STATEMENT READ BY PROF RANSFORD GYAMPO, HEAD OF THE YOUTH BRIDGE RESEARCH INSTITUTE AT A PRESS CONFERENCE HELD ON THURSDAY 1ST AUGUST, 2019 AT THE KOFI ANNAN ICT CENTER THEME: YOUTH REPRESENTATION AND PARTICIPATION IN UPCOMING PARLIAMENTARY PRIMARIES OF POLITICAL PARTIES
Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen from the Press. Good Morning Distinguished Political Party Leaders herein gathered. On behalf of the Youth Bridge Research Institute that I head, I am pleased to welcome you all to this important and historic Press Conference in the political history of Ghana. It is indeed, historic because even though there have been calls for youth participation in politics, these have largely been disjointed and incoherent. This is the first time that an institutionalized youth development body is making a formal and coherent call for youth participation and representation in the legislative arm of government. We do not intend to typically make this call and go to sleep as has been the case with many calls. We will make our call and also outline concrete and proactive measures aimed at supporting the realization of the call. We welcome you once again and thank you for taking time off your busy schedules to be here. Those of you in the media, I am grateful but you had no choice. If you don’t show up at my event, I don’t grant you interviews too, when you need me to do so, simplicita! But I thank you for being here in your numbers. Welcome! Now, as you may be aware, politics in Ghana in the lead up to independence and in the period aftermath was highly dominated by young people. The period was essentially the politics of the youth. Young people played key roles in institutionalizing regimes and also participating as active members of the government. If you check our historical records and statistics, our National Assemblies and Parliaments comprised young people. The leadership of governments was in the hands of relatively youthful people. So for instance, how old was Kwame Nkrumah when he was first made the leader of government business? How about Busia? How old was Jerry Rawlings then? Just think about these.
My research findings show that the average age of parliamentarians in the period after independence was around 28 years but now, it’s almost 50 years.
Unfortunately, with the inception of our Fourth Republic and as constitutional and democratic governance commenced in 1992, old age became an unstated qualification for substantive representation and participation in politics and governance. There are several empirical as well as anecdotal reports of adult politicians insisting the youth to confine their role in politics to serving as foot-soldiers, voting machines and agents merely used to foment violent electoral conflicts and fighting dirty political wars of politicians. When it comes to their substantive participation in governance, the youth are asked to bid their time until they mature. They are deemed mature and competent enough in determining who must lead them at age 18. But they are described as immature to participate in substantive governance process beyond serving as voting machines. This is shamefully weak a logic that must not be sustained as it is palpably ridiculous.
Africa as a continent has a youthful population. Indeed, close to 2 billion of the people in Africa are aged between 18 and 35 years. Yet the kind of people who lead the continent are very old and continue to plague the continent with the anti-developmental ills of gerontocracy. If you go to Europe, the Americas and other developed continents, their population is fairly old and yet they have relatively young people leading them. How old was J.F. Kennedy when he became US President? How about Bill Clinton and Barack Obama? Emmanuel Macron of France would not have qualified to be President of Ghana but in France, he was elected President at age 39. Is there no correlation between the age at which one is selected to govern or represent his constituent and development? Let’s just think about this and answer for ourselves and see whether there isn’t something really wrong somewhere.
Ladies and Gentlemen, it would interest you to note that our indigenous governance system is in full support of youth participation and representation. The youth play an active role as members of asafo companies in the enstoolment of chiefs and in the implementation of traditional policy prescriptions. But the indigenous systems also have spaces for young people to be selected as Chiefs. Indeed, the Akan saying, “ye wo ohene no, na obrempon tease”, to wit, before the chief was born, the elders were already in existence, clearly show that young people were always appointed chiefs and they ruled by sitting on the laps of the elders who operated and offered wise counsel behind the scenes. The elders play no frontal role in traditional governance because they do not have the strength and energy to do so. But they have the wisdom and experience to offer timely advice to chiefs. Given the respect and our deference to the wisdom of old age, it was sacrilegious in times past, for any chief to go contrary to the advice of the elders. You would be destooled if you did as a chief.
Unfortunately, in our current constitutional and democratic dispensation, the elders who have no strength and energy prefer to play a frontal role in politics and want the young people who have no experience to rather to remain behind the scenes and possibly offer counsel. This is a complete case of upside-down thinking, a practice that plagues and undermine Africa’s quest for development.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, we called you here to help us to tell everybody who has contributed to deepening gerontocracy in Ghana, that this practice must stop with immediate effect. Very soon, there is going to be the conduct of parliamentary primaries to select parliamentary candidates. In view of the fact that the youth constitute about 60 percent of Ghana’s population, we call on them to seize the opportunity to contest the internal primaries of their respective political parties. At the moment, only 5 percent of the current members of parliament are young people between the ages of 21 – 35 years. Is it not fatal for our democracy for this huge segment of our population to be severely under-represented?
Getting to parliament is almost contingent on a candidate’s success at the parliamentary primaries. Hence in as much as we call on the youth to seize the opportunity, we wish to state that political parties have the largest role to play in the decrease or increase of youth membership in parliament. Unfortunately, in spite of the role political parties can play in getting young people elected to parliament, they have not been proactive in doing this. They have sometimes placed huge hurdles in the ways of young people and deliberately frustrated some of them in their bid to go to parliament. So, the current number of young people in parliament is purely accidental and not the result of any deliberate policy of political parties to ensure the election of young people to parliament. We call on political parties to encourage young people to contest their upcoming parliamentary primaries by rethinking the open and surreptitious obstacles including the high cost of filing fees; high cost of campaigning accentuated by the almost institutionalized corrupt norm of bribing party delegates; and the bogusly disingenuous refrain of asking the youth to bid their time.
