Last year Gideon Chitanga conducted research for Young NIMD on the political participation of young people in Ghana and Kenya. The preliminary results of Gideon’s research suggest that despite some similarities between youth politics in the two countries, the reality on the ground is far more complex.
About the research
Gideon's report, now in preparation, is a result of focus group discussions with young people in constituencies held by each of the main political parties in both Ghana and Kenya. Gideon also conducted interviews with student union members, youth chairpersons from each of the political parties and youth groups in civil society, and maintained a blog.
He asked whether youth are transformative agents in democratization processes, and found that while young people as a demographic group are represented in all political parties, in real terms they are often on the periphery of decision-making processes.
Youth representation in Ghana
The constitutions of the four major political parties in Ghana, for example, all include clauses relating to youth membership or youth ‘wings’. The National Democratic Congress (NDC), for one, has taken an active role in encouraging youth membership and involvement. Other parties, however, including the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the Convention Peoples Party (CPP), are still dominated by elderly politicians.
NPP youth organizer John Boadu (whom Gideon interviewed as part of his research) argues that there is need to appreciate that it is possible for older leaders to be interested in issues which affect young people. In fact, he says, they sometimes do a better job at representing youth issues than young people themselves. Regardless of the veracity of this particular claim, it seems clear that Ghanaian political ‘youth wings’ function well and manage to represent the concerns of young people.
Kenyan political youth organizations
In Kenya, party policies on youth participation appear to mirror those of the parties in Ghana. The Kenya African National Union (KANU), for example, has set up a Youth League for party members aged between eighteen and thirty five. Young people in Kenya, however, are more likely to act as ‘foot soldiers’ for older politicians or factions within parties, or to become involved in politics due to family connections.
The rules of the political game in Kenya are also quite informal and depend, to a large extent, upon networks of patronage. This, arguably, does very little for the representation of youth within political parties, or for young people’s political concerns. In Ghana, by comparison, there is arguably more political space for young people and the rules of the game are likewise more formal and institutionalized.
Gideon’s research therefore suggests that in Ghana, promotion of youth participation can be achieved through existing organizations. In Kenya, on the other hand, young people may benefit from assistance in organizing on their own terms, outside of the traditional systems of party patronage. In this way, political parties will in the future themselves benefit, through the strengthening of youth participation in politics.