The Initiative

#YouthVote #YouthAsKingMakers

The Problem

After its sixth (7th) successful and relatively peaceful elections, Ghana’s democratic rating has gone up among electoral observers around the world and has been touted as an example worthy of emulation around the continent. The achievement of this feat notwithstanding, Ghana continues to be plagued with perpetual fear and threat of democratic relapse. The proliferation of the peace industry that calls for peaceful elections in the lead up to elections in Ghana; the flight of many people from the shores of the country when there is going to be a major election; the hoarding of foodstuffs by the citizenry in the lead up to elections; and the inundated calls on God by churches and Ghanaians during incessant prayer meetings during peak election seasons attests to the fact that Ghana is sitting on the time-bomb. What would likely cause an explosion of the time-bomb is as a result of the ignorance and counter-productive role of the youth in the nation’s electoral process.

As a result of ignorance, there are several cases of rejected ballots in every election in Ghana in a manner that undermines the sovereign will and choice of leadership of the country by the population, particularly the youth who are in the majority in terms of Ghana’s population. The incidence of the high rate of rejected ballots ultimately leads to voting without choosing, a phenomenon that has the potential of making election results contentious and sparking violence.  Also, virtually all the elections in Ghana have been saddled with violence with young people being both the victims and perpetrators. In their jobless situation, they are easily recruited by selfish politicians as foot-soldiers, voting machines and agents to be deployed to fight the dirty political wars of politicians. This has led to the formation of several vigilante groups by politicians for the purposes of promoting their interests in every major electoral contestation, a phenomenon that has resulted in several acts of violence and continues to threaten Ghana’s political stability. A report from the Ghana Centre for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana) and the Coalition of Domestic Election Observers (CODEO) on Ghana’s election 2008, 2012 and again in 2016 warned that youth groups like ‘Kandahar, Aluta and Azorka’ boys in the New Patriotic Party and National Democratic Congress continue to pose a threat to Ghana’s electoral processes and democracy as they perpetuate incidence of thuggery and violence such as seizure of public places of convenience and invasion by party youth groups of some public offices. Some of the violent activities have also been reported by the media, including the unlawful takeover of public installations and services, such as toll booths and illegal entry and seizures of state properties in the custody of former government functionaries and political opponents. These anti-democratic tendencies point to the fact that Ghana’s democracy is on a time bomb.

What are the likely impacts of the negative role in Ghana’s democracy?

One of the perennial challenges to development in Ghana, like most African countries, is the youth bulge, with over 70% of the population below the age of 35 years. The reality of this youth bulge and its attendant heightened expectations among the youth has resulted in the challenge of a very restive youth population within the country. This puts the youth at the centre of the security discussion aided by violent and nonproductive political agents. The frustrating effects of the youth bulge coupled with a sense of neglect and disappointment will likely engender aggression within the ranks of the youth. The presence of discontent if not positively mobilized possess a great danger to the democratic fortunes of the country.

As Ghana prepares for the 2019 Referendum and District Level Elections, the confluence of a large core of unemployed youth, citing ever-increasing grievances occasioned partly by heightened expectations of the youth coupled with failed promises, provide substantial discontent that can be easily mobilized. Such discontent once mobilized could engender a threat to security. In effect, the human insecurity manifesting through the youth bulge has a direct bearing on national security.

Failed political promises and fear or accidents from such clashes of youth-led groups sponsored by political parties deter the rest of the youth from participating actively in elections and election matters. An example was the case in the Ayawaso Wuogon Bye-Elections, voter turnout and youth participation were low due to the incidence of violence. This is likely to recur in the upcoming 2019 District Level Elections and Referendum if not checked.

The initiative

 YBF proposes to mount an intervention dubbed “#YouthVoteGH” that would seek to educate young people online about the responsive role they could play in the upcoming Local Elections and Referendum. The initiative aims to sensitize the youth about the critical issues that are likely to impact the elections and to encourage them to fully participate in the Local Elections both as candidates and voters. It also seeks to promote youth-friendly engagement and education on the 2019 Referendum and Local Government Elections.

The reality of the huge numbers of young people in Ghana’s population should galvanize youth advocates exploring how these millions of young people around the country could use their numbers, power and influence to positively steer the country’s political processes, especially in the upcoming district level elections, referendum and the 2020 general elections.  The YBF is of the firm belief and conviction that there must be a peaceful way of young people asserting themselves on the political systems. This would put pressure on the political leaders into recognizing the power and influence of the youth vote. The most effective way of achieving this would have to be a consistent education and engagement of the youth in the political process, with a clear understanding of the limitations and aspirations of young people to register, vote and be voted for. #youthmatterGH.

Youth understanding of electoral issues and awareness of planned program of activities on one side and the appreciation of non-violent participation and its subsequent impact on the present and future development of the Ghanaian youth on the other side, are limited. Not only have these limitations lingered around the Ghanaian youth for years now, but the continued absence of coordinated youth-friendly educational programs to decode election debates and related jargons, sensitize them on non-violent participation and issue-based electoral campaign leaves much to be desired of. This campaign seeks to empower the youth to engage in non-violent political activism and to not allow themselves to use as agents of political violence.

In Ghana and Africa at large, participation in governance (politics) is typically regarded as a space for the aged, while young people are denied the opportunity to gain experience to run for office and participate substantively in matters that shape national destinies. History shows that youth are critical in bringing about social and political transformation. From the dissolution of the apartheid regime in South Africa in the early 1990s to the third-term revolution in Burkina Faso in 2014, youth remain at the forefront of the democratic struggle in Africa. Inclusive participation remains a fundamental political and democratic right. But actively promoting the inclusion of youth in the political process is not only about norms, values and rights. It is also about practical steps to boost the substantive participation of the youth in decision making.

Therefore, as the 2019 Local Level Elections draw closer, this Campaign would be geared towards motivating the youth to stand for various positions as Unit Committee Members, Assembly Members and also encourage them to turn out massively to vote.