Political parties that would frustrate the quest for youth selection to parliament must be taught painful lessons. In this regard, we call on the youth who are interested to be elected to parliament, but are demoralized by the hurdles and frustrations from the political parties to commence their activism and door to door campaign in the bid to test their acceptance and popularity. Once acceptance and popularity are secured behind the scenes, we urge the youth who may be frustrated by their political parties to dare to contest the parliamentary elections as Independent Candidates. For, it is the interest of constituents that matter in any parliamentary and representative democracy and not the whimsical and capricious desires of political parties. So, young people, break ranks, flout frustrating hurdles and go as Independent Candidates if, in your judgment, you believe youth have what it takes to serve the people better, and “your behind the scenes consultations” with the constituents show positive response and acceptance. This is one sure way of ending the undemocratic practice of political party imposition of candidates on constituents.
In summary, our call again is for:
• Those young people who are much educated, competent and accepted in their constituencies to seize the opportunity to contest the upcoming Parliamentary Primaries after extensive Behind the scenes consultations to test constituent acceptance. Old people who have had a fair taste of representing their
constituents must give way to young people to also serve their constituents. Serving the constituency can be enriched when those who have done it for several years and are tired, give way to fresh blood and operate behind the scenes as counselors and advisors. Honorable Alban Bagbin, Inusah Fuseini, Clement Humado, Richard Quashigah, and Fiifi Kwetey and all those old guards who are yet to publicly indicate their intentions not to seek reelections to parliament must be saluted. They must serve their constituencies in even better capacities as advisors and counselors to relatively younger parliamentarians.
• Political Parties to encourage young people to contest the upcoming Parliamentary Primaries by removing all visible and invisible obstacles that could frustrate the youth and putting in place mentorship interventions that allow experience party leaders and past parliamentarians to mentor and build the confidence of the young parliamentary hopefuls. Political Parties must ensure that at least 50 percent of contesting and winning candidates are young people.
• The youth who experience needless frustrations and obstacles to brace themselves to contest the upcoming Parliamentary Elections as Independent Candidates. Yes, we at YBRI believe that young people must be bold enough to contest as independent candidates in election 2020 if they fail to do it through the party systems.
As indicated earlier, we do not seek to make these calls in a vacuum. We are ready to offer technical and other support to young parliamentary aspirants including training them on the skills of proposal writing, fundraising, public speaking and other campaign techniques that will help them win their elections. We are willing to offer other support in kind to them, For instance, upon their selection as parliamentary hopefuls, we will be willing to offer them with a Town Hall Meeting Platform for them to outline their vision, debate themselves and dialogue with their will-be constituents. We are also ready to offer a platform that will enable them, when elected, to continuously connect with the youth in
their constituencies and other constituents. We will also monitor their activities to ensure that they are on track in fulfilling their promises, particularly the ones that hinge on representation.
We will do all these to help achieve youth parity in our governance and political landscape. We will do all these because of our belief and conviction that the development of every nation rests on its youth and that, nations that sever the relationship with their young population are condemned to bleed till death.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, we do not do partisan politics and hence, this is not a partisan call. It is a patriotic call to the owners of this nation, i.e. the youth. We are aware that in their quest to perpetuate the status quo and their hold on political power, politicians have succeeded in breaking the front of young people who were hitherto the conscience of the nation, by dividing them along partisan lines. In this regard, even genuine calls and efforts aimed at fighting for the youth are sometimes met with insults and opposition not from the gerontocratic officeholders but from some few partisan and gullible young people. We entreat these people to note that it is in their own interest and that of their children, to support this call. We call on those teaming level-headed young people we know exist, not to remain silent and mind their own business as they usually do, but to demand their rightful participation in decision making under the inspiration of this statement. The average age of the African population according to a recent UNDP study is 19.5 years. Yet the average age of their leaders and representatives is 62 years. Must this not be of concern to the owners and preponderant constituents of this continent?
Let me say without equivocation that this is not about Nana Akufo Addo being over 70 years, John Mahama being over 60 or Mike Oquaye being over 70. Never! We are not interested in pettiness! It is about the general cliché being ingrained in the political psyche of Ghana that the political and governance role of young people lies only in footsoldierism. Many of our current parliamentarians are considered experienced today because they were given the opportunity to serve when they were relatively young.
Former President Mahama and sitting President Akufo Addo were not born presidents. They had the opportunity to undergo long mentorship and grooming by serving in various capacities within the public sphere prior to their election to lead this country.
Today, if we talk about youth participation in governance; today if we talk about youth taking a keen interest in the upcoming parliamentary primaries of political parties, we are covertly told that the youth must take a long time to learn. Is this not a bogus procrastinating excuse that ignores the exigencies of the time?. With the growth of ICT, even children learn amazing things. Similarly, with the click of a button, the youth in parliament who wants to be studious about parliamentary practices can learn so many things that could have taken them many years, in just a day. What children are able to learn today with the aid of modern technology are far from the reach of many mature politicians. This fact can only be doubted by gerontocratic ostriches who insist on perpetuating adultism on a youthful population.
Ladies and Gentlemen, may it be known and widely circulated that our various calls for youth participation are not meant to slight any politician who has aged. We respect and revere them. We value their knowledge, experience, and wisdom. Nevertheless, per our calls, we aim to ask for training space and a thoroughly nurtured inter-generational systems that enable us as a society, to successfully pass on the mantle of leadership to a well-groomed and prepared youth.
May God bless our homeland Ghana and help Ghana youth to seize the opportunity to act as one constituency in pushing for their rightful place in decision making. If the future of the country belongs to the youth, then the youth must be prepared now and be made to act now for the future.
Download: Press Statement