By Halima Imam
I want to tell a story about a 9- year- old girl who was so interested in serving her country that (well never mind, she probably will tell that story herself someday). Young people need political education, as countless studies have shown that youths are often politically apathetic. I understand if teenagers and those in their early 20’s are not interested in tax reform plans, or the annual budget. We all found all that boring at that age too. What comes to mind when most of us hear politics is “get rich quick” and “fake campaign promises”.
It is imperative to understand that politics is more; it’s about what happens in our neighbourhood, country and around the globe. It’s about what the citizens should and shouldn’t be allowed to do, behaviours that should be endorsed and punished. It opens our minds to understand what is fair and that which is not. Young people are not even aware of the amount of topics the word politics truly covers.
We always like to claim that politicians don’t advocate agendas that appeal to us, yeah well, they kind of don’t. Our parents believe that schools don’t teach enough civic education and that the society isn’t helping either. Older generations are of the opinion that the youth are just self-centred, lazy and very likely undeserving of the rights to politics anyway.
My older brother once said to us “go into politics and change whatever you feel isn’t right, arm chair criticism will not make any difference”. I began to realise how important it is to be voted into a political position as a young person than advocate for better policies from outside the political sphere. The political system is made to drown the voice of young people and make them smaller. We can only make real change from within.
A reality is being created by those in the ruling class and the elite and that is one where the youth – especially in Africa – is further pushed into poverty due to unemployment, underemployment and a spirit breaking refusal to fund innovative ideas (not in all cases though).
The youth are strongly advised to take up entrepreneurship and become advocates for social problems but not buy nomination forms and vey for political positions. Always being at the receiving end of the ills in society can be challenging and having gone through school and still not being able to afford basic needs is frustrating. Insecurity and fraud have plagued us as youth; some members of the elite feed on our frustrations and romanticize war to us telling us that we can “only take what’s ours by force. ”
As young people, we must begin to seek leadership positions and get our developmental ideas and initiatives together. We must create giant strides and push our nation and continent out of the shackles of the evils of capitalism and globalization. We must rise from the position where the imperialists have subjected us. Standing forward from the mindset of backwardness and forced beliefs of “never being enough”.
Most of us want to see climate action fast-tracked. We want issues of education, poverty, housing, clean and affordable water, sanitation, electricity, food security etcetera taken with utmost concern and solved. We want positive change, but not through the painful crucibles of war.
We practice a representative democracy; therefore all ages must be represented. Young people will certainly make monumental difference in the long run, from protest against racism and police brutality, to demanding ends to oppressive governments, fight for climate justice, and demand for an end to human trafficking, gender based violence and many other issues globally. Young people have shown resilience and doggedness in the face of adversity. It is imperative that youths are involved in formal political process and have a say in formulating todays policies to help build stable and peaceful societies that responds to our future needs.
Young people must not just contest political positions, take some instagram worthy pictures with clothes that “scream trendy fashion”, nor just polish our English language and step onto campaign podiums to “wow” the audience with our “power of speech” but take our civic engagements seriously. We must connect to our roots and the people at the grassroots and never fail to remember that “elections are not won on twitter”. Putting “us” before “me” is one mindset young people have to inculcate having in the centre of our minds that together we are stronger.
Politics is often regarded as a space for “politically experienced men”, so younger people always fall to a disadvantage in most cases, but not anymore. We have seen the greed, inhumanity and “power drunk madness” of the “politically experienced men” and the consequences has not been pretty.
The International Parliamentary Union reports that people between the ages of 20 and 44 make up 57% of the world’s voting age population, but only 26% of this number are members of parliament (MPs). Young people under 30 are said to represent 1.9% of the world’s MPs and more than 80% of world’s upper houses of parliament contain members less than 30 years of age. It’s time to take the National Anthem a bit more seriously, we must all arise o’ fellow compatriots and obey the call to serve our father land. We have always heard that we are leaders of the future, and providentially the future is now.
Halima Imam is Founder, Climate Action Team