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Harnessing Youth Power: A Path to Revolutionizing Governance in East Africa
By Hon Sadik Warfa
Thursday June 6, 2024


"Nothing is impossible to him who will try," declared Alexander the Great, a mantra that has inspired countless young leaders across continents and throughout history. Alexander's remarkable journey, ascending to the throne of Macedon in 336 BC at the age of 20 and subsequently conquering vast territories spanning from Greece to Egypt and into modern-day India, serves as a testament to the power of determination and ambition. Despite facing formidable challenges, he remained undefeated in battle until his death, earning a legacy as one of history's greatest and most successful military commanders. For African youths, Alexander's story poses a compelling challenge—a reminder that with courage, perseverance, and a willingness to push boundaries, extraordinary achievements are within reach. It's a call to embrace audacious goals, pursue excellence relentlessly, and chart paths of innovation and progress in every sphere of endeavor. So, what's your story? What audacious dreams will you pursue, and what legacy will you leave for future generations?

The governance landscape in East Africa has for so long been characterized by entrenched leadership, where aging leaders often dominate the political scene. However, in recent years, there has been a notable shift towards harnessing the power of the youth to bring about revolutionary changes and reshape governance structures. Most East African countries boost a large populace of youth who I believe if given a chance would bring about the relevant changes in not only leadership but also education and trade revolutions in the region.

For most countries that achieved change in their leadership a lot can be attributed to young leaders for instance at the young age of 18, Mandela got active in the civil rights struggle, and he spent the next 20 years spearheading a resistance against the apartheid regime. It is such leadership and efforts that led to the end of apartheid in South Africa, and that led him to becoming the first democratically elected president of South Africa.

In his book ‘Long Walk to Freedom’ he speaks of the need for a spirit of self-initiative in taking hold of the course of education and applying initiative among people to improve their lives, It tells of a young man who was persistent in his dreams and visions of a better South Africa, something that should be emulated by the youth mostly.

Note worth, In Somali history, the Somali Youth League (SYL) played a pivotal role in the independence and liberation of Somalia. Founded in 1943, the SYL organized political rallies, protests, and campaigns to raise awareness about the need for independence and to challenge colonial authorities. They actively participated in resistance movements against colonial powers, particularly against the British, Italian, and Ethiopian authorities. Additionally, the SYL focused on educating Somali youth about their history, culture, and the importance of self-determination, thereby fostering a sense of national identity and unity crucial for the independence struggle. This legacy should serve as an inspiration for Somalia's current youth, who constitute over 70% of its populace under the age of 30, with a substantial 42% falling within the 14 to 29 age bracket. The youth's majority underscores the imperative of involving them not only in decision-making processes but also in leadership capacities. History illustrates that when young people feel marginalized, there's a risk of them resorting to militias and criminal activities due to frustration and a dearth of opportunities. Yet, if provided with adequate resources and opportunities, Somalia's youth could emerge as the country's most valuable asset. Through investments in education, employment creation, and youth-centric development initiatives, Somalia can harness the vigor, ingenuity, and potential of its young population, transforming them from potential liabilities into proactive contributors to the nation's brighter future.

A recent example of a country where the youths are uprising is Senegal, where the rise of a young president has ushered in a wave of reforms aimed at tackling corruption, reducing bureaucratic inefficiencies, and prioritizing the welfare of the citizens.

In Senegal the youth stand at the forefront, driving change and embracing their power, potential, and responsibility to shape a brighter future. In a move, which I would equate to that of the institution of visionary leaders of the 1960s like Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah, who sparked the flames of independence, Senegal recently elected its youngest president, Bassirou Diomaye Faye, affectionately known as Diomaye, meaning 'the honorable one' in the local Serer language. He secured victory with 54 percent of the vote.

Faye's ascent to power not only challenges Senegal's reputation as a stable democracy in West Africa, a region marked by periods of political unrest, coups, and attempted coups, but also serves as a beacon for other African nations, illustrating the potential of youth-led movements. Under President Bassirou Diomaye Faye's leadership, Senegal's youth boldly reject complacency and advocate for transparency, accountability, and equal opportunities.

The revolution happening in Senegal illustrates the transformative potential of youthful leadership in driving revolutionary changes in governance. By harnessing the energy, creativity, and idealism of the youth, governments in East Africa can break free from the shackles of old paradigms and embrace a more inclusive, responsive, and accountable model of governance. As the torchbearers of change, the youth hold the key to unlocking a brighter future for the region, one characterized by prosperity, justice, and equitable development.

Another Example is that of Julius Malema, the leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) in South Africa,he has exerted significant influence on His country's youth, his politics resonate with that of many young people who are tired of the disillusion and who feel marginalized in post-apartheid South Africa.Malema's leadership is often seen as a beacon of resistance against corruption, inequality, and the enduring legacy of apartheid. His party's mobilization of young activists underscores their determination to challenge the status quo and fight for a more equitable society.The ongoing South African elections present an opportunity for Malema and the EFF to demonstrate the power of youth-driven change. If an EFF candidate succeeds, it would not only reaffirm the potential for grassroots movements to challenge entrenched power structures but also inspire youth across Africa to stand up against tyranny and demand meaningful changes.

Thus said, empowering East African youth involves equipping them with the tools, opportunities, and mindset needed to spearhead transformative initiatives across the region. This can be achieved by giving them access to quality education that equips them with relevant skills and knowledge for the contemporary world. Governments and stakeholders should prioritize investments in education infrastructure, curriculum development, and teacher training. Additionally, governments and private sector actors Should prioritize job creation initiatives tailored to the needs of young people. This includes supporting small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), promoting entrepreneurship, and investing in sectors with high youth employment potential, such as technology, agriculture, and renewable energy. Additionally, access to finance, mentorship programs, and business incubation centers can help young entrepreneurs navigate challenges and succeed in their ventures.

On their end, the youth should embrace the spirit of regional integration and collaboration, recognizing the interconnectedness of their aspirations and challenges. Initiatives that promote youth exchange programs, cultural exchanges, and collaborative projects across borders can foster a sense of solidarity and shared identity among East African youth. By working together, young people can amplify their voices, advocate for common interests, and contribute to building a more cohesive and prosperous East Africa.

The Empowerment of youths is not only a moral imperative but also a strategic necessity for the region's sustainable development. By investing in education, promoting youth participation in governance, fostering economic opportunities, leveraging technology and innovation, and fostering cross-border collaboration, East African countries can unlock the full potential of their youth population as catalysts for reform and progress. With concerted efforts and collective action, East African youth can chart a path towards a brighter future for themselves and generations to come.

Mr Sadik Warfa, Consultant in international relations, governance and labor, is a  Former Minister of Labour and Social Affairs and also served as Member of Federal Parliament for Mudug Constituency, Somalia.


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