By Nicholas Opolot
Cc. Linda Givetash
If anything is to go by, the sacred East African community (EAC) motto “One people One destiny” should be held in high regard for representing the dreams and aspirations of all East Africans.
An estimate of over 153,301,178 million people as stated in the EAC archives. Of these accounted for, the youth take up the most predominant population demographic.
For instance, Uganda has the world’s youngest population with over 78% of population below the age of 30 as observed by UNPF. Across the regional divide, this means that the youth command such colossal influence when it comes to shaping and re-defining the landscapes of their respective democracies.
By suggesting a democratic system of governance, peaceful elections have to come into play so as to enable the existence of serenity and tranquility that are pre-requisites for socio-economic development.
However, to attain this objective, it takes more than just conference table lamentations but true commitment to peaceful electoral democracy albeit good governance. The question is, how do the youth make this a reality?
Before we delve into this, it would be pertinent to note the current political situation in East Africa.
The East African tabloid keenly observes that Burundi held a fraudulent election in mid-2015. The incumbent, Pierre Nkurunziza continues to cling onto power whilst clamping down on violent protestors as ethnic tensions continue to escalate.
In 2016, Tanzania had a largely successful election that had a non-incumbent, President John Pombe Magufuli taking over the reins from his predecessor, Jakaya Kikwete. Uganda had polls in February, 2016 with the incumbent, President Yoweri.K.Museveni as the victor in a hotly contested election marred with irregularities as observed in the Amama Mbabazi Supreme Court ruling.
Meanwhile, Kenya gears up for the 2017 election. Generally, the political outlook is volatile given that most of Africa’s elections are often characterized by violent conflict as politicians seek to capture or maintain power through ethnic mobilization/manipulation, propaganda and misrepresentation.
Nonetheless all hope isn’t lost as various stakeholders continue to seek pragmatic alternatives in ensuring that East Africa conducts peaceful electoral democracy. Elections are the fundamental tenets of democracy. To be democratic, elections must be recurring, transparent, open and competitive.
To hasten peaceful electoral democracy, the youth must oblige to their civic duty and register for elections in order to cause much needed change. Young people are major determinants of the outcome of elections because of their colossal demographic. Young people can use their vote as their bargaining chip to hold their politicians responsible for their loud-mouthed promises during the electioneering campaigns.
In so doing, the youth rationally analyse these election manifestos to guide them in decision making.
Furthermore, the youth should advocate for peace and promote unity during elections. The youth can carry out peace campaigns. With the help of government, Civil society organizations and other stakeholders, the youth should organize volunteers to develop election awareness raising activities including street rallies, socio-cultural events, workshops and the media to persuade young people to shun violence at election time.
In addition, the youth can volunteer to take part in the electoral process. For instance, they can actually help the electoral commission at the various polling stations especially those in rural areas to ensure the electorates have a successful voting process.
They can also guide those who are ignorant of voting procedures. The youth should also reach out to hesitant voters and persuade them to drop the ballot for a peaceful change thus high voter turnout.
In order to soothe the political atmosphere, the youth should support electoral reforms to improve the quality of electoral democracy. The onus is upon the youth to pressurize their governments to implement these reforms such as the scenario in Kenya and Uganda.
Elections often require keen observers to ensure fairplay among the contenders. The youth can volunteer to watch every part of the election and submit reports to the right authorities. To ease their job, technology can be applied to deliver real time data and fast communication.
Hence pertaining their role in the electoral process, it is prudent for the obeisance of all rules and regulations governing the elections. Most importantly, the youth should regard the power of the vote in high esteem.
Adopting the acronym V.O.T.E (Voice Of The Electorate) used by Save Nigeria Group (SNG) would be educative. As said by Theodore Roosevelt “A vote is like a rifle; its usefulness depends upon the character of the user”.
The vote should be used to catalyse meaningful change and guarantee hope for the future. If you misuse it, you get bad leaders. Usually these “bad officials are elected by good citizens who don’t vote” says George Jean Nathan.
Violence should as well be denounced without tolerance. The youth should desist from inciteful campaign messages typical of hooligans, hoodlums and charlatans. Post election violence cost over 1,000 lives in Kenya, 2007 amidst ethnic tensions due to inciteful messages and propagandist agenda.
In Uganda, this was feared in 2016, given the massive recruitment of crime preventers by Uganda police force. This was followed by other youth militia counter groups aligned to the opposition candidates such as the Red Top Youth.
Violence is impractical because it’s a descending spiral ending in destruction for all. It’s immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than his own understanding. It destroys community and makes brotherhood impossible. It leaves society in monologue rather than dialogue. It creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers” exclaimed Martin Luther king Jr.
Holding peaceful elections is one thing and achieving good governance requires more than just the mandate of the people. It requires the will of political leaders and civil servants to serve the citizenry without fear or favour.
According to Pastor Tunde Bakare of Save Nigeria Group (SNG) “good governance is when the most competent are given the opportunity to serve people. Public servants realize that service to the people on behalf of God, is the purpose of their election. Therefore they should resolve to serve with the integrity of their hearts and the skillfulness of their hands.”
Pastor Tunde adds that the goal of good governance is the empowerment of citizens. The systems and structures must guarantee the realization of this objective and should asphyxiate forces of corruption and instability that could hinder growth and development.”
In the same vein, the youth must task their leaders to come through on the pledged promises. It is their right to demand for good governance. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr. “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor, it must be demanded by the oppressed”.
Benjamin Franklin, “One of the founding fathers of democracy once said “it is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority.” This implies that government owes citizens a corresponding duty to provide honest answers.
Transparency and accountability guarantees good governance. This is why Rwanda ranks above any other East African state on Transparency International.
In the Mo Ibrahim index of good governance, which combines both political and economic measures, Rwanda is the best performing at 11, four positions ahead of Tanzania that was in second place according to the East African tabloid.
What are the features of good governance?
- Law and order
- Sound fiscal and monetary policies
- Infrastructural development
- Food security
- Decent and affordable housing
- Healthcare and social services inter alia.
So this is what good governance looks like. The results must yield to the satisfaction of the populace.
Good governance thrives amongst a well educated population when it comes to implementation of policies that summons full understanding of the benefits.
Henry Peter Brougham contends that “education makes people easy to lead but difficult to drive, easy to govern but impossible to enslave”
This implies that the youth must pursue excellence in learning. We must incline our minds to wisdom, knowledge and understanding to unblock the mind and unlock potential. The youth should be enlightened by knowledge to remove the darkness of ignorance.
Through this, the youth are enabled to contribute to socio-economic and political transformation. Enlightened minds help us to challenge arbitrary abuse of power thus ensuring good governance. Until then, may we live in peace and prosper.
The writer above is a Law student at Uganda Christian University. He’s generally interested in global and regional concerns pertaining climate change, youth development, peace and justice among others. Contact me at http://firstname.lastname@example.org