On 25 March, IPSS organized a Pre-Tana Forum side event at the Pan-African youth network “African Youth Congress” (AYC) in Banjul, The Gambia under the theme “The Future Is Now; Youth are Not Too Young to Lead”. The event aimed to bring forth open and frank discussions pertaining to the critical issues surrounding youth engagement in political processes and how this is tied to peace and security on the continent. The discussions with youth focused on the following four key questions/issues: (1) Youth as political representatives, (2) Role of civil society (organizations), (3) Role of (social) media, (4) Campaigning/election processes. Participants were asked to discuss where they see the key challenges/potentials of these actors/fields and make recommendations for action to policy-makers all of which are highlighted below.

After a presentation on IPSS’ activities in the areas of research, training and policy dialogues with a focus on the Tana Forum and its youth engagement activities, the topic and format of the session was introduced. This was followed by a presentation by the special speaker, Ms. Agathe Telou, Gender Advisor, Focal Point Best Practices and Coordinator of the Working Group on Women, Youth, Peace and Security at the UN Office in West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS). She spoke on the UN’s activities/instruments for youth involvement in peace and security with a focus on initiatives in West Africa and the Sahel.

Around 30 Youth participants from different African countries reflected on the four key questions. They were very frank and vocal and raised many concerns, at the same time emphasizing their interest in being politically more engaged. The participants also raised critical concerns they analyzed the above-stated actors and forwarded key recommendations and comments made by youth. These outcomes shall be brought forward at the 2019 Tana High-Level Forum on Security in Africa convening on 4-5 May 2019.

Youth reflections at the first Pre-Tana Forum Youth Consultation in Banjul, The Gambia include:

Youth as Political Representatives

Challenges:

  • Continual marginalization of youth; and
  • Politicians not respecting their commitments or honouring their promises to engage youth within their governments.

Recommendations:

  • Instituting a quota system for youth engagement, quota for youth in political parties and government bodies;
  • Localizing Resolution 2250 in communities and cities, moving past ratification into practice;
  • Removing fees for political party membership or candidate registration;
  • Removing mandatory residency requirements to be eligible for political engagement;
  • Reviewing existing youth-centred policies and drafting implementation frameworks;
  • Instituting penalties/consequences for governments who default on youth engagement standards;
  • Providing training for youth in politics in profile management skills;
  • Providing financial support to ease the burden of campaigning/promotion/outreach activities;
  • Creating more robust grassroots mobilization platforms; and
  • Creating possibilities for youth to receive mentorship from seasoned politicians.

The Role of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs)

Challenges:

  • Fracture among CSOs, competition for financial resources and the spotlight; and
  • Only seasonal mobilization during election season, lack of year-long engagement.

Recommendations:

  • Creating unity and synergy among CSOs, to leverage collective power and presence;
  • Diversifying activities, programs and engagements to rural communities instead of metropolises;
  • Engaging in year-long efforts instead of seasonal engagements;
  • Encouraging CSOs to specialize on specific topics, instead of spreading too thin to cover everything;
  • Promoting advocacy on behalf of youth in holding governments accountable for failed promises;
  • Teaching youth the humanitarian principles of respect, dignity, integrity…etc; and
  • Offering capacity building training in communication skills, leadership skills, entrepreneurship and awareness raising campaigns.

The role of Social Media

Challenges:

  • Increased lack of fact-checking efforts and the sensitization of information; and
  • Increased control of traditional media by state actors.

Recommendations:

  • Encouraging social media users to engage in better profile management, fact-checking and positive promotion of youth;
  • Monitoring content on social media to promote neutrality and clarity, establishing enforcement mechanisms for those who break the rules;
  • Taking into account the array of youth with limited ICT access through the use of community radio stations;
  • Supporting the use of social media as an alternative tool for youth political engagement;
  • Maintaining consistency in efforts to advocate and mobilize, instead of waiting for election season;
  • Encouraging youth to distinguish facts from fiction to prevent distorted stories and videos from getting traction; and
  • Engaging political conscious artists, musicians, athletes etc to utilize their large online presence and platform for youth-related activities.

Campaigning/Electoral Processes

Challenges:

  • Increased lack of faith among youth in the electoral process;
  • Lack of strong leadership within youth organizations;
  • The heavy financial burden to fund campaigns;
  • Fear mongering by governments and contending political parties to intimidate and reduce youth engagement;
  • Bribing of youth to provide votes, without due attention given to their needs and requests; and
  • Lack of technology/reluctance of governments to invest in technology to moderate and facilitate the electoral process.

Recommendations:

  • Encouraging synergy among youth organizations to create solidarity in numbers for campaigning and fundraising;
  • Engaging in better profile management among youth candidates, to appeal to a wider audience/general public;
  • Instituting a quota system for youth members of political parties prior to election season;
  • Supporting year-long awareness-raising programs to promote youth engagement in elections;
  • Teaching children about political engagement from an early age;
  • Utilizing ICT to enhance voter registration;
  • Mandating that political parties clearly articulate their youth-focused policy platforms;
  • Promoting youth chapters of political parties; and
  • Requiring the inclusion of youth as election officers and election observers.