On 21st and 22nd July 2014, The Mandela Institute for Development Studies (MINDS) convened the 2nd annual youth dialogue on elections and governance. The dialogues brought together 103 participants from 38 African countries. Its aim was to bring together young Africans to interrogate current levels of youth involvement in electoral and governance processes. The dialogues acted as a platform for confrontation of challenges of political apathy, leadership and accountability. It also served as a mind challenging ground on the role of youths as key drivers of change in the continent.
The dialogue commenced with a welcome note from Dr. Nkosana Moyo (Founder of MINDS) who emphasized on the need for young people to identify interest groups and understand the common aspects that would bring them together. He went ahead to say that the question on why people need to vote is important. His major concern on Africa’s reluctance was clear when he said that if someone doesn’t want to be criticized then he should not do anything.
President Kagame, whose country had hosted the dialogue, seemed to capture every participant’s attention. He pointed out hard facts and honest opinions which challenged most of the participants. He reiterated that such kinds of dialogues have been there before and people seem to know what they want. He added that the feeling of hope and energy is often felt during dialogues but when people go back to their countries, very little action happens on the ground. He emphasized on the need for less talks and more actions.
The issue of blame games and dishonest conversations was pointed out as major draw backs to Africa’s development. President Kagame said, “The blame goes around the room but we need responsibility to go round too to make progress”. From his experience as a president of a country which underwent genocide 20 years ago, Kagame pointed out on the need for unity as Africans. He told the participants that when people work together, they will need each other more and most important learn from each other. His thoughts on self believe and provisions of conducive environment were rested on individual responsibility and communities respectively. Citing from the mandatory monthly community service that every Rwandese has to undertake, it was clear that Rwanda has learnt aspects of peace and reconciliation from within. This is a perfect example to other African countries on the need to look for solutions within.
The issue of Africa’s natural resources was not left behind. Kagame attributed the battle of East and West over Africa’s resources to laziness. He said that Africans are failing to utilize their natural resources. He was clear that he wouldn’t want anyone to be kind to him in his failure and so should be to other African heads of states.
As a summary of the Kagame’s session, Dr. Nkosana insisted that credibility creates space and young Africans need to uphold values that would seek to avoid corruption in their respective countries. As a parting shot, Kagame advised young Africans to take up opportunities and run around with them for the good of African people.
The rest of the sessions were based on advocacy, sharing experiences and figuring out what had worked and what had not worked in various African countries on issues of elections and governance. One speaker said that young Africans need to revise the advocacy formula. It emerged that revolution and street demonstrations may not be an end in themselves rather things like forming strong political parties may be helpful in initiating change guided by convergence of interests which Dr. Nkosana kept on insisting.
Activists who have done protests in Kenya and Egypt said that the impact of their work has been short lived and a different and more of intellectual approach would be necessary for realization of the African dream.The participants were urged to let passion drive their work and shunning away from corruption would be an option second to none. Dr. Nkosana pointed out that Africa’s issues need to be taken as a job description whereby youths need to recruit the right person for the job. Voting was singled out as the only tool that youths can initiate sustainable change in their governments.
The aspects of transparency continued to dominate the discussions with one professor saying that if someone doesn’t have credibility, it’s very hard for him to command respect. Another person said that governance is a social contract; one that is agreed between the society and the person in-charge of a particular public job. Therefore any public servant is accountable to the society that bestowed trust in him.
It was agreed that we must accept democracy only if it’s in the context of law. People need to fight for what is legally right. The comparison on the level of democracy between well established systems like UK and growing democratic systems like Nigeria prompted interesting conversations. One person said that in Nigeria elections are not won on the basis of manifesto, he went ahead to say that if a candidate fails to distribute money; he would not win the elections.
The contribution of indigenous cultures in governance was discussed at large; the fact that Africans don’t appreciate their own cultures was cited as a basis for little or no ownership for Africa’s problems. One presenter from Ethiopia said that Africa’s cultural systems are important in guiding governance system development; she added that African countries should not look for other systems before exhausting what they have.
The need for utilizing social media as a tool for governance was well explained by a participant from Zimbabwe. He gave an example of how #263Chat on twitter has brought major changes in his country. A sure way of having honest conversations, he said.
Most of the panel discussions experiences brought out the need for passion, confidence, self believe and volunteerism for sustainable development in Africa. Lastly the participants were left with the challenge of finding why Africa fails. Does the solution lie on building the system right or building the right system?
Report by: Stephen Machua