Youth and Civic Engagement: Another Rhetoric, Another IYD

Another year, another, another August 12 and it is the International Day of the Youth (IDY)!

UN Secretary-General as part of the protocols around the day, releases a message; this year the theme was “Youth and Civic Engagement.

Thousands of young people and youth-led , youth-focused orgnisations around the world take this day seriously. Mr. Ki-Moon in his statement states:

Emerging threats, violent extremism, shifting political conditions, economic turmoil and social transformations are combining to heighten the challenges facing the world’s young people. No one knows better than them the issues at stake or the best way to respond. That is why I am calling on young people to speak out – and I am urging leaders to listen.

Emerging threats, violent extremism, shifting political conditions, economic turmoil and social transformations are combining to heighten the challenges facing the world’s young people. No one knows better than them the issues at stake or the best way to respond. That is why I am calling on young people to speak out – and I am urging leaders to listen.

He goes on to talk about “Volunteerism as an ideal way to improve society” yet on the day of the most important day of young people around the world it was reported how David Hyde an intern at the UN in Geneva had to to camp for 2-weeks in bad weather because he could not pay rent. But he worked for the UN – where its volunteers around the world earn more money than some senior staff members of organisations they go to “help”. The story is reported by ‘The Independent‘. This begs the question is Mr. Ban Ki-Moon’s call and the theme chosen by the UN is just another rhetoric – to mock young people. [See my reflections on the 2014 IYD – Mocking the Next Generation]

The story highlights the hypocrisy around the issues of “Youth Development” and “Youth Participation” across many levels of the socio-economic polity of the present world – at the workplace, at school, at church, at the mosque, at home and elsewhere that young people form part.

Mr. Ki-Moon states further, “as the world changes with unprecedented speed, young people are proving to be invaluable partners who can advance meaningful solutions. Youth movements and student groups are challenging traditional power structures and advocating a new social contract between States and societies. Young leaders have contributed fresh ideas, taken proactive measures, and mobilized through social media as never before”.

The statement continues “I applaud the millions of young people who are protesting for rights and participation, addressing staggering levels of youth unemployment, raising their voices against injustice, and advocating global action for people and the planet. In this landmark year, as leaders prepare to adopt a bold new vision for sustainable development, the engagement of youth is more valuable than ever. At this critical moment in history, I call on young people to demand and foster the dramatic progress so urgently needed in our world”.

In the many times we (leaders and youth interest workers) have treated young people as people we have to speak on behalf for, that they can not speak better for themselves. But young people have been demanding for many years, young people have led and won protests. Across Africa, many countries can not boost of their independence without the efforts of young people.

What is needed beyond the rhetoric is for Youth-Adults to be able to work together – not a relationship of unequalness.Youth-Adult relationship is not a one-way street. It is not one of youth speaking and adults listening or the other way round. It is a symbiotic relationship that must be built on trust, merit, honesty, transparency and on sound principles of creating a stock of replacement for the present and future generations.

Many concepts and theories around youth development and youth participation denotes a one-dimensional approach, as Tsike-Sossah (2012) “…the one-dimensional characterisation of youth participation sees youth participation as a process youth themselves must influence so that there is or there seems to be little adult input. Indeed, poor participation is always the fault of adults against youth” and in other cases youth against themselves.

A better way of at looking at youth participation in the context of local government as a symbiotic process between active youth (as against passive) and active and supportive adults.

Arnstein (1969) proposes that the highest form of participation is “Citizen Power” made up of three types of levels of participation – partnership, delegated power, and citizen control. These three together will produce what Arnstein calls “full participation”. However, in order to produce or reach “full participation” one must recognise that this a product of a symbiotic relationship between active and supportive adults and active youth. Active youth are young people working to improve themselves to become politically active, by seeking the support of adults and or are willing to work with adults. If this relationship is nurtured it will lead to an “Effective youth Political Participation and Development”, which in itself will promote (an) “active youth” and “Active and Supportive Adults”. This framework will help for instance the National Youth Commissions to work effectively with its mandate of promoting youth development without alienating youth and other youth minorities, such as young women, in the process.

Below is presents a diagrammatic view of the concept:

Multi-Dimensional View of Youth-Adult Partnership

Multi-Dimensional View of Youth-Adult Partnership

Youth-Adult relationship is not a one-way street. It is not one of youth speaking and adults listening or the other way round.It is a symbiotic relationship that must be built on trust, merit, honesty, transparency and on sound principles of creating a stock of replacement for the present and future generations.

If we must involve youth, we must act beyond talking down and handing over scraps from the “table” and get young people to the table through transparent and meritorious process rather than the current system of rewarding sycophancy.

The youth participation rhetoric must stop and real action for and by young people should not need an encouragement – it MUST become the gold standard – the “youth-barometer” for development.

The author: Tsike-Sossah is the Director of ACIPP West Africa and the lead consultant of ACIPP Consulting. Views expressed here are solely my personal views and do not reflect the views of my employers.

%d bloggers like this: