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African Youth transforming digital and Political spaces

Written by: Edward Sakwa and Zipporah Njoki, Stretchers Youth Organization

A significant percentage of today’s African youth use digital forums to develop civic identities and express political viewpoints in innovative ways, claiming agency that they may not have in conventional civic platforms.

On the 9th of December 2021, Voice grantees from Kenya and Nigeria had a virtual knowledge exchange on Youth, Politics & the Digital Space. Over the last few decades, youth participation in civic engagement both in Kenya and Nigeria, such as voting and political party affiliation has been steadily gaining momentum.

While engaging during the linking and learning, it was observed that digital media has been successful in mobilising youth participation in electoral and political processes. This has been because of youths being disregarded as candidates in Kenya and Nigeria’s political parties. It’s crucial to note however that the youth continue to use social media to disseminate their message and engage in digital activism.  Digital media, like the rest of the globe, has played a significant role in shaping electoral and political processes in Africa. Citing a clear example from the linking and learning experience, grantees from both Kenya and Nigeria shared how the emergence of social media has undeniably surfaced and amplified marginalised voices of the youth, minority groups, and women and constitutes an essential tool for promoting political participation.

As seen during the running of the #EndPoliceBrutalityKe [Kenya] and #EndSars [Nigeria] campaigns, there is a resounding accord that digital media is playing a pivotal role in this digital era. Such youth-led campaigns have been essential in promoting democracy and accountable governance and protesting the government’s injustices.

African problems are interconnected, and the digital space gives us an opportunity to build alliances and work together.

The two campaigns provided platforms for galvanising the youths and activating them to participate in addressing the injustices compelling support from all over the world. During this campaign, we saw celebrities as well as leaders taking part to address the key underlining issues. This has shown that digital media when used objectively can largely contribute and compel the government to be accountable.  Looking back in the 2015 Nigeria elections, Twitter played a major role in disseminating information and mobilising the Youths to take part in the elections peacefully.

In Kenya during the enhanced Voter registration exercise, we saw youths taking it to the various digital medial platforms both online and offline urging fellow youths to register as voters. Despite the low voter registration turnouts across the country, it was noted that other factors hindered the youth from registering as voters with the loss of trust in the political process in Kenya emerging as a predominant issue. The trend towards an accelerated use of social media is changing the political landscape in both Kenya and Nigeria.

Undoubtedly, the youth play a vital role in their communities as they are a creative force and a dynamic source of innovations as they are contributing greatly to the political systems.

One of the many things that stood out is the youth movements in Nigeria where young people are activated using Art to advocate for citizen participation in the political process as well as address social justice issues.

One of the Voice grantees in Nigeria i.e. Citizens Commons shared about their project #FromProtestToAction. This project resonated well with what we do in Kenya, and I loved the aspect of social action where it does not end with protesting but engaging young people constructively towards bring social change by holding the leaders accountable.

A cross-cutting intervention of utilizing mainstream media platforms in reaching a wider audience is much appreciated. It was highlighted how this is important towards ensuring accountability and proactive action. The knowledge exchange gives an opportunity to Voice grantees to build regional networks that will address key political underlying issues among others. While we enjoyed connecting with the other grantees we do hope that stronger connections and engagement will continue.

Through the knowledge exchange, we call to action political parties towards ensuring that they deliberately empower the youths and support all those who have shown interest as candidates in different positions.


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