Thomas Sankara was 33 years old when he became President of Burkina Faso. At that point, he had already served as Minister of Information and Prime Minister of what was then Upper Volta.
Sankara did not do this for the benefit of his elders. In fact, he had resigned as Minister of Information in protest of the suppression of the media that wrote about politics and was arrested as Prime Minister for his audacious opposition to the continuation of the colonial powers of the French President. His path to the presidency was paved with a passion for service and an ethic of leadership. Likewise, today’s young Africans need not wait their turn to enter politics or government.
They do not need to approach politics based on the good graces of old politicians who cling to power well after they have run out of ideas or energy to serve. Youth participation in politics should not be limited to voting fodder, but in a context where young people make up 60% of the population in Africa, young people should raise their hands to serve.
In the run-up to the 2024 national and regional elections, young South Africans must define the roles they will play in these pivotal elections. Will young people have the foresight to use their advantage in numbers to be the decisive voice in elections?
Will they have the audacity to put their issues and faces on the ballot? Instead of voting for party X or politician Y, what would it look like for young people to vote for themselves in 2024? Not just to show up in the polls for numbers, but for themselves. Fortunately, young South Africans have the time and examples from within Africa to look up to, young people have shown themselves up and are winning.
In 2016, the #NottoYoungtoRun movement was launched in Nigeria, as a campaign by the youth-led organization YIAGA under the leadership of Samson Itodo made a historic call to lower the age to participate as a candidate in elections in Nigeria so that youth could be allowed to stand for seats as representatives.
The movement has gained a following of thousands of young people in Nigeria. Other African countries such as Cameroon caught fire. The movement gained international support and eventually resulted in a victory when legislation was changed in 2018 to reduce ages across various categories of nomination, including presidential, to include youth participation. In 2019, Nigeria has seen a huge rise in the number of young people contesting elections. A shift that reinvigorated the youth in Nigerian politics.
Run #NottoYoungtoRun so the Youth Movement for Zambian Parliament can take flight. As a symbolic handover of a baton in the fight for youth participation in electoral politics, Nawa Vile Sitale and Thompson Kamuza Luzendi, realizing that prevailing politics is hostile to young people wishing to run for public office, started a movement to elect more young people to parliament and local councils. The Youth4Par parliamentary movement has grown from 22 young people who gathered under a tree in 2018, to a wild force of 60,000 committed organizers across the country by the 2021 elections. The majority of these young people have never been involved in party politics before.
Hoping to get 10 young people from their movement elected to office, the movement set about looking for young people with the courage and energy to run for public office, and helped them build a fan base and supporters in their communities and regions.
And they found hundreds of young people ready to run. The Y4P movement, as it is lovingly called, did not register as a political party, but rallied to represent candidates from the movement in seven opposition parties and as independents. They built structures, an organizing spirit that saw the movement grow based on the common goal of disrupting Zambian politics and getting young people to office through the power of the people rather than the power of nepotism or personality.
With no resources to speak of, the Y4P movement’s innovative approach such as the “Shake Your Neighbor” campaign, which encourages young political organizers to focus on winning their families, friends, and neighbors to the cause of introducing young people to governance, has shattered the conventions of big-party and VIP politics and won the hearts and minds of communities by introducing a new brand of politics. This political change did not go unnoticed, but not even a Y4P activist could have expected that more than 100 young people would win seats in parliament and local councils across Zambia.
They supported eight young people who won seats in parliament, two young men won mayoral races and dozens won seats in the council.
From a gathering under a tree, the Y4P movement backed by youth representatives has now formed a multi-party caucus in Parliament since 2021. As SA debates youth union policy, Zambian youth are forging new pathways for engagement, creating new platforms for competition and setting a new standard for political organization through the power of youth.
SA is a stimulating organizing moment away from young people who take their rightful place in politics and governance. A place where the majority of them matter. Where their causes lead, and their representation leads to a much-needed course correction.
In 2024, the South Africans must look young and ready to run.