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Low youth voter registration still handicaps African democracies

Low youth voter registration still handicaps African democracies

One of the things we advocate for strongly through African YMCAs is youth civic competence which involves civic action and responsibility. Pretty central to this is voting. There is a huge buzz in South Africa at the moment about 20 years of freedom under democracy, with our Freedom Day celebrated on 27 April, the date of the first democratic elections. And, we are also in the final build up to elections. During voter registration periods, there was an intense promotional campaign to get the ‘born-free’ generation to register to vote – to make the youth vote heard and count.

Despite this, latest figures show that a million of those youth born after democracy, which amounts to one third, will not be casting their ballot as they did not register. Why? The reasons may be many. I asked some youth in a training session last year how they felt about the elections and voting and their responses were somewhat apathetic and confused. Some felt that they did not want to vote because they did not have enough viable options and others said that out of loyalty to their parents, they were expected to vote a particular way and they were not sure of this approach. Reading a recent news report, it stated that youth are ill-informed and still erroneously think there is time to register.

According to a survey carried out by consumer insights company Pondering Panda, four out of five young South Africans do not trust politicians and disregard the elections. Youth viewed a politician’s record as more important than what they are saying now, with 54% of respondents saying that what politicians had done in the past mattered more than what they were saying today.

And then there is the actual voting… how many of those registered will actually vote? According to the Human Sciences Research Council, only 72.9% of registered 20-19 year olds, and 67.1% of 30-39 year olds voted in our last general elections. It remains to be seen, whether this trend will continue during these elections.

But are our youth any different to those in other countries? Political analysts say that our voter registration mimics that of youth in other countries. I remember speaking with a group of young Norwegians last year, round about the time of their voting and they were concerned about the low voter registration and estimates for youth voting.

I recently read an interesting blog by Viva Dadwal, commenting on low global youth voting which states, “Our generation has transformed political expression – through interest groups, demonstrations, and social media. Our generation has also developed the most social capital – the electoral power of the most diverse and world-connected generation in history. We owe it to ourselves to start countering voter apathy among our peers.”

I have been really heartened by the actions of some of our YMCA Subject to Citizen Ambassadors over the years when it comes to youth voting in countries across Africa. Most recently, some of them campaigned tirelessly in Kenya to get the youth in their areas to register and vote.

Voting is about having a stake in the future governance of the country, about holding accountability and transparency as cherished values. It is about having a stake in the present and future. It’s about youth standing up and having their voices heard. It’s about making sure that civic rights come with civic responsibilities.

The Africa Alliance of YMCAs (AAYMCA) is a leading pan African youth development network on the continent, representing national movements in 20 countries, 16 of which are very active. The first YMCA in Africa was established in Liberia in 1881, and the AAYMCA was founded in 1977 as the umbrella body for all national movements on the continent. www.africaymca.org or https://www.facebook.com/AfricaYMCA

By Gil Harper, International and Corporate Affairs, AAYMCA

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