Uganda just recently witnessed a hotly contested by-election in Jinja East where FDC’s Paul Mwiru trounced NRM’s Nathan Igeme Nabeta. Of the 41 per cent of registered voters who cast their vote, majority of the voters (30 per cent) were youth. This was partly due to the existing laws such as the 1995 Constitution that allows all people from 18 years and above to vote.

Youth who are people aged 15 to 24 (UN), 18 to 30 in Uganda and 15 to 35 (African Youth Charter) have been the major determinants of voter behaviour globally for the last three years.

This has been seen in Nigeria in 2015 where 72 per cent voters were youth; 58 per cent of the voters in Ghana’s 2016 polls were youth; Gambia with 60 per cent as youth kicked out a parasitic dictator; and Kenya had 78 per cent of the 19 million voters aged below 35 years which made their voices heard.

However, the youth have not been effectively represented in Uganda, especially during the National Youth Council Elections and election of youth Members of Parliament as their representatives are conducted under Electoral College system of voting.
There is a false notion that youth have been effectively represented through these electoral colleges from the village level and engaged in policy and decision making and implementation.

According to Article 59(1) of the Constitution, every citizen of Uganda of 18 years and above has a right to vote, thus calling upon youth to participate in voting. Correspondingly, the 1993 National Youth Council Act deprives youth and violates their right to vote through Electoral Colleges that gives the power to only one per cent of the youth to qualify to vote for the youth council leaders and youth Members of Parliament (2016 CCEON-U Report highlighted that 336 out of 8 million youth voted in 2016 elections).

Electoral College system of voting that began in the 1880s kicked off in Ugandan youth elections in 1993, but have not only suppressed the values and tenets of democracy such as majority rule; but also violated the principles of a regular, free, fair and transparent elections.
Electoral colleges restrict on who can vote. It discriminates the financially unstable potential youth with good ideology; promotes massive electoral malpractices such as voter bribery, intimidation of voters plus the State-inspired violence.

The issue of youth inclusion and more youth participation has been desired by many. In 2006, Rubaramira Ruranga, then secretary for electoral affairs in FDC, submitted a constitutional petition No. 21 of 2006 [2007] to challenge the constitutionality of provisions that limit youth participation.

In August 2017, on International Youth Day in Bundibugyo, Ms Rosa Malango, the UN Resident Coordinator said: “We cannot achieve sustainable development without the active participation of the youth, thus calling for more youth inclusiveness through direct youth elections.”

In 2017/2018, CCEDU/VOICE held My Voice community platforms with more than 2.8 million youth in West Nile, Karamoja, central and eastern regions who also demanded for abolition of Electoral Colleges to embrace direct youth elections for more youth inclusiveness.

Government’s disinclination to consider more youth inclusiveness hampers the economic transformation of this country, impedes the government effort for a middle income country by 2020, Vision 2040 and impedes the youth’s desires and needs from being handled.

I, therefore, hold the opinion that the 1993 National Youth Council Act should be amended to allow direct youth elections with the aim of amplifying youth voices in electoral democracy. The holistic amendment of the National Youth Council Act will allow the re-examination of sectors such as employment, education, public service, empower youth councils, facilitate accountability and transparency, and explain the leadership transition.

Youth of Uganda have the right to participate in the governance of this country; they have the potential to run the affairs of this country so conscious effort must be laid to allow them to participate in local governance process.

The writer is VOICE project manager and a human rights activist
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