Former East African Legislative Assembly member, Hon. Dan Wandera Ogalo, has implored Ugandan youth to actively participate in the country’s politics. According to Hon. Ogalo, youth participation in national and regional representative structures has been low yet they form the biggest percentage of the population and are the future leaders of the country. Hon. Ogalo notes that the integration of the youth into mainstream politics is important, as historically young people have demonstrated dynamism and an ability to lead societies and effect changes that are beneficial to all.
In a paper titled; “From Beneficiaries to Participants? Youth, Politics and Elections in Uganda”, Hon. Ogalo, highlights some of the key impediments to youth participation as lack of political will on the part of government, the clogged political system (same leadership for the last 30 years), manipulation, the patronage system which undermines genuine political debate among the youth, weak institutions and lack of a reading culture. He also decries the lack of an ideological approach to the politics of the country. “The youth of the 60s were in a much better position because politics then was mainly ideological. It was based on the concepts of Marxism, Communism, Capitalism and Social Democracy. Today’s politics is substantially different as there is decreased emphasis on ideology. Elections are most commonly conducted on the basis of individual leader’s character, ethnicity and patronage. Leaders avoid controversial topics and gravitate towards populism. Ideology is less relevant to the electoral process and as a result, the youth role and impact is guided by these factors,” he said.
Hon. Ogalo presented the paper at the seminar held at Makerere University on 11th February, 2016. It was the fourth in a series of seminars being organized by the Department of Political Science and Public Administration, Makerere University in collaboration with Friedrich Ebert Stiftung to discuss a range of issues that have a direct impact on Ugandans and national development.
Hon. Ogalo advised the youth to use the existing structures to actively participate in the decision making process of the country. Such structures include the National Youth Council Act that creates a powerful movement through which the youth can effectively engage in politics, elections and governance. “Youth have not been active in setting the agenda for their parties. There is need for them to interrogate issues raised within their political parties,” he said.
The discussants, Mr Ahmed Hadji and Assoc. Prof. Sabiti Makara concurred with Hon. Ogalo’s arguments on the factors undermining youth participation in Uganda’s politics. They further pointed out the lack of civic education, diminishing spaces of debate and inclusion, disillusionment, multipartism and militarization of intelligence as some of the factors affecting youth participation. They argued that the “founders syndrome” was killing critical thinking and interrogation of political issues. Mr Ahmed Hadji appealed to media and academic institutions to engage more youth in political debates so that they view themselves as valuable contributors to the system. Prof. Makara called for interrogation of laws that limit youth participation.
Mr Ahmed Hadji is a Youth Policy Analyst and Team Leader at Uganda Muslim Youth Development Forum (UMYDF), where as Dr Sabiti Makara is an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science and Public Administration at Makerere University.
Reacting to the issue of youth exclusion from political participation, the Head of the Department of Political Science and Public Administration, Dr Suzie Nansozi Muwanga, advised that anyone can be political at any level and make valuable contribution to the country. “The challenge is that the youth are fixated to think that politics is only about Parliament. You can be political in school and make serious contributions to the progress of the country,” she said.