Youth participation in decision making is hampered by limited space for meaningful engagement

Uganda has a fairly respectable legal, institutional and normative framework for youth inclusion in decision and policy making processes. Depending on the definition one considers, Uganda’s youth constitute between 65 – 75% of Uganda’s total population, with most of them living in rural areas (UBOS, 2010), however, youth inclusion and participation in decision making in Uganda remains an illusion. our    policies are often prescribed by others (government and adults) despite the fact that1995 constitution has provisions that promote active participation of youth in decision making processes (Uganda constitution,1995). 10557704_508048622658534_8434097677516446441_o

The policy development process in Uganda has largely been inclusive even though the participation of youth per se has been very selective[1]. In the last fifteen or so years, many of the youth structures collapsed[2]. Their involvement and participation in decision making thus remains largely low, and hence they are only sideline actors of programmes and services rather than as active mainstream players in the development process.

Despite the existence of a Revised National Youth Policy awaiting cabinet approval, ratification of different international treaties and conventions on the rights of young people to take part in development such as the African youth charter and the ILO convention on decent work country programme 2013-20175. Many Ugandan youth especially in rural areas don’t have access to information on government policies and programs. This affects their active participation. Similarly, while there has been quite a lot of political and civil society attention to this issue, young people’s participation in decision-making still remains an illusion.

Recently, whereas there have been efforts to revamp youth participation in decision making processes, this has virtually remained nonexistent. This is made worse by stereo-type perception of young people as incapable to lead. Critically, the country continues to witness weak and fragmented systems where young people lack direct access to institutional systems and structures within government, private and civil society sector where they can occupy vantage positions to influence decisions. This severely impedes their ability to advocate for their rights and erodes their confidence and trust in such systems.

In light of the above the following can be done to mitigate the gaps; there is need to build a full-bodied leadership of youth right from the grassroots to the national level with young people being at the fulcrum of deciding on key issues. This leadership must be that that does not seek favors from the government in place or compromised by donors.

Alternatively, youth participation can be improved once young people are facilitated and supported through their networks to actively participate in the development and monitoring of community development plans, including being part of the programme designs, monitoring and evaluation, as well as ensuring their participation in local and national processes as this will enable them to bring their issues before the duty bearers.

Further still, there is need for continuous interaction between the youth and the leaders to identify challanges affecting them and to seek for accountability. This leads to own-ship of some of the youth programs as opposed to being prescribed by others and later called upon to join. This can be achieved through empowernemnt of youth with the right skills and information.

Additionally, there is need for more policy reforms to create a conducive environment for youth participation in policy and decision processes. This shall go a long way in enabling young people to be at the core of influencing decisions rather than participating from the side where they only suggest and retreat to the backyard of their homes to observe and wish that their views and wishes are incorporated into vital policies and laws.

 There is also need for review of the National Youth Council Act (2015) to bring on board non-estate actors to free the youth infrastructure from dependency on the state. Lastly and most importantly again is, there is need for all stakeholders to continue advocating for young people’s participation and benefiting from governance processes and other development initiatives as a means to pave way for sustainable and inclusive development.

References

[1] A study on effective youth participation in policy processes in Uganda, Helena Okiring 2004

[2] LAROK, Okiring and Mayambala; At Cross Roads? The Youth, Politics of Interest Groups and Influencing National Policy Processes in Uganda: 2010

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