Learning to be heard: Seminars for Young Politicians in Africa
"Young people tell me that they are not being listened to when attending party meetings. Older people leave the room or talk to each other as the young speak", says Erike Tanghöj, chairs the pan-African Program for Young Politicians in Africa (PYPA).
PYPA is a three-year initiative (2012-2014) carried out by the Centre Party International Foundation (CIS) in cooperation with Green Forum (GF), the Christian Democratic International Center (KIC), and the Olof Palme International Center (OPC).About 120 young African politicians from eleven countries are participating.
The goal of the joint program is to increase young people’s participation in politics and their influence on policies, as well as strengthening the democratic leadership. The program consists of three education events per region and year, varying between one and two weeks for each event, and one pan-African academy, focusing on political theory, conflict management, capacity building, and developing respect for political opponents. PYPA has a predecessor in successful programs in Kenya and later Eastern Africa, lead by KIC.
Young people are a large group of voters but it can be argued that a culture of age discrimination blocks their political influence. The inferior status of youth issues in many African countries is partly resulting from a culture where the elderly are seen as given leaders, and partly a resulting of authoritarian party structures and political climate.
Beatie Hofmeyr from the South African organization Education and Training Unit (ETU) is the implementing project manager in southern Africa. In Southern Africa the circumstances are different though, she explains:
– It’s not a cultural problem. It’s about the same generation of politicians that became active in the 60’s and 70’s squeezing young politicians out from formal decision making. It’s hard to change career so there are a lot of leaders who just hang on to power until they die.
The instinct for the young man or woman to step back for the elder person is a problem, and even when they do try to make themselves heard, young persons are often confronted by domination techniques and arrogance from their elderly party colleagues.
Through capacity building and conflict management, the PYPA program aims at strengthening the political awareness and self esteem among young politicians in order to empower them to challenge the prevailing power structures in the mother parties and governments. A large part of the education is focused on theories around power structures and understanding the practices of discrimination, thereby letting the participants identify the reasons behind young people not reaching their full political potential.
But PYPA is not only reaching young politicians. In order to deal with the discrimination of youth, PYPA also involves the elderly established politicians in mother parties and governments.
– Since there is no power struggle between me and the representative of the mother party it is easier for me to present a message, says Erike Tanghöj. Between a young and a middle aged Tanzanian man there’s an immanent power relation obstructing a discussion about the importance of youth in politics. Sometimes it’s easier for me to discuss theoretically about why the young should participate.
Another issue discussed in the PYPA-program is the seemingly contradictory relation between the lack of ideology in the political parties and a rather hostile approach to political opponents.
– The politicians say they can’t agree with their opponents because of ideology, but what they really mean is the opposite, Erike Tanghöj explains. The different parties are ideologically rather similar with some vague social democratic idea but they differ in practical policies. That is what they build their hostility around.
– The participants are more defined politically by following a certain leader than a particular ideology, says Beatie Hofmeyr. During the seminars, we ask them ‘What is their party about beyond the leader?’.
Thus, part of the regional training is through debating and schooling ideologically whilst meeting with political opponents. The ideological roots are discussed and after the training events, the home work is to continue to work with the ideological rooting. Participants develop after some time more respect for their political opponents and there are some successful examples from our earlier projects.
– Usually it takes about a year to see the effects on the participants and a little longer time for the youth organizations, says Erike Tanghöj. But after some time, one can see a difference between the mother parties and the youth associations in terms of dealing with political opponents.
– The atmosphere was harsh in the beginning of the first academy but great progress was definitely made as the debates and workshop went on, says Beate Hofmeyre about the first academy in Southern Africa. The evaluation after two weeks said that the academy had really opened the participants’ eyes.
In Uganda, the KIC program RYPLA, preceding PYPA, has resulted in a joint organization for the youth associations, something unique in the Ugandan context.
– In ten to fifteen years, these young people are going to be in the Party Board of their respective parties and if they can maintain these manners there will be a better political climate, with dialogue instead of mud throwing, says Erike Tanghöj. She also states that:
– Education is really important but the most important part is creating a relationship between the participants during the trainings.
In West Africa the CIS and GF is continuing their cooperation with l’Institut pour la Gouververnance et Développement (IGD). After a running a three year school for politicians directed at the mother parties together, Catherine Isaksson, general secretary of the CIS, sees the adopted youth focus this time as an important aspect of a long-term development in the region.
CIS, GF, KIC and OPC all have a history of working in different parts of Africa and by allocating the management of different regions accordingly the particular knowledge of the different organizations is used effectively. CIS together with GF is in charge of the program in West African countries of Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger; KIC is working with parties in Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya; OPC, with its history in Southern African countries and partnership with ETU, is gathering participants from parties in Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.
Conflict management is an important part of the education. Having ideologically different Swedish organizations implementing the program is unique and strengthens the orientation towards tolerance and respect for the political opponent.
Written by: OTTO WIDMARK
Photo: Birgitta Silén
The article is published in ENoP Quarterly Nr 14