On July 22, the National Democratic Institute (NDI) virtually convened a culminating symposium for the 2020 Political Party Leadership Institute (PPLI) initiative on Lessons on Integrating Youth into Political Parties and Leadership. Funded by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), PPLI seeks to strengthen young people's capacity to meaningfully contribute in party processes and contribute to youth reflective policies across the region. The virtual symposium provided an opportunity for youth party members from Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, and Zambia to share their experiences and skills acquired through PPLI to develop and sustain policy level change within their communities. The symposium included policy brief presentations and a participant panel discussion on opportunities and challenges to youth participation within parties. Political leaders from the region, including the former President of the Republic of Malawi, H.E. Joyce Banda, and Senator Kipchumba Murkomen of the Republic of Kenya participated in a panel alongside NDI Southern and East Africa (SEA) regional director Dickson Omondi. NDI President Ambassador Derek Mitchell gave a keynote address reiterating the importance of youth inclusion on the continent and highlighting the Institute’s Speak Youth to Power campaign that launched earlier this year.
Young people in the SEA region continue to express concern over issues including the rising youth unemployment rate and lack of youth inclusion in decision-making processes. Yet, African leaders have not been responsive in ensuring reflective policies. Although there have been marginal strides towards inclusive governance through youth caucuses and networks, such as Kenya’s Youth Assembly and Malawi’s Parliamentary Youth Caucus, young people only comprise a minority of parliaments in the region. Despite the older population's perception of young people as apathetic and incapable, youth political participation is on the rise, with young people expressing optimism about their capacity to achieve positive social change and ability to play a role in how their countries are governed. NDI established its PPLI initiative to address the need for inclusive governance and promote meaningful participation by providing training and support to build young people’s capacity.
Over nine weeks, youth party activists received hands-on training to develop and advocate for policy ideas within their parties, and completed self-selected policy development projects on several themes including rising youth unemployment rates across the continent. During the policy brief presentations, Felix Mambo of Kenya’s Wiper Democratic Movement (WDM-K) noted that political parties in Kenya use the country's high youth unemployment rate as a tool to encourage youth political participation without implementing systemic changes to increase job creation. Similar sentiments were echoed by Chriss Connex Muhuwa of Malawi’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). In his presentation, he proposed enacting age limits for leadership positions in political parties to increase youth participation in formal decision-making processes and provide necessary representation within parties to establish policies addressing youth unemployment.
Conversations also focused on establishing gender responsive policies in the region, specifically addressing the high rates of violence against women in South Africa. Nazley Sharif, a member of South Africa’s Democratic Alliance (DA) serving as a Minister of Parliament (MP), brought attention to the high rates of gender-based violence and femicide (GBV-F) against women in her presentation, citing the lack of education, sensitization, and accountability amongst frontline workers and government officials. Solutions MP Sharif identified to capacitate frontline workers included implementing GBV-F curricula within frontline worker training and strengthening public service responses to incidences of GBV-F. Since participating in PPLI, MP Sharif is further developing and researching her policy topic to submit as a private member’s bill to Parliament.
To bridge the gap between youth party members and political party leaders, the symposium featured a guest panel discussion of experienced politicians who shared their political journeys, particularly addressing challenges they faced throughout their careers. Senator Kipchumba highlighted the importance of mentorship for adequately preparing youth party members for leadership roles within political parties. The Senator, who entered politics at a young age, explained how a leadership initiative similar to PPLI provided a platform to engage with seasoned politicians and build his political capacity through local community engagement activities, thereby allowing him to successfully run for office in the 2013 Kenya elections.
Additionally, career politician H.E. President Banda took the conversation a step further by detailing the challenges for young women in leadership roles within political parties. As the first woman to break several barriers in African politics, the former Malawian President was faced with imparting institutional reforms to close the gender gap within her administration. Although H.E. Banda made significant strides to ensure leadership positions for women within the Malawian government, she noted that more changes are needed to encourage youth inclusive governance, especially for young women, across the region.
During the panel discussion for selected youth party members, Hon. Lynnet Mbula Mutula of Kenya’s WDM-K described challenges for young women in politics, including disparities in support between male and female party members. Although young people make up a large percentage of Africa’s population, she noted that other demographics think of young people as unfit for leadership positions. Hon. Mbula further detailed the public perception of leaders as older men which deter young people, especially women, from joining political parties and becoming involved in politics.
In sharing their personal experiences as youth party members, PPLI panelists and presenters also highlighted challenges, including financial barriers which disproportionately impact young people’s participation, specifically as candidates. Kefilwe Boikhutso of the Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) shared that without adequate funding, candidates are expected to bow to the requests of donors with ulterior motives. Kefilwe proposed that political parties should make organizational commitments to allocate adequate funding to youth structures within the party, thereby providing youth party members with resources to further engage with young people and a platform to address their needs.
Despite challenges, youth party members from the SEA region shared that progress is being made towards ensuring adequate youth representation within political parties, particularly through the establishment of youth structures. The PPLI symposium provided a platform for youth party members to exhibit their work through their respective parties to institute systemic changes within their communities and promote young people’s political participation, while engaging with seasoned politicians on their experiences to date. In his remarks, NDI regional director Dickson Omondi emphasized the importance of the policy focus of PPLI and that the initiative hopes to one day engage with other sub-groups within the demographic to increase the political participation of marginalized youth.
NDI will commence the next iteration of the PPLI program this fall with a new cohort of young leaders from the region. Through PPLI 2021, NDI will continue to engage youth party members and party leadership to promote inclusive decision making processes and youth responsive policies.
Author: Samira Mohamed is a Project Assistant on the Southern and East Africa team.
NDI is a non-profit, non-partisan, non-governmental organization that works in partnership around the world to strengthen and safeguard democratic institutions, processes, norms and values to secure a better quality of life for all. NDI envisions a world where democracy and freedom prevail, with dignity for all.