In 2011,the people of the world turned on their television sets to witness a live revolution in the most unexpected place on earth. What they witnessed was the Arab Spring which began as loosely organized protests that resulted in regime change in countries such as Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. It all began with a regrettable act of injustice meted out to Muhammed Bouazizi, a food vendor, in Tunisia.
His heroic act of self-immolation in response to the injustice he encountered, sparked the Jasmine Revolution which ended the 20 years rule of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the President of Tunisia. This successful uprising inspired other Arab youth to emulate the revolutionary fervour of the young Tunisians. Their activism uprooted the regimes of Hosni Mubarak (Egypt) and Muammar al-Gaddafi (Libya) who were once considered as constant as the northern star. The Syrian and Yemeni civil wars are the result of the intervention of the Arab youth in the Spring of 2011.
Recently, we have seen young people lead the following movements globally; March for our Lives Movement in the United States, the Global March Against Child Labour, the Wedding Busters Movement in Bangladesh, the Youth Advocates for Change in Nigeria and the call for Climate Action being led by 16-year-old Greta Thunberg. All of the aforementioned movements have been ungirded by the advent of technology and the age of information. The political implications of the rise of youth voices on a myriad of issues certainly warrant discussion.
IT IS A MARCH OF FOLLY FOR GOVERNMENTS TO IGNORE THE VOICE OF YOUTH Invariably, once the voice of youth is of the view that they have no access to power or their pleas are not being considered in decision making and policy formulation, they seek avenues to have their issues addressed. The most popular of these avenues is, of course, the ubiquitous social media which may seem like personal idle forays but teem with the power to spark regime change. Young people use social media for online political participation (Yang& DeHart 2012), the evidence is abundant. This documentation has already alluded to the Arab Spring and seeks to do so again.
Research from the Project on Information Technology and Political Islam found that online revolutionary conversations often preceded mass protests on the ground and that social media played a central role in shaping political debates in the Arab Spring. In some cases, governments used social media to engage with citizens and encourage their participation in government processes; in others, governments monitored internet traffic or blocked access to websites or the entire internet, according to a study conducted by the Dubai School of Government.
The authors of the report analyzed various aspects of social mediaâs impact on the Arab region, including the growth rate of Facebook and Twitter, changes in internet traffic, and demographic changes over time, coming to the conclusion that social media played a critical role in “mobilization, empowerment, shaping opinions, and influencing change” during the Arab Spring. Added to this, the use of mobile media is making political decision-making less traditional and hard to track (Wei 2016). It appears, in countries such as Guyana, young people feel comfortable restricting their political participation to staying at home on their armchairs in front of a screen, this gives social media more power than the traditional party activism.
HOW TO KEEP YOUTH SUPPORT AND INTEREST Perhaps, the best modern example of political leadership at this moment that best captures the imagination of youth and provides a model on how to keep the youth interest, resides with Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed. Mr. Ahmed began his reign against the backdrop of a raging youth population; protests for land rights, deep ethnic tensions, arrests of tens of thousands of activists and many more national disgruntlement. In just 100 days in office, Ethiopia was radically transformed.
This transformation calmed the souls of the young population due to its sheer audacity. Prime Minister Abiy freed prominent opposition leaders, activists, journalists and other dissidents. He appointed a record number of women to his Cabinet, this was coupled with the appointment of a former judge and opposition figure, Birthukan Mideksa, as Head of Ethiopia’s Electoral Board.
The average politician would express shock and surprise that a sitting Prime Minister would appoint an opposition figure who was exiled for 7 years to run the country’s elections. However, the evidence suggests that capturing the interest and support of the youth requires bold and transformative actions such as unprecedented constitutional reform, party lists with a record number of youth, the appointment of youth representatives to the highest level of government and the usage of the social media to argue the government’s case.
Conclusion It is estimated that Guyana’s youth population will represent 40% of the electorate at the next elections, it would be folly for party lists to not be mindful of this.
LINK ORIGINAL: Guyana Chronicle