By Andreas Thomas
Windhoek – The focus of African youth, with regard to their participation in the political arena is gaining momentum, with recent calls to abolish restrictive laws that are marginalizing young people from fully participating in democratic process.
Young people are vastly under-represented in political decision-making. Although 51% of the world’s population is under 30, young people fewer than 30 accounts for a mere 1.9 per cent of lawmakers worldwide. This is largely due to laws that do not allow young people – although they have the right to vote – to have the right to run for office, according to Inter-Parliamentary Union.
The situation is worse in Africa, where formal political institutions are dominated by elders. Most countries in the continent use archaic legislations that prohibit people under 30 to run for political offices including parliaments.
But the tide is turning in favour of young people. Delegates at the Africa Regional Conference on Financing of Electoral Processes held in Windhoek last week from 6-8 June, have called on countries to re-consider these prohibitive laws.
They said by lowering the minimum age of people to take up political office, will encourage the youth to fully engage in politics and decision making processes.
The conference that was held under the “Inclusive Democracy for Sustainable Development” was attended by representatives from electoral management bodies from 16 African countries.
“We heard from some countries where they have actually reduced the ages for allowing the youth to become members of parliament. And I think one of the question, which was raised here is how electoral management bodies make sure that youth are now more included in the electoral process. Because we see that the youth participation is not always at optimum level, although you find that on the lection registers, on voters roll, probably 40 percent and in some countries you find that 50 percent or even above are youth,” said the ECN Chairperson, Advocate Notemba Tjipueja said on the sideline of the conference.
Former Liberian president Ellen Jonson-Sirleaf also wants to see African countries adopting non-age discriminatory laws. Jonson-Sirleaf noted that some countries in Africa are heading the call, and considering age reduction legislation as most young people taking up leadership roles.
Nigeria has taken a big leap with regard to inclusive political participation, after President Muhammad Buhari signed the ‘Not Too Young To Run Bill into law on May 29, that was hailed in the West African country as a welcoming development.
The law that was passed by the Senate last year, reduces age requirement to run for presidency from 40 to 35, State Governor from 35 to 30, Senator from 35 to 30; House of representatives from 30 to 25 and State House of Assembly from 30 to 25.
While addressing the Namibian Parliamentary Women Caucus and the Standing Committee for Gender Equality, Social Development and Family Affairs in Windhoek on June 5, Johnson-Sirleaf has cautioned African leadership against neglecting its young.
More than 60% of Africa’s population is under 35, and this segment, Johnson-Sirleaf warned that is running out of patience. She said young people are demanding to be part of decision-making process and to benefit from the continent’s immeasurable mineral resources.
“Our continent is young. On average, 60 per cent of our population is 35 years and under, with school leaving increasing the numbers of those that are ready for jobs and job opportunities that are not expanding fast enough to be able to absorb them. That is an issue that is facing different degrees in most of our countries,” the Nobel Peace laureate has cautioned.
“How are they going to be patient enough as we prepare them for leadership and how will some of them respond because they don’t have that patience and want to see themselves progress as they believe the nation should provide them the opportunity?”
Johnson-Sirleaf challenged parliaments to devise strategies that provide solutions issues affecting the youth in Africa.
Johnson-Sirleaf has also encouraged African youth to pull up their sleeves and try improve their conditions.
“The youth must also have responsibility to be on par of the positive changes in societies. To pursue the best education they can, to become excellence in what they do, whether in school, the work they do, to be able to aspire toward what they want to be and to work hard for it,” she advised.