate are therefore marginalized youth such as minorities, unemployed youth and those living in poverty. A weak understanding of democratic principles and electoral
processes makes it more difficult for youth to perceive elections are routes to express their grievances, demand change and hold government accountable, leave alone contest for the political slots available. To encourage the youth to involve themselves fully in governance through political participation in the forthcoming elections, these challenges need to be dealt with because they block the pathway for many young people around the country who perhaps wish to participate in the different levels of leadership but due to the aforementioned circumstances cannot.

Therefore going forward, all synergies should be geared towards ensuring the full and exhaustive participation of young people in the electoral cycle.