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Youth and Democracy in Africa Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by AID, Sierra Leone Jan 25, 2005
Child & Youth Rights   Opinions


The role, which the youth have planed in bringing and sustaining democracy in Africa, cannot be overemphasized. Most, if not all, democracies in present day Africa are the products of the youth – who in most cases sacrificed their blood and sweat to uphold, plant, and nurture the ideals of that philosophy.

Let us take Sierra Leone as a case study. The fight for democracy by the youth in that country had and still is an uphill task. It all started in 1977 when students of Fourah Bay College (FBC, the University of Sierra Leone) rose to challenge the then autocratic one-party government of the late Siaka Stevens. Though this pro-democracy uprising was quelled down with all repressive tools at the disposal of that government at the time, it left an indelible footprint in the sand of democracy as it paved the way for the experimentation of future democracy.

Although the pro-democracy idea was suppressed in the 1970s, the spirit never died as it appeared again in early 1991 when the youth rose against the one-party dictatorship of ex-president Joseph Saidu Momoh. The youth through advocacy groups challenged the one-party dictatorship and called for its replacement with a multi-party arrangement. To this, the government succumbed and introduced reforms that paved the way for the present dispensation which the country is now enjoying.

The participation of the Sierra Leonean youth in spurring government(s) to be accountable and transparent – two of the basic tenets of good governance – has been commendable. When Joseph Momoh was overthrown in 1992 by the junta of Captain Valentine Strasser, it was the youth again who later pressed the military to put in place a democratic mechanism.

Again in 1996 when the then newly-elected democratic government of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah was overthrown by the military, it was the youth that staged the famous August 8th demonstration with sparked international criticism of that junta to relinquish power.

The reason why I have given the above examples is just to illustrate how active the Sierra Leonean youth have been in upholding the principles of democracy and good governance. Though that principle is not under threat from the military, the youth have currently taken upon themselves the watchdog role of seeing that their democratically elected government steer the country in a transparent manner for the benefit of all.

Corruption has been the worm, which, since the country gained independence in 1961, has been eating the political body of Sierra Leone. And it’s here that the youth have been very hyper-active in forming an anti-corruption organization. In the media, the youth have been so vocal in their anti-corruption campaign that the government was forced to institute the Anti-Corruption Commission- though it is more or less a paper tiger! Also to enhance good governance, a group of young lawyers have formed the “Lawyers’ Centre for Legal Assistance (LAWCLA)” which provides lawyers for those who can’t afford legal fees and in most cases serves as the voice of the voiceless in constitutional crises.

What amazes one is the zeal with which the youth have been trying to uphold the democratic principle of their country. In some cases, they educate the electorate on the ills of electing a particular corrupt politician or party. This was what happened in Sierra Leone in 1996 when the first multi-party elections were held, the youth overtly campaigned against the All People’s Congress (APC) which had plunged the country into 24 years of misrule and was trying to hoodwink the electorate into voting him back to power.

The same enthusiasm of the Sierra Leone youth in sustaining a democratic society holds true for other parts of Africa. In Nigeria the youth sacrificed everything to see the back of the military and to usher in multi party democracy. In fact, the excess of the present government in terms of human rights violations are brought to the attention of the international community by some youth organizations.

In Ghana, the role which the youths played in seeing the back of ex-president Jerry Rawlings’ NDC government, which was a military clad civilian, was and is still laudable. In the Republic of South Africa, the “Soweto” riot by school children against dictatorship is still legendry.

Put in a nutshell, the youth in Africa have not been only participating in the democratic process of their countries, but have been guarding it with passion.



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Writer Profile

Sylvanus is the National Coordinator of TakingITGlobal (TIG) in Sierra Leone. He coordinates and promotes TIG's activities in the country.

He is a Graphic Designer, presently working with the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) as Information Assistant. Sylvanus holds certificates in Finance & Administration and a Diploma in Graphic Design.

Sylvanus founded the Youth Empowerment for Development Ministries (YEDEM)International (http://www.yedem.r8.org).

Since then, he's been actively involved in youth work at both national and international levels.

Also, Sylvanus is coordinating the Earth Charter Youth Group (ECYG) in Sierra Leone (http://www.ecygsierraleone.8m.net)

He is a member of the Earth Charter Youth Initiative (ECYI) Core-group. The core-group is made up of five individuals from all over the world. It is responsible for the coordination of the ECYI activities around the world.

He is the National Coordinator of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) National Youth Activities in Sierra Leone. http://projects.takingitglobal.org/WSIS-SL

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