From 29 July to 1 August 2010, two representatives of Dutch political youth organisations participated in a conference in Sélingué in Mali. The conference, organised by NIMD’s partner in Mali, CMDID, brought together youth representatives from Malian political parties to discuss the state of political youth participation in the country.
The two Dutch representatives – Lotte Bok and Jurgen Moors, from the youth wings of the VVD and the CDA, respectively – joined young politicians from six influential political parties in Mali in order to inspire them with new ideas. Together, they discussed youth participation in their respective countries, sharing experiences, ideas and best practices.
Through formal and informal discussion, the participants discovered that political youth are organised in different ways in their respective countries – but also that they often face the same problems. In both the Netherlands and in Mali, as in most countries in the world, youth participation is relatively low. In both countries, the commitment of the (older) political establishment to ensure young people stand a fair chance of being elected in representative bodies is doubtful.
However, in the Netherlands, political youth organisations receive a grant from the Home Office. In Mali on the other hand, this is not the case, rendering the establishment of independent political youth organisations nearly impossible. Adding to this, cultural differences contribute to the fact that in the Netherlands, young people interested in politics are able to organise themselves more independently from their political parties than in Mali.
Further, in Mali people younger than forty are underrepresented in representative bodies including Parliament. This seems to be mainly due to the fees that need to be paid in order to stand for office. Political parties even go so far as to ask potential candidates to pay a certain amount of money before they are nominated. Young people rarely have sufficient financial means at their disposal to do this.
Furthermore, relatively few young people go to the ballot box in Mali. This might be caused by a lack of democratic awareness or even a failure to completely understand parliamentary democracy. Besides, it could be argued that in developing countries, young people are occupied by more pressing concerns, such the need to generate an income, which makes them less prone to care about political issues.
With almost 80% of the population being 40 years old or younger, political youth participation is a basic democratic need in Mali. Inspired by discussion amongst themselves and with their Dutch peers, the Malian political youth representatives identified several obstacles to youth participation in their country, and devised some possible solutions.
After lengthy discussions, consensus was reached on a final document among all those present at the conference. This document will be the starting point for several activities and programmes which should together help enhance youth participation in Mali.