Youths: To live is to participate

Its 490 B.C. Athens was at war with Persia. Athens dispatched its fastest runner, 25-year old Pheidippides to Sparta, to summon military help. Pheidippides ran the 150 miles from Marathon to Sparta on foot in two days, ran back and dropped dead! The modern Marathon is run in remembrance of Pheidippides to honour the supreme sacrifice this youth made to save history’s first democracy. Let the African youth get involved and make every sacrifice necessary to save democracy in Africa.

If you are 18-35 years old, you belong to my generation. A generation of Africans and Nigerians that was birthed at the height of military rule… we grew up amidst the sound of bugle, the punctuations of newsflashes of coups d’état and the eternal presence of soldiers on our streets. We were living witnesses to the gagging of the press, the flagrant abuse of human rights, asphyxiation of the judiciary and the rise of civil society groups. And just when we were coming to political age, when this military rule was becoming a way of life, democracy as a burst of long awaited fresh air, swept across Africa. This welcomed phenomenon happened in Nigeria in 1999.

Fifteen years after the first elections, in our generation, were held in this country one still wonders whether democracy is the answer to Africa’s perennial problems of poverty, infrastructural decay and waste of natural and human resources. Did anything really change with the advent of democracy on our shores? Did we really have a change of governance or just a change in the complexion of governance? My generation has attained adulthood and thrust into a quagmire of questions, caught up in a bloody game of thrones and initiated into the cult of blame allocation. Those who drove us into a ditch many years ago are still in the driver’s seat telling us to trust them to help us find the way. They told us we were leaders of tomorrow and when tomorrow came, we still found them there… firmly in charge.

But something must be done. We cannot sit back and wish, or curse or just pray. This generation cannot afford this. We must live… we must participate… “In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shy from this responsibility… I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it. And the glow from that fire can truly light the world. And so, my fellow Nigerians/Africans, ask not what your country can do for you;  ask what you can do for your country.” Let’s get involved, let’s participate.

We can no longer pretend it doesn’t matter “Those who control political power not only shape economic policies, but also own and control the levers of the economy and consequently also, the wealth of the nation”. So to survive, to live, we must participate.

Dare Babarinsa, in the Newswatch magazine of October 1985, aptly captures the impact ZIK’s return had on politics and the anticolonial struggles:

“Before Zik came back to Nigeria in 1934, Nigeria politics was a mere Lagos affair, with the frequent brickbats between Herbert Macaulay and his contemporaries. But Zik was to take the nation by storm. He was then only 30, heartbreakingly handsome, and with his tongue he could rouse an army into battle. The old brigade cowered before this enfant terrible, and the British Authorities fled before his very shadow.”

I think the above quote aptly describes how youth participation in politics can change the political landscape.

But today where are the young people involved in democratic governance? The average age of parliamentarians in Africa is 63 (50 years old for women parliamentarians). The pertinent question to answer is what is responsible for the low level of youth participation in democracy in Africa? Let’s examine some of these barriers:


Gerontocratic culture

In Africa, wisdom is usually associated with grey hair or old age and since leadership is something normally left for the wise, it is concluded, culturally, that only the old should lead.


The focus and quality of education

The focus and quality of education we have in Africa doesn’t prepare the African youth to participate in democracy, thus systematically preventing young Africans from understanding and participating in democratic processes.


Apathy of the church

The church in Africa is not doing enough to get the youth involved in governance. Her stance most times make young people view political involvement as sinful; thus the resultant apathy from most Christian youths in Africa.

But there has to be a way forward… and we must be the ones to beat this path. There should be a value reorientation. Africa should realise that the youth can perform as a leader and that some grey hairs lack gray matter. This can be achieved through sensitisation and through exemplary conduct by our young people already involved in the democratic processes of their countries.

There should be a deliberate collaboration between churches, faith-based organisations and civil society and youth organisations. Churches should create programmes that will enlighten young people to participate in the democratic process.

The African youth should seek for “extra education” after leaving formal school; education that is focused on bringing out the leader in him. Education and programmes that deepen knowledge in democracy should be encouraged and attended by all African youths. And as the legendary Nelson Mandela said on May 15, 2008 in his message for ‘Schools for Africa Campaign’: “Education, more than anything else, improves our chances of building better lives”. We must get relevant education to understand the dynamics of democracy, to get equipped with the relevant political tools to engage the political ecosystem. “For my people perish for lack of knowledge.”

Baba Isa sent this article from Abuja